It’s Oct. 4 and we are about seven months (feels like 20) into this COVID pandemic. I don’t have much to write because there is not a whole heck of a lot going on.
“What did you do today?”
“Not much, you?”
“I don’t really remember.”
My moods are like a pendulum swing that only goes half-way. The arc travels from a day where everything makes me cry to a day where life is not so bad, and I’m at least able to be grateful for something. I never quite reach that happy end of the curve before swinging back to the doldrums and beyond.
Those moments will eat away at my spirit and they are not how I want to spend my time…
For one thing, the yearning to see my grandchildren is visceral. It feels like a toothache in my chest, a hollow kind of pain that is no fun. FaceTime chats and videos help enormously, but nothing compares to being “Gamma” in person, reading books and singing bedtime songs.
I’ve talked to many other grandparents who feel the same way. I know I’m fortunate to have had a summer visit from my dear ones, when others have not seen theirs since last Christmas or before.
Most mornings, upon waking, anxiety hits my stomach like the anticipation of a trip to the dentist. It’s not specific, just a general dread that comes with the realization that the world and our country are in a pretty big mess right now, and things are not suddenly better overnight. This year just keeps delivering the blows and I’m wary of how the rest of the fall will play out. The endless uncertainty is taking its toll on all of us.
Reigning over a kingdom of fear and self-pity provides moments of physical rest as I sit paralyzed by indecision on how to proceed with my day. Those moments, though, will eat away at my spirit and they are not how I want to spend my time. When I find myself in that spot, which has happened a lot since March, I know it’s time to do whatever I can to reverse course on the mood pendulum. I don’t often hit the “happy” apex, but I sure feel a lot better when I am swinging in that direction.
I remember that motion is my friend. As the saying goes, “Move a muscle, change a thought.” Simply standing up and stepping outside can help one deal with everything from anger to panic attacks.
Once I’m outside, I can go for a walk. I find starting out my walks with a stomping movement to be very grounding. In these days of general unpredictability, it’s a relief to walk with intention. If I want to take my coping skills to the next level I will reach out and ask someone to go for a walk with me. (For some reason this is one of the hardest things for me to do.) A human connection gets me outside of myself and offers a fresh perspective on any situation. There may not be a whole heck of a lot to talk about these days, but we commiserate, we validate, and we usually find something to laugh about.
On days where I just can’t seem to move a muscle, I still have a powerful antidote to despair: the gratitude list. No matter what my situation, I can always find things to be grateful for. On my worst days, I can still start the list with, “I’m grateful I don’t have a sharp stick in my eye.” (See? That wasn’t so hard, unless you happened to impale your eyeball just now.)
At this time of year, living on Little Cranberry Island, there is so much to appreciate. I’m grateful for being able to take uncrowded walks outside. I’m grateful for every friend who stops to have a conversation when we meet in the road. Add to the list; the bright red leaves of the high bush blueberry plants that pop up in unexpected places, the knife-edged light of November, the sound of the sea, the abundance of birds that are coming back to my feeders, the Co-op Store and Cranberry General which have been working so hard to make groceries available on the islands, and a working ferry system delivering mail, packages, and passengers.
No one knows when this depressing era will end and I’m sorry to report that living on a favorite island does not automatically make it better. The skills for coping with COVID depression must come from within. Let’s be kind to each other, even as we despise the turmoil we’re in. At the very least we’ll be ready with a great list when it’s our turn to be thankful at the Zoom Thanksgiving meal.
Barbara Fernald lives on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island).