When I finally suffered through COVID in late October, it left me with a solid case of the blues. I realized how exhausted I was from two big projects that cost me money and time in 2022, even though I had consciously chosen them and was not regretful. I rested even more than my usual practice, stopping anything that required my pro-activity. I gave myself permission to use my energy to meander through low-key activities that had no deadlines. I did not know that post-COVID depression was real. My well-being efforts barely kept my head above water as a sense of despair enveloped me. Then my oldest sister died the day after Christmas and the dance of grief and melancholy welcomed in 2023.
March 17th was the 3rd anniversary of Shelter in Place (SIP) and the COVID lockdown. Like all anniversaries, it was rife with emotional energy that has been leaking from my heart for three years. This post-shadow shows up in many situations, a bone-weary feeling that no amount of sleep, joy, or good compania can counter. My emotional tank is one comment or car cutting me off from dipping down into red no matter what I do, and I am la reina of self-care.
I was not at my best when the pandemic began–was grieving a friendship, mired in the mush of half-baked book manuscripts, and weary of my landlord’s histrionics. I was not pretending to be fine, not pretending that the added pandemic tears were a wonderful gift to build my already stalwart character. The two following March 17ths came and went, the list of attacks on black people continues, 1000 children are still not reunited with their families, indigenous land acknowledgments are still mainly performative, school shootings are too common, and Asian hate does not dissipate.
It was no surprise that the pandemic ripped the bandaid off of any semblance of equitable health care and resulted in fleeting applause for those called “essential workers”. When throngs of white people marched in protests during the first summer, I knew it was just a “phase.” As people celebrated Biden, I knew his administration would soon disappoint. Meanwhile, the “Pandemic Response Accountability Committee said it identified 69,323 questionable Social Security Numbers used to obtain $5.4 billion from the Small Business Administration’s COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and Paycheck Protection Program.” Luckily I am not one of those, as I was assisted by a program geared toward BIPOC sole proprietors to receive aid after being turned down by countless banks. Many small businesses are no more because that $5.4 billion never reached them.
When SIP officially began in California, I no longer considered the trees outside my window as warm welcoming neighbors, but as evidence that I was alone, more alone than I could have imagined. After moving to Los Angeles to stay with familia for almost three months, I returned, moved to an emotionally safer studio, and found an unofficial emotional support dog. Fourteen-year-old Sandy has been the salve to my still easily triggered nervous system, even after almost three years. She is my corazón, my touchpoint. I share with her “official” caretakers and all who meet her. She is old and on the downturn, so every moment is precious.
In May of 2022, the San Francisco Bay Area was in the “peak” week of COVID positive tests and hospitalizations from the latest Omicron variant. Across the US, we had reached 1 million deaths. It’s on par with the population of San Jose, CA, the nation’s 10th-largest city.
We still have no clear path amid the rampant inequality and wretched traffic that could have been eliminated. I moved towards my goals with steady progress through 2020 into 2021, and 2022. I published Breaking Through Your Own Glass Ceiling, my second book, and recorded and published two audiobooks. My online course for the first two sections of my book Breaking Through Your Own Glass Ceiling went live, and I submitted two fully baked essay collections to manuscript contests, agents, and publishers in 2022. Another book began slowly winding its way onto the page and gave me the opportunity to interview and engage deeply with friends and colleagues. I recently left a business coaching program with enough knowledge to support BIPOC businesses to create generational wealth, a new direction for my decades of racial equity work.
My mind (and friends) state: “That is amazing.” My heart says: “Ho-hum. I need a goodie and another British crime procedural to watch with at least one BIPOC in a leading role.” The emoji that gauges the tone of what I am writing has its mouth open in a WTF posture with blue on the head. The first year of seeing people wearing masks and standing on Xs seemed crazy and now the Xs have faded but signs still ask us to distance, to no avail. 2021 had me struggling to shift my nervous system’s constant high alert down to a low hum when near humans. This third year portended more of the start/stop that is life in the midst of a lagging pandemic with a war everyone is acknowledging and tracking as it involves Russia. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “war” as: (1) A state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country; (2) a state of competition or hostility between different people or groups, or (3) a sustained campaign against an undesirable situation or activity. There are civil wars in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Yemen. Countries (not exhaustive) that fall under the “war” definition number eighteen, and don’t include the Israel-Palestine “conflict”.
Blues are for the blue. That has been the color of my heart’s shadow even as I laugh and dance, play tennis, work out, meditate, and practice yoga. I can’t find more than a few ounces of pleasure most days so I pause to feel it fully. I keep moving and resting, one turtle step at a time.
Early 2023 found me even more fatigued. I chalked it up to post-COVID depression, a 2022 full of disappointment, and my grief. After a tough week in Mexico, I experienced double vision and my heart felt as if it was pounding. The optometrist said there were no eye issues. My doctor ran bloodwork and the preliminary diagnosis is an autoimmune illness of my thyroid, often brought on by trauma. While disconcerting at first, I was relieved to know I listened to my body. “Something is not right.” is what I said. I will work with my western doctor and my naturopath to bring the symptoms into remission. I see the light and know now that my energy will return and my sight will improve. Feeling unmotivated for months is tough since I usually exude vitality. I told people my inner cheerleader was in the corner in a fetal position and I was giving her as much time as she needed. I now know she was and is still is ill.
There is only so much a heart can stand. A coaching client was surprised when the staff reacted strongly to a change in the file storage system. I reminded her, as I remind myself when I flip off drivers, our nervous systems are still fragile, and some have never known anything other than that. My way of being kind with my personal brand of “road rage” is to add the word “behavior” to the expletive I shout when a car swerves in front of me even when there is no traffic. This reminds me it is not the person, it is the behavior I detest. As in “asshole…behavior” or “shithead…behavior.”
All this as the economy tanks once again on those already beaten down with centuries of colonization and disregard. We still face emerging viruses with the only response to keep injecting poisons into our bodies in the hopes the pros outnumber the cons. The vaccine was not the full answer. It was more akin to Biden not being the white savior. It is better than what we had before–a rapidly spreading virus and a virulent president. If anything, the pandemic showed even more clearly that information and education do not trump white supremacy. It showed that organizations prefer traffic to creating local work hubs or allowing people to keep working at home. The emoji is a sad emoji now, although with me writing that it went back to the aggrieved expression.
Where do I land each time I fall? That, as always, the present moment is enough. Stay on the ground, assess the situation–good, bad, neutral, combo? While I have more compassion for myself, I have less for others who speak over me or tell me to tone down. I still wear a mask in indoor situations like shops or buses. The World Health Organization still considers the COVID-19 pandemic a public health emergency of international concern, citing increasing coronavirus deaths globally.
It helps to be outside, to parallel work with a friend on computers, to enjoy golosinas y un cafecito. Do I want the emoji to shift to something less traumatic? Not until it is time. Until then I bid you to check in and notice the color of your heart. I bid you share honestly and with no pretense. I bid you be with people who see all of your magic and celebrate your full self in the midst of climate crisis, pandemic jitters, and racial injustice trauma. You are not alone as you sometimes inch out of bed and into the day with a good cup of whatever delights your tongue. I find solace in books, in podcasts, with courageous people helping me navigate these times, and in new creative outlets like jigsaw puzzles, art classes, jewelry repairing, and sewing.
My daily dance with anxiety and depression, and now with an illness, reminds me that like the tide, one day will flow into another and I will find the energy to get up and get going. I am often weary of being brave, of finding my way in a world that wants to tame me. Pero no me rindo. Because I am never alone, and neither are you. That does not mean I am not lonely. Unfortunately, I am also not alone among friends who have also received troubling diagnoses.
Listen to your body and your heart, no matter what. I still have space for more kayaking companions, more walking peeps, and more people with whom to play and watch tennis. More than anything, I welcome more suggestions on how to rest like a giant tree in the midst of praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow that have always come and gone like the wind.