I recently met with a couple I’ve been working with for quite some time. We hadn’t met in over a month due to a number of unforeseen events, including the fact that they’d each contracted Covid within the same week. It was a shock to them considering that they’d both been vaccinated and had practiced diligent Covid safety behaviors for the past year, like mask wearing in all public places, no indoor dining, avoidance of large gatherings, etc.
As with so many of us, Covid had become the dreaded Boogeyman, especially for the husband who was immunocompromised. It had become the terrorizer, the ticket to an untimely death, if not only a protracted, lonely suffering in an over-crowded hospital. Covid was the provider of all losses:
- no more eating out
- no concerts
- no sporting events
- no presumed working in an office with all its social perks
- no safe travel requiring plane trips
- no movie theaters
- no stress-free grocery shopping
- no shield from other people’s sense of social responsibility or lack of it
- no break from one’s partner or spouse, who now had to fulfill most needs for connection.
- no more easy, safe, spontaneous visits with kids and grandkids
So what was their Covid Silver Lining?
- They thought it fortunate to have both tested positive within a few days, so no need to quarantine from each other!
- They coughed a lot, but weren’t seriously sick, and felt relieved and thankful for being mostly tired.
- They were quite tired, so they felt legitimacy about their frequent need to sleep and nap!
- They had previously stocked up on lots of supplies, so felt proud about preparedness, and relief not needing to shop!
- The end of Summer weather was lovely, so they convalesced outside, not requiring hospitalization!
- They caught up on reading, email and TV without guilt!
- They found a new patience and tenderness with each other, taking turns with nursing roles!
- They had time to talk about small, private things without the pressure of work or interacting with the outside world!
- They enjoyed “paid leave,” and discovered a new appreciation for their jobs.
- They spent a lot of lazy time in their yard, realizing how blessed they were to live in such a beautiful place.
- They spent 18 to 20 days together, getting a taste of “retirement,” and could now envision it!
- But, most of all, they no longer feared the Booogeyman Covid. They had survived. They had thrived. Together.
So, with or without testing positive, what’s your Covid Silver Lining?
It’s been a long, hard year locked up with ourselves amidst Covid 19. So many of our usual distractions and indulgences have gone by the wayside, and most of us have been starkly confined with our own neurotic shortcomings and lazy adaptations.
Millions have gained the “Quarantine 15” and as things open up, are slightly agoraphobic, clinging to the privacy of their home prisons, so people won’t see their 2020 bulge. Pants with buttons and zippers have become relics of the past. Sweatpants and leggings have become our best friends. Aerobic workouts, 5k races and strenuous strength training have become “Going for a Walk.” Needless to say, once hardbodies are now mush.
Makeup, once so sacred and mysterious, has also largely gone by the wayside, replaced with naked faces with all their spots, wrinkles and droops.
Close friends and family, previously such a source of vital warmth and connection, have been replaced by our loyal, adoring dogs, or worse – the prison of Zoom for EVERYTHING.
Haircuts, once such a luxury, have been replaced with either nothing, or DIY chop jobs. (Also, 85% of the world’s blondes have disappeared).
In sum, we all look like Hell…
A cultured life with theater, concerts, dancing and singing, has devolved into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram 24/7.
Travel to glorious new places has been replaced by Couch Potato Adventure: TV day and night.
Real life experiences like weddings, parties, graduations and funerals have yielded to the voyeurism of The News, (mostly bad), also day and night.
Lusty evenings of 80 proof booze in bars have been replaced with desperate solo guzzling of 4 proof spiked seltzer.
Intellectual stimulation through conversation, clubs, meetings, and trainings have all become “Zoomified”.
Smiles, with all their compelling warmth, have made way for Eyes-Only, and sometimes contraband Rogue-Nose Faces in a mandated masked world.
And alas, sport shopping at TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Macy’s have yielded to frequent gargantuan boxes arriving from Amazon, often left outside in the rain, generating massive amounts of garbage later needing to be hauled to the curb.
So, what to do with all these charming developments? Get depressed? Go on drugs? Get a shelter dog? Take up the Ukulele? Buy an RV? Get more takeout? Chop down some trees? Get some chickens? Go back on Zoom? Run to a therapist?
Whatever you do, you gotta start laughing at it all….
If your experience of 2020 and early 2021 feels like the above image, you’re not alone! No matter what side of the political fence you’ve embraced it has been a year of loss, constraints, hopelessness, helplessness, hatred, anxieties and extreme division, often among members of the same family, or among friends. Not only have most of us faced differences which have felt toxic and relationship-breaking, but a daily onslaught of information and news about catastrophic events, happening now, or about to unfold. I think there has been a collective experience of trauma in this country, and probably in many places around the world. Covid 19 illnesses and deaths, loss of income, loss of faith in the System, violence, racism, uncertainty.
To that point I’m encouraging everyone to pause and reflect on a few things:
How have you been coping and how well has it served you?
- Over-drinking or drugging?
- Reviewing the horrors frequently with peers who get it?
- Over-eating or over-indulging in comfort foods or sugar?
- Targeting your loved ones with rage-outs?
- Overspending on Amazon?
- Denying anything unusual is happening and proceeding without any cautions or adjustments?
- Over-working and sacrificing sleep / self care rituals?
- Over-thinking and going to catastrophic conclusions?
In my psychotherapy practice I’ve seen how people’s responses to the trauma either exacerbate or alleviate some of the stress, bring people together for support and meaningful action or tear them apart. Depression and anxiety are off the charts now as people struggle with feelings and thoughts that can become runaway trains in response to such triggering events.
So, instead of going through a long list of more functional coping mechanisms I’m encouraging you all to begin by examining the strategies you’re already using and taking an honest look at how well these strategies are serving you. If they calm and energize you, at what cost to yourself or others? If they provide relief, how momentary or enduring is it? Do your coping mechanisms give you any sense of meaning, agency, or connection to others whom you respect and trust? Are you finding any joy amidst all this madness? Are you protecting your mental and physical health, or has that been one price of how you’ve tried to manage?
All meaningful change begins with Contemplation, so give that it’s due. Then, if you decide to seek out different coping tools you’ll be readier to use them intentionally, creatively and effectively.
I read this CNN article and thought it was very timely and right on, I couldn’t have made this point any more clearly, so I’ve re-printed it.
I hope you relate to it, and I’d say “Happy Thanksgiving!” but that kind of goes against the whole point here!
Enjoy your meal, whatever company you can safely have, and hopefully, the day off……
You have permission to not be thankful this Thanksgiving
By Allison Hope, CNN
Updated November 23, 2020
Author Allison Hope intends to focus on eating her feelings about 2020 with extra helpings of sweet potato pie this Thanksgiving.
(CNN)The gratitude is being dished out in platitudes this Thanksgiving.
“This Thanksgiving’s a bust, but try to focus on gratitude,” advised one health site, a precursor to a warning to avoid gathering outside our immediate households for the holidays.
“Share gratitude, not COVID this Thanksgiving,” another warned.
You can serve up a portion of gratitude for your Thanksgiving this year, but don’t expect me to join you. I am going to focus on eating my feelings with extra helpings of sweet potato pie that I don’t have to share with anyone — because no one else is coming to Thanksgiving.
In a year when a once-in-a-century pandemic collided with social and political unrest, an unhinging economy and job market, and increasingly severe weather events, I vacillate between feeling something more akin to sheer terror. That’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from gratitude. My cornucopia is impacted by supply chain shortages, global trade wars and an impending dark winter that is coming more quickly than I’d like.
I have plenty to be grateful for, I know. I remain gainfully employed and am privileged enough to get to work from home. As of this writing, I still have my health, not having yet caught the virus (knock on everything) that has killed more than 1.3 million people around the world. While I know people who have died from Covid-19, including those my age in my extended networks, my immediate circle remains, for the most part, well.
And yet. I am incapable of feeling the joy that has, for every Thanksgiving prior to 2020, accompanied me to the homes of friends and family. There will be no road trips, no extended family hugs, no old friends in town visiting and reminiscing over a tall cold one, no spontaneous moments featuring new characters. This year is all plot twists without the comic relief.
I have landed in a new place this year, one where it’s perfectly acceptable to want people to take their gratitude and shove it up this year’s pathetically small turkey cavity.
Yes, I retain the right to feel full-on Scrooge this year, and I invite you to join me.
After all, forcing yourself to feel happy or gracious — when you simply don’t — isn’t a helpful thing to do. Forced positive thinking, in fact, does not make you happier, according to experts.
“The practice of gratitude has become popular in recent years, and it can be valuable, but not as a forced one,” said Thandiwe Dee Watts-Jones, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at the Ackerman Institute, a family therapy institute in New York City.
Forced gratitude is not constructive
We’ve all heard from any number of self-help research and books and podcasts and gurus that gratitude is a necessary embodiment to help us live fulfilling lives. But the truth is, sometimes gratitude just isn’t possible.
Still, we might try in small ways to attach to some hope before diving back into that apple pie.
“As we approach the holidays dominated by losses, uncertainty, and human depravity, we can still be open, in a gentle way, to noticing what is good in our lives, what or who is holding us, a child’s smile, a poem, someone’s love, perhaps spirit,” Watts-Jones said. “We can allow appreciation for whatever beauty we may still see, even in the face of suffering, and if not, accept that at this moment, it is enough to be where you are.”
After our brief interlude with gratitude, feel free to snuggle back up to your inner bah humbug.
If we’re getting real, Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American tradition (sorry, Canada, I am not counting you) whose origins are murky at best. In true fake news fashion, the original Thanksgiving story reeks of propaganda, a tale we take at face value to feel good about American history and to stuff our faces.
In reality, the story of Thanksgiving does nothing more than paint American lipstick on the proverbial colonial pig, hiding the true barbarism of a time when White men first set foot on the land that they would go on to claim, along with the lives of the vast majority of people already living there, whether by force or happenstance via smallpox.
There was no turkey, no ubiquitous kumbaya. In fact, the only thing that was widespread between America’s earliest settlers and the Native Americans was a deadly contagion that disproportionately took out people of color. Sound familiar? Maybe the first Thanksgiving has more in common with this year than ever before. Many emotions rise to the surface, but gratitude is not one of them.
In the spirit of Festivus for the rest of us, and celebrating the anti-holiday to air grievances rather than pleasantries, I hereby rename Thanksgiving 2020 “Grumpstaking,” whereby we allow ourselves to feel whatever range of negative emotions we damn well feel like feeling without the pressure to proclaim all that we’re grateful for.
Don’t worry, you can eat all the pie.
Allison Hope is a writer and native New Yorker who favors humor over sadness, travel over television, and coffee over sleep.