A pandemic has a tendency to get you thinking about the things that are really important. Like human connections, particularly in this lock-down-and-stay-home moment. And my own mental health.
I’ve been thinking a lot about all the friends I’ve ducked or ignored over the past few years. They’ve deserved way better from me, these friends. One of them — someone I finally reconnected with after pestering them with an email, text, and Facebook message — asked me, “Were you just sick of everybody?”
On one level, maybe I was. On another level, maybe I was just sick of me.
Life gets overwhelming. Even when faith keeps me going, I still want to hide from people most of the time. A long, stressful day of dealing with colleagues and internal clients at work — and there are a lot of those kind of days — leaves me spent and really wanting to be left alone. The demands of the most intense relationships (family) and the demands of those obligations that feel less important by comparison (church, the few people left I haven’t yet alienated) take whatever energy is left. And when I’m stretched thin, anxiety kicks in. And I want to hide, even (or especially) from the people I love and who mean the most to me.
Now, I realize I’m fortunate, that calling this a “struggle” (which I generally avoid) may be laughable, given that a lot of people out there have genuine struggles with health, job security (or job loss), and other issues brought about by lockdowns and such. And when I think about that, the thoughts spiral downward even more.
This is a weird variation of the compulsion to compare one’s life to others — one of the worst hazards of social media. My life’s not so bad, right? I’m paralyzed with anxiety and exhaustion and physical pain, yeah. But hey, I still have a job that I can do from home, I have a family that loves me, and I’m otherwise in reasonably good health. And that all means I’ve no right to blow off loyal friends and turn inward, right? (Okay, blowing off loyal friends is wrong.)
There are articles and blog posts that address this sort of thing. Psychology Today, for instance:
You have the right to feel whatever you are feeling, regardless of what others have been through relative to your experience. Feeling your feelings doesn’t make you ungrateful for what you have; it makes you human.
Compounding these feelings is that we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others. This can be reinforced by society: For example, people tell us about someone they feel has exeprienced more suffering than we have. A friend may mean well when they say, “At least you aren’t in ____________’s situation,” but that invalidates your experience. …
You have a right to feel what you feel, regardless of what others say or how you view your challenges in light of others’ suffering. Everyone has challenges; just different ones. Your challenges are a challenge to you, and that makes them valid. Period.
Chad at the No Stigmas blog makes this point: “Nobody gets to decide who deserves who gets help. Nobody gets to decide who might have it worse.” He goes on (as does the Psychology Today article) to urge the reader to find someone to help you: “If the first person you go to doesn’t help, then go to another, and another until somebody helps you. Somebody will help you. They can’t fix you, but they can help you.” (Emphasis mine.)
Tim Challies, a blogger speaking from a faith perspective, speaks to me most clearly on this topic:
Our God is not some distant ruler exercising indifferent authority over the universe but a present helper in our times of trouble — our every time of trouble. He does not demand that we justify our pains before feeling them or rationalize our tears before shedding them. He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He does not insist our trouble rise to a certain degree or extent before he becomes that refuge and strength. He is at all times and in every situation “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).
In your illness, in your pain, in your suffering, don’t immediately compare yourself to others, and don’t feel the need to justify your sorrow before God. Don’t wallow silently and stoically. Turn first to your Father, cry out to him, and receive his comfort.
(I could dive into the whole Catholic theology of redemptive suffering here, especially as it’s smack in the middle of the Triduum as I write this, but that’s for another time. It’s not that I disagree with the idea of redemptive suffering, and many times I take great comfort in it. But right now, advice to “offer it up” — however well-meaning it is — really doesn’t click with me. It will eventually. It usually does.)
So, yeah, I guess I was sick of everybody. And sick of myself.
Time to stop withdrawing and stop trying to suck it up. Time to reconnect, even if it might be risky or painful. Time to find some help.