There is No Rulebook for COVID-19, But Please… Don’t Fight What You’re Feeling

Sometime last week (because really, what are days anymore?), I had every intention of mustering up the energy for an at-home workout.

But as my eyeballs glazed over mid-way through another episode of Vanderpump Rules (seemingly my quarantine activity of choice, along with obsessively scrolling through Toronto apartment listings, watching TikToks and having one-sided conversations with my dog), I realized I didn’t want to do anything. My laptop sat open beside me, with an empty — translation: neglected — document staring back at me in a way I could only interpret as accusatory. Of course, I intended to work on that article. I also intended to read the heap of books I had ordered online during a moment of manic optimism (“I’m going to be so productive during this time!”). I also intended to try some new recipes out, start baking again, become a long-distance runner (even though I hate running), find a new job, and a new apartment.

And yet here I was, sitting in some weird reality-TV induced daze on my couch, suddenly aware of the mounting pressure on my chest. A foreign feeling for me, but one that could only be described as a dull heaviness that constricted my breath, paired perfectly with the ache that had materialized in my temples. I attempted to explain the sensation to my friend over FaceTime, and she plainly replied: “Lauren, that’s probably anxiety”.

I mean sure, I had felt anxious before, but this was the first time I was feeling it in such a physical way. An analytical person by nature, I realized I had spent the last few days mentally fighting with myself. On one hand, I wanted to appease my Type-A nature and tackle every possible project and task on my ambitious To-Do list, and on the other — I felt completely out of sorts. The past few weeks had been consumed by deadlines; specifically, writing articles centered around the global pandemic we now face. The moments not dedicated to writing about COVID-19 were spent reading about it, or receiving yet another message from a friend who had just been laid off, or a friend whose business had to close its doors. And then… I was laid off too. Although I typically have plenty of freelance work to keep me afloat, I aptly realized that those clients might disappear, as well. One by one, each domino was falling. And sure, it was bound to happen; the world has been turned on its head, after all. We will all feel its impact in some, inevitable way. But at times like these, that reality can be a tough pill to swallow. 

Obviously, this is new territory for me (correction: new territory for all of us). And as I find myself neurotically wiping down countertops as if I’m cleaning up a murder scene, while subsequently feeling uncharacteristically irritable and unmotivated, the writing is on the wall — I’m grasping for control. Everything is changing right now, while we are simultaneously stuck in place, with no shortage of unanswered questions. Will I be hired back after this? Will my relationship survive this isolation period? Will my entrepreneur and freelancer friends be able to weather this storm? Will quarantine measures increase in their intensity? Will they last 3 months, 6 months, a year? Will Toronto start to resemble the situation we now see unfolding in Italy or New York? How will the global economy survive this? Will I be able to move in July? Will I be able to pay my rent? Will all the physical, financial, and professional progress I made over the last year become a casualty of COVID-19? It doesn’t matter how many articles I read, or how many conversations I have; ultimately, I don’t have the answers. None of us do. And I’m anxious AF about it.

Of course, some days, I feel fine. Some days, I’m productive. I read books, I write, I workout, I FaceTime with people I love, I go on long (solo) walks with my dog, I sit on my deck and feel the sun on my face and think “this isn’t that bad”. I look at COVID-19 related memes and have a laugh. I can make light of the circumstances. I cook a great meal with a glass of wine and feel incredibly grateful for the roof over my head, the food in my fridge, the money in my bank account, my health, and the people in my life. I recognize how lucky I am, and I know that it could be much worse. And yet, other days I feel lost in purgatory with nowhere to go. It may take me hours just to get up and showered, let alone answer emails, train, or get through a chapter of a book. Some days, I look at my laptop screen with an empty Word doc staring back at me and feel like I have nothing to say. I feel scattered, and paranoid. I find myself crying for no discernable reason and, although I know I should keep my eyes glued to the silver lining(s), it just feels like an uphill battle.

All of this is to say — it’s okay to feel however you need to feel. And while that may seem to be an obvious sentiment, especially as we all preach the importance of not putting unrealistic pressure on yourself during this time, it’s a reminder I definitely needed. My mantra of “keep it moving” has abruptly changed to “sit the f*ck down”. I have to sit with uncertainty. I have to sit with discomfort. I have to adapt. More than that, I have to recognize and appreciate my privilege, while also still giving myself the space to feel the full spectrum of my emotions. I have to accept that, while I can do my best to offer friends and loved ones advice and support, I can’t physically be there for them (and vice versa). All we can do, right now, is stay home and wait this out. And while there are no set or guaranteed timelines, I urge everyone to practice relentless compassion right now — both towards ourselves and to others. Many of us are grieving in some way; whether it’s related to the health of a loved one, fear of the unknown, the risk to a business or livelihood, or the abrupt change to our normal routines. Don’t sweep it under the rug, give yourself permission to feel whatever you need to feel. Take what you need, recognize that each day may be different, find purpose where you can, and find joy in the simple things if possible. Acknowledge feelings as they come, be gracious in your self-understanding, practice self-care, and connect with others (virtually) when you’re feeling isolated.

Like all things, this too shall pass, but in the meantime; don’t fight what you’re feeling. Chances are, we’re all feeling it too and, ultimately, we’ll find our way through to the other side.