I may need to give up social media for the next few months.
I’m serious. I mean, I’m getting a lot of great information from the journalists I follow and I am able to connect with many people that I can’t see face-to-face anymore. It’s important to my writing that I remain on social media. And really, I find out things happening in my local community a lot easier through social media than I do through any other means.
But dear GOD, I’m starting to really hate all the “happy coronavirus” photos.
Listen, I’m a contributor as well. I post the photos of my kids playing outside and dutifully finishing their projects in our makeshift home school. I am also trying to make the best of this situation. As a note, one of the things I’ve appreciated the most about this time period is the amount of real, uninterrupted time I get with my kids, even if they drive me crazy by the end of the day. I want to tell the world about it. I want show my friends and family that here in DC, we are okay. So I post photos of us, smiling from ear-to-ear. But do you know what I don’t have in any of my photos?
And it seems like everyone else does. “Hunkering down with the family!” reads a caption with mom, dad and two smiling kids in the kitchen. “We are staying in!” reads another image of a couple snuggled on the couch. I mean, I get it. I do. I’m positive that if Shawn were alive I’d be doing the same thing.
But every time I go on social media, I get a brutal reminder that I’m alone. And I’m not just alone without a partner in this world. I’m alone without a partner in this world during a global pandemic.
Sometime last fall, I finally got to the place where I was okay – happy, even – with being alone. I wanted to find a man (because I like men!) but I didn’t need to find a man. I was able to weather the parties alone and the weekends alone and the neighborhood gatherings alone. It took a long, long time to get there, but a few months ago, I was able to say, “hey, I think I’m okay alone.”
And now this.
It changes everything for me. I wake up with a start every morning. I feel a sense of panic for much of the day. I can’t focus. All of these emotions are ones I haven’t felt regularly since the first year after Shawn died.
My stress response is totally out-of-whack.
I’ve worked so hard to get to a place that felt “normal.” I mean, I knew I’d never feel the same as I once did, before Shawn was sick. When people would tell me to find a “new normal” I wanted to punch them. Still, I tried to figure out how to live in this world and still experience joy.
And I got there. At least for a while.
Now, I feel like I’m back at square one. Most of it is the innate fear I feel that I am the only one protecting and providing for my children. I think they feel this too, as all three of them are demanding more of my minute-to-minute attention. They asking for more hugs throughout the day. They just need so much from me, and too many of our interactions are tinged with anxiety.
Claire and Austin are old enough to not say every single thing that comes into their heads, but Tommy isn’t. “Mama, I love you!” he said last night as he wrapped his arms around me. I hugged him back. “I love you, too!” I said.
Then he looked right at me and said, “Don’t die, okay?”
“I’m not going to die!” I said, emphatically, and he smiled sheepishly.
Repeating this type of interaction over and over again is pretty emotionally exhausting. And it adds to the unease that I feel.
So when I see those images on social media, the ones of the intact families doing art projects together or the couples walking hand-in-hand on a hike, I don’t just feel annoyed. I’m not just jealous that they have each other.
I also feel an overwhelming sense of something else. It’s not exactly panic, but more like a deep-seated anxiety that I thought I had overcome. It’s an anxiety that says, “there is something really bad out there in the world, and you don’t have anyone by your side. You are totally alone.”
This year, I made a conscious effort to try and stop saying, “I am alone.” I wanted to recognize that though I am without a partner, I have lots of other people around me – my friends, my family, my students, my kids.
But this coronavirus crisis reminds me that I am actually alone. I am actually on my own, even if a lot of other people outside my home care deeply about me.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.