Beware the blues after your first post-COVID gathering

We’re all anxiously awaiting being vaccinated and finally getting to visit friends in person after more than a year of social distancing. Be prepared for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster — up and down — on that first post-COVID gathering.

A month ago our good friends K & M reached out and asked if Daniel and I were interested in getting together for several days of visiting, food, board games, movies, and visiting after some mutually-agreed-upon quarantining prior. All 4 of us are fully work-from-home and have been following very similar stringent quarantining protocols for the past year which certainly made things simpler.

Daniel and I readily agreed and we had several Zoom visits discussing what “super-quarantining” (my wording) meant to all of us. We then super-quarantined for 2 weeks before Daniel and I drove out to their place for a delightful 5 days. Our car was loaded with food & board games we got to share with others at the same table.

The visit itself was amazing. By the third day I had, surprisingly, stopped even thinking about the pandemic and analyzing every decision to see if it was a safe one. It was like the Before Times!

While I anticipated some initial anxiety on seeing them in-person (OMG: inside with people without masks!?), and the heady high from eating at the same table, I was not prepared for the extreme emotional drop the day after we got home.

And wow was there an emotional drop! We got home on a Wednesday evening and Thursday was the most depressed I’ve been in a very very long time. It wasn’t any one thing — or maybe it was everything? Maybe it was because I was coming back to being stuck in my house and working from my basement for an unknown number of weeks (months?). Maybe it was because I had a taste of the Before Times and the transition back to the now-COVID Times happened in 12 hours instead of 12 months. Regardless, I was not prepared for it and it was a very dark day.

Friday, the day after, was better. Saturday I felt like a new human being. Actually, I felt better than I had in a very long time and that mental state has stuck with me these past few days. It’s as though I finally remembered what hope was. I remembered what life was like before COVID and the knowledge that something like it was in my not-too-distant future.

When you have your first post-COVID gathering, I hope it is joyous and everything that you were missing for months. Plan to give yourself some space and time a few days after for some transient blues.

A privileged pandemic lament

It’s been over a year now and I am really, truly, missing…

  • hugging my best friend
  • touching people
  • time away from my husband
  • partner acrobatics with my friends
  • running on weekends with my friends
  • having a workday without a Zoom call
  • leaving the house to go to work
  • leaving the house without agoraphobia
  • walking downtown among people
  • eating at a restaurant
  • riding the bus
  • traveling: outside the city, the state, the country
  • having the energy to exercise every day
  • having the energy to get out of bed
  • not feeling overwhelmed by every little problem
  • not wearing a mask

Break Glass List

Today I’m working through my Break Glass list, a tool that has helped me deal with some almost-overwhelming anxiety the past few weeks. I learned about this mental health tool a few months ago from my BFF Jonobie who in turn learned it from her therapist.

A Break Glass list is simply a list of things that help ground you physically or mentally. Things that, were we not overwhelmed and just a bit down, we might do anyway. But when our systems are overloaded it’s hard for us to think of those simple things which is why we have this list made in advance. Then when we’re feeling overwhelmed we only need to remember one thing:

In case of emergency, break glass.

I keep my list in a Google Keep document that I can readily access from my phone or computer whenever I need it. Here’s my list, which is very me and likely not useful to you as-is but might give you some ideas:

  • Listen to Working Girl soundtrack
  • Close your eyes and take deep breaths
  • Text Jonobie or Jeena
  • Stretch
  • Drink water
  • Eat something
  • Step away from the computer / phone
  • Go get a Sonic cherry coke

The trick is making this list in advance so you have it when you need it.

Searching for evidence of beauty you cannot see

[I]n this pandemic haunted world in which we now live, some of y’all are in dark places too, some of you for the first time. And while I don’t know what it is like to be you, I do want to let you know that it is important to realize that your reality is not the only reality, and the world is still a beautiful place and worth fighting for, and that sometimes the best you can do is to search for the evidence of the beauty you cannot see, and then rest in it until the darkness passes.

Hugh Hollowell, Life is So Beautiful #54

Accepting the new normal

I think I’ve moved into the final stage of grief: acceptance.

For 8 weeks I’ve been grieving, among many things, that my old life is over. Going to the gym at 5:30a every morning. Running with good friends on Sundays and laughing with them as we share lunch together. Going to shows at ACT and listening to the Seattle Symphony. Eating out at amazing restaurants. Hugging friends so dear to you that they’re family. Board game nights and shared dinners with loved ones.

That life is over for the foreseeable future for very valid reasons.

This is the new normal.

Now I’m focused on switching from “surviving until this is over” to “living in the mid- and post-pandemic world”. It’s hard and sad. It’s also necessary for me to drag myself out of “I’m alive out of obligation” back into “living again”.