January 2020. I was sitting in the darkened room waiting to see my Retina specialist. I have eye issues. The lighting is subdued as the patients all have their eyes dilated before seeing the Doctor. Light of course is therefore painfully bright. The television on the wall is showing a news story about a new virus in China. Two men near me are discussing the story. I tune them out. I tune it all out. It had been two months since my husband had died and I was in my own world. Venturing out of my basement to see the specialist was hard enough. I didn’t care what was happening in the world when my own had just come crashing down around me. Looking back I realize I have learned more about myself and my fellow man than about the disease itself.
Early March had me driving from Calgary to Victoria to attend the wedding of a life long friend. It was exhausting on so many levels. Physically, mentally and emotionally. Road trips were fun as a couple and we did lots by car and motorbike. Alone is a different matter especially in the aftermath of losing my spouse. The music is loud and varied and tears flowed with memories brought forth by the songs. The wedding itself and the wonderful day with old and new friends was what was needed. The bride and groom and their friends and family are all the type who make you feel that you are where you need to be. It was a healing time. As the grooms sister said to me, seeing me there made her realize I was going to be okay. And I am.
Within days of my return home the province locked down so much and my daughters locked away in their homes with their families. Five birthdays were celebrated with me on a front sidewalk waving to a child or grandchild. And yet, I found the seclusion was comforting. Before the lockdown I felt the need to be polite and spend time with those friends and neighbours who wanted nothing more than to reach out and comfort me. The lockdown brought an excuse. No one could come to my house. It became my safe place. My tight circle of girls know who I am and what I need and pulled me along in my healing in the best ways even as they too had their own sorrows and painful times. We come together knowingly with love but leave silence and peace in our wake with the knowledge that someone out there loves us deeply. I see us with locked arms in a circle, Sometimes standing tall, sometimes leaning left and sometimes leaning right. In the end on either side is someone to lean on when needed no matter how the circle moves.
In time as we experienced more and more freedom in our world I found I was soon part of things I had never really experienced in my life as a couple. Many women are part of a couple but have very rich and varied relationships with other women. Indeed some crave it. Although some may disagree, I am truly an introvert. As my naturopath says I live life too much on my own. As well as living too much in my head. Life within organized groups of women exposed me to a different view of life. Although I was a part of it all, I really wasn’t. Everyone knew each other and I was known but not as a close friend. An acquaintance. But I am not easy to know. There is a part of an introvert that wants the closeness of the group. Friends with everyone. Spending time together. Closeness. Inclusivity. On the other hand I find these things exhausting after a short period of time. It takes time and effort to be a good friend or even a casual acquaintance. Something I am only willing to do for a select few. My first sojourn into therapy taught me the “Dance of Intimacy”. My Psychologist of course introduced me to the idea that although I craved intimacy with my spouse I needed separation. A certain level of autonomy. Independence. My hubby and I were smart enough to understand this. Luckily for me my close besties also recognize this in me and accept it.
The fall found us all wondering what was going to happen next. The joy of the spring was gone. Back then we thought we were seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. But again we were facing an uncertain future. All around me are stories of unhappiness. Anger. Our lives were turned upside down again. Everyone has an opinion. That hasn’t changed. No one really knows what should have been done from the beginning. We aren’t allowed to go see friends and yet we are social creatures. We want our holidays to be spent with family but being with our families day in and day out makes us nuts. My niece pointed out to me that we complain about kids and screen time and yet everything is screen time now. The only people who seem to be okay are the introverts. But are they really? You can’t see into their lives. Their minds. The problem can’t be summed up in one sentence. If our problems are complex, the solutions are certainly not simple. We blame covid for everything but it has become a catalyst.
Covid is physically more dangerous for people with pre-existing conditions. What the medical community is talking about is medical conditions. However as time moves on it is apparent that this virus is speeding up our social issues as well. We all had issues before but now they seem worse. It preys on our minds and the minds of those around us. The fear of the future is overtaking our thoughts. Fear can make us do things without thinking them through. Nature made us that way for a reason. The thing is our minds can protect us in times of danger but they can also destroy us. It seems like we are less afraid of dying from the disease than we are of the future. But our fears and anger are destroying our futures. So what do we do? Not everyone can afford therapy.
I quoted Sartre last night to my daughter Drew. “Other people are hell” is from his play No Exit. Why he wrote it or what he meant has been debated for years. For me the quote is simple and in these times it explains so much. We live in a time when so much of our happiness comes from what other people think of us. We spend our time creating a polished version of ourselves so others will approve. Or give us the narcissistic supply we all crave to some degree. We need other people. Always have. But now we need them to admire us. My Christian friends will argue with me but we need to look inside ourselves. That is where we will find peace and contentment. As I told Drew, we look to others for validation but in turn they become the barriers to our happiness. We forget other people are doing the same thing. Both wanting but neither delivering what we need. Or what we think we need. It is a vicious circle that goes round and round. Covid is the catalyst that makes this merry go round speed up faster and faster until we simply can’t hold on any longer. Some let go and fly off. The answer isn’t how to hold on tighter. The answer is how do we slow this down. We can’t stop it but we don’t need to feed the beast.
I look at the calendar and see my annual appointment with my Retina specialist in a couple of weeks. A lot has happened in the last twelve months. There are some people who aren’t in my life anymore. I feel loss but the one lesson I have learned is that I am still here. I made it through. And I will be okay in the new year. Today is just another day. So is tomorrow. Our problems won’t magically disappear overnight. 2020. 2021. They are just numbers. Labels. But we can change our mindset. We can slow the spinning wheel. That is the power we have. Look inside. There is an amazing human being in there who loves who you already are. Tap into that. That is pretty much all you can control going forward. See you next year!