Dear family and friends,
It’s 11:21 PM on a Sunday night and I feel compelled to write after an interaction on social media that crystallized a few things in my mind about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In talking with family and friends I’ve realized a few things that are really important to get out on the table.
Good, local data is important
I’ve been focusing my news consumption on sources that are most relevant to me. I listen to The National on CBC as they cover the crisis from the Canadian perspective which paints the best picture of the world my partner is living in. Bonnie Henry does an excellent job advising the residents of British Columbia on all things coronavirus (check her Twitter fan page). I do believe this also applies to the rest of us on the West Coast. The tragedy in Québec and Ontario is real but what’s going on the West Coast is very different and thus our approach likely will not be the same.
I also tune into updates from the governor of California as his viewpoint is the closest to my life here in California. I do have family and friends in other geographies and it’s important to understand how coronavirus is floating globally but for me good, local data helps me ground my mental health by focusing on the data points that are most relevant to me.
Mental health is as important as physical health
I’ve come to believe that the mental health issues that follow this pandemic will be equally as far-reaching as the virus itself. I had surgery four weeks before the Bay Area shelter in place orders. As of today, I’ve been sheltered in place about ten weeks sans a few notable exceptions.
It’s hard to spend so much time alone. I’ve read memes on the Internet highlighting extreme historical struggles. The sentiment applies that we should all “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “suck it up buttercup.” I just think it’s utter bullshit. People are hurting. Being ten weeks without much human contact has been hard in ways I’ve not experienced in my life to date.
There’s so much of the human connection that’s exposed through touch, space, and shared experiences that’s not happening in the current moment. We are a society without handshakes, hugs, and other forms of physical connection. What were once intimate moments 60 days ago are now filled with uncertainty, fear, and mistrust. We can’t have that rapid of a shift in our society without consequences on our collective mental health. We need to be able to talk about it in an open, nonjudgmental format.
Everyone’s journey through this pandemic is different
I can’t let my own pain color or minimize that of those around me. It’s easy for me to say “it’s so much easier for XYZ family because there’s two adults and children – they have each other.” I then hear those with kids long for the copious silence I have in my world. Governor Cuomo joked we know the divorce rate is up. In the state of New York, we are announcing that you can get married over video to help balance things out.
While being by myself is hard I can’t let it minimize or color my viewpoint of married people who are isolated together without any real outlet. Each person can become the antecedent for the other’s pain. I miss my partner and my community immensely but it doesn’t mean that others around me aren’t hurting as well. Open empathy for others in my own journey makes my travels easier – not more difficult.
Seek first to understand
I’ve recently seen a lot of pictures on social media of protesters wanting the economy to reopen. These pictures have become memes with taglines like “coronavirus likes this” and “natural selection at work”. The reality is though these folks have families to feed, jobs they want to get back to, and in need for security in such an uncertain time. Likewise, I can’t knock the president or my state governor for talking about a post-coronavirus world. Even both parties disagree vehemently on timing, America does need to hear that there is a way through this and that we will get there together.
This pandemic however is not just about America. We as a globe are fighting a visible enemy that knows no race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, etc. The Queen of England said it well “This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavor, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed — and that success will belong to every one of us.”
We are in this together and there will come a time that we see this through.
Technology is good but not perfect
I think I’m closer to my family during this pandemic that I’ve ever been since I came out West 20ish years ago. We talk as an extended family every week which is something that’s typically been reserved for holidays every few years. I get to spend time with my parents, sister, niece, nephew as well as aunts and uncles all over Zoom.
I’m continually impressed how well the Internet has held up given the rapid change in traffic patterns and demand in such a short period of time. Zoom has helped me stay in touch with people I’m close to. It’s not the same as being in the same place but it’s better than nothing. It’s okay to call out that you miss someone or that you wished you could give them a hug.
Sometimes for me technology can exacerbate loneliness. You’re close to the other person but you can feel the distance because you can’t be physically close to the other person. It’s a weird paradox I felt with video ever since my niece was born 15 years ago. Even in a grainy Skype call I could still feel that paradox. It’s ok to share that you love and miss someone. Chances are the other person is thinking that too.
While the tragedy going around is undeniable, the love showing up is also equally as undeniable. Find a way to give during this time whether it’s your time, your talent, or your money. Giving is one of the best ways to connect with others and has helped me during this physically distant time. Tip well. Support local restaurants by getting takeout. If you have housekeepers and landscapers continue to pay them while they shelter in place if you can. Giving helps me take the focus off of my own issues.
It’s okay to say that you’re hurting
In closing, It’s okay to say that you’re hurting – Mental health issues are real. There is no stigma in saying you’re hurting and need help. Know that each of you are important to me and do reach out along your journey as togetherness helps each of us.