A friend came across this on Twitter today and sent it to me. It’s an account that’s supposed to be a lighthearted take on the challenges of parenting in the midst of a pandemic, and the intent of this post, I imagine, is pointed levity.
Comments like this present challenges for many of us who struggle with mental health. Let me explain.
Until I finally established a medication protocol that alleviated the worst of my symptoms, I would often not only be clinically depressed but also feeling incredibly guilty for feeling so awful when there were so many others who had it worse than me. I mean, if you consider Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh or the heartbreaking number of working poor with food insecurity right here in the US, my troubles pale in comparison.
This is unhelpful on a multitude of levels. First, clinical depression doesn’t care how relatively wonderful your life may be. I freely admit that I’m tremendously fortunate to reside in a first world country, to do work that I generally love and to be surrounded and supported by some wonderful people. That does not mitigate, however, the fact that, before I finally found the right combination of meds, my mind felt like sludge all the time, or that getting out of bed was a sheer act of will, or that despite the best of efforts – good diet, exercise, sleep, meditation, time in nature – my mood was constantly submerged.
Second, if you consider that you have it pretty good compared to others, and you feel guilty that you feel so poorly, you’re digging your hole deeper. It’s hard enough to be depressed. Feeling guilty about feeling depressed because other people are suffering more – well, you’re simply feeling bad for feeling bad, which helps neither you nor the people who are suffering more.
Third, statements like this take into no account the fact that everyone has emotions, regardless of their situation. Are some of us lucky that we’re riding out our quarantine in the relative comfort of our homes with the benefits of technology, well-stocked grocery stores and functional plumbing? Absolutely, no doubt. Does that mean we have no right to be fearful about the state of the world, or concerned about our continued well-being, or sad that we can’t hug our friends, or frustrated with the temporary limitations on our lives? No. We have every right to feel what we feel. Not allowing those emotions to exist, at least initially, can be damaging.
Our entitlement to our own feelings, however, is part of a much larger picture. Because we do inhabit a world of inequality, and there are those who suffer in many different ways, in terribly difficult situations. Allowing ourselves our own fear and frustration is important because only in acknowledging those feelings and being able to move beyond them are we able to understand the plight of others with clarity and compassion. To be compassionate to others, to be able to help in any way, we must first be compassionate ourselves.
This is all to say, regardless of who we are or where we are, all of us have probably experienced fear and grief and loneliness in these last weeks. And that’s ok. It’s ok to feel those things, and important to feel those things. Because when you fully embrace those emotions, you’re more able to process them, more able to let them evolve and soften, and more able to come to a point at which you can take the gentleness with which you faced yourself and direct that warmth to those around you.
Do you find yourself dismissive of the negative emotions that arise in you? How do you approach yourself with kindness?
My task today: do my usual run in the opposite direction. I have a couple of pretty set routes for various runs (5,6,8 and 10 miles), and I’m now challenging myself to either create new routes or reverse the ones I currently have. I think it’s important to keep the mind challenged, and to keep my runs fresh (6 backwards miles done!)