Despite the fact that I live on a boat and homeschool my kids, I’m not the kind of person who lies around in my PJs all day. For my own mental health, I have gotten up every morning for the last 18 1/2 years (as long as I’ve been a stay-at-home mom) and started my day dressed for success. For me that means a sundress or skirt/skort and top, or maybe blue jeans if it’s cold, and a matching necklace. If I’m having a really rough morning, I might put even put on a little makeup to spruce myself up, but those extreme measures are rarely necessary.
This quarantine has probably pushed all of us to the edge of our emotional comfort zones, and maybe over the edge in some cases. For people who have never been at home full-time with their kids, it has probably been extremely challenging. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are single people suffering from isolation and wishing they had family around to keep them company! Though I am more accustomed than most to being in a small space with my family, having nowhere to go to get off the boat even has me struggling a bit. I woke up Saturday feeling so blue I didn’t bother to get dressed. I wasn’t able to pep-talk myself out of my funk by the first cup of coffee, so I took the second cup down to my cabin and wallowed. When my youngest kid came down to see what I was up to, I responded this way:
“You know when you’re having a bad day, when you have a bad attitude and everything that comes out of your mouth gets you into trouble, and I have to send you to your room to get control of yourself? Well…I sent myself to my room. And I’ll come up when I have control of myself.” She accepted this explanation and did a great job of entertaining herself the rest of the day.
Later, Jay came down, worried, and tried to snap me out of it by offering the old “we have a lot to be thankful for” speech. I acknowledged that he was right, assured him that I was feeling grateful…but that I still felt sad. That I could both realize what I have (food, family, health, home, love) and grieve at the same time (suffering of others, loss of normalcy, missing time with friends, loss of freedom, ruined plans). To make matters worse, the weather had turned hot and buggy for a few days and the mosquitoes and sweat had lowered my sleep quality. Nothing like physical discomfort to enhance the experience of wallowing. And hormones, don’t forget hormones.
So I spent the whole day just being sad. In the afternoon, I reached out to a friend, whose elderly mother lives with her. I had just read some news about how nursing homes are death-traps right now, and I got outside myself long enough to send a message saying I was so glad her mom was at home with her, even though I know that care-taking has been hard sometimes. She responded, and asked how I was doing. I answered honestly, and she called. Bless her—she’s no stranger to anxiety and depression—and she seems to have a knack for speaking kind words and making me laugh. We had a long talk, and by the end of our conversation, I no longer felt like crying. When we hung up, she sent me some photos of her daffodils, which are blooming, and it made me smile.
I got up, took a shower, got a haircut (thanks to my teenage daughter’s newly-acquired hairdressing skills), watched the sunset with Jay on the foredeck, and made a nice dinner. I woke up Sunday feeling much better. And now I’m asking myself: is a day spent wallowing a waste of time? Is there something else I should have done? Does camping out in the valley sadness have a purpose? My conclusions so far:
- Wallowing didn’t make me feel better. That’s the point. I was choosing to stay in my sadness, literally rolling in it. But there’s a fine line between sadness and self-pity.
- It’s okay to experience the whole range of human emotions, as long as we don’t let them run the show. It’s okay to go to the edge of the lake, dip our toes in, get wet…but if we wade in over our heads, we might drown. I have a healthy fear of the deep end.
- Crying out in sadness is a universally human thing to do. I love Bible stories with wallowing characters: Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, Elijah running into the desert to die, David pouring out his soul to God in sorrow, Hannah on her face in the temple begging for a child, Paul asking, “who will rescue me from this body of death?” Woe is me. They are not talking to themselves, though, but to God, with hope that help is on the way. We can let our grief become a prayer.
- Sadness/grief that doesn’t move toward acceptance or healing can become simultaneously selfish and self-destructive—choosing to dwell in disappointment prevents us from caring for ourselves and others.
- There are things I could have done despite my sadness: go for a walk, listen to music, take a shower, write in my journal, complete a task, read a book, play with my kids, practice ukulele, help someone else: any of these things could have done the trick. Sometimes, when we don’t feel like doing something, that’s exactly when we need it the most.
- I have never battled depression. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to live with a life-sapping melancholy. I am talking about one day of sadness, something a pep talk can address. If you are depressed, if your feelings of hopelessness or despair are keeping you from being able to live your life, get help. Reach out and talk to someone who understands. You are not alone.