I have been lucky. Well, I’ve been lucky and privileged. I did not lose my job or my home due to this pandemic. Even if I did lose either of those things, I have a safety net I could fall back on. I am white and identify as cisgender. I am not in an area where my ability to vote the way I feel safest is under threat.
Still, I have found myself not being okay. I gradually rode fear and frustration into a depressive state, paralyzed by my anxiety and worry. Worry for folks who must risk getting COVID in order to work, worry for folks getting evicted, worry for protesters getting sick, injured, arrested, or worse, worry for asylum seekers and immigrants being illegally detained and separated from their families, worry for folks on Native lands being forced into in-school learning, worry that the loved ones and communities of black folks murdered by police won’t see justice- then feeling guilt for my worry and weakness. Why aren’t I stronger? I am not experiencing any of these injustices directly- why am I shaking when I read about them? Why am I crying every day? I withdrew from my support system because I felt ashamed for my inability to handle what is happening in the world when other people shoulder such immensely heavy loads.
It is my responsibility to take action against these injustices, to support the experts working to create lasting change, and to follow those pursuits continuously for the rest of my life- whether these fights are in the headlines or not. It felt like, though, when the crescendo of chaos and hurt reached its peak, I was helpless. I felt like the cliché of “white woman tears” was directly referring to me. I know none of this is about my feelings, and I agree with that wholeheartedly. At the same time I see now that this can both not be about my feelings, but still require me to take care of my feelings and not shame myself for them.
I’ve been in therapy for over two years and it has helped me in more ways than I can quantify. Two months ago, however, when my therapist suggested that I consider medication for the first time, that feeling of failure deepened. Why can’t I handle this? I should be supporting the people dealing with extreme difficulties right now and instead I need support. But at that point I was too far gone to use my regular coping mechanisms, so I consulted with a doctor and started an anti-depressant.
As much as I am a proponent for normalizing therapy and medication, I had a hard time sharing this with the people close to me. Some people may be finding out by reading this post. Taking a step to try and improve my mental health, though, proved to be the kick starter I needed. I realized that I was trying to function at a high level when I wasn’t even functioning on a basic level. I was pulling away from people in my life who might need some extra support because I wanted to make sure I didn’t make them hold space for me when I knew I should be holding space for them. I said I was “fine” and just “you know, dealing with what life is like now…” and pretty much every time I’d get a similar response back. But what if I’d been honest? What if I’d said, “I’m actually not doing well. I’m scared. I’m worried about people. I don’t know how to deal with these feelings.” Would people have opened up right back? Would that have actually given me the opportunity to hold space for them and be there for them the way that I wanted to be? Probably, yes.
So that’s what I’m trying now. I am going to approach my business and my personal life with a lot of honesty. Honesty about not always knowing what to do. Honesty about living with mental illness in 2020. And honesty about how if you care deeply about supporting others, you have to make sure you are first supporting yourself. For women in particular, I feel that is a hard concept to fathom. Even just typing it, I felt selfish, over-privileged, even entitled. But the truth is, I wasn’t okay, and now that I am taking better care of myself, those worries that became reasons I didn’t want to get out of bed, once again feels like calls to action. Whether you’re fighting for your community or a community you want to support, use that support system, be honest about how you’re doing, and be kind to yourself. I’m here if you need someone to listen.