By Anne T. Donahue
Today marks one year since the pandemic began, and on TV this morning, the heart of each story was about milestones, reflections, and the general nightmare the last year has been. The tone was somber, the content more so, and there was talk about what we’ve all learned and how we’ll apply all of it in the next chapter. The thing is, I have absolutely no idea.
Grief is a complex, cruel, unrelenting entity. And the loss we’ve all experienced over the last 52 weeks exists in its own plain and on its own level. Worse yet, our collective grief is separate from what we’re all experiencing on our own. Because while we can all commiserate that the last year has been terrible, there’s also the reality that many of us are still experiencing private loss and have had to file away our emotional, mental, and even physical crises since the pandemic isn’t over yet. Yes, there are vaccines. Yes, there is hope for the first time in what feels like a century. But the catastrophe is still present. The waves of grief and loss and anxiety and depression and fear are hitting us over and over again. And that makes it impossible for me to see past what I’m feeling right now. Because honestly, if I start to plan and plot for the future, that’s when I won’t be able to keep it together today.
I’m somebody who fears looking too far ahead. This is a new development and not one I’m used to, but the all-encompassing presence of covid on top of many other scares and worries has forced me to see only what I’m doing in this second lest I begin to spin out. Currently, I’m typing this piece next to a glass of ginger ale-flavoured sparkling water, and when I’m finished, I will write back to an email. Everything else feels too far, and everything else feels like it could be taken away. Who am I to say what I’ll be doing later this evening? Are you kidding me? Have we learned nothing? Life comes at you quick, and then tells you to quit trying to control it so much, you precious idiot.
Over the last year, the only way I’ve learned not to find myself descend into an anxiety spiral is to not reflect at all. Have I changed since March 2020? Absolutely. But outside of obvious revelations, I’m not ready to sink myself into cold, hard truths I’m still largely working out. I’m not ready to sit with the past and comfortably engage with forced perspective I do not have. I’m still a mess. I’m still sad. I’m still scared and anxious and shaken. I really don’t know what my belief system is, and I’ve given up the idea of ever feeling fully “fixed.” After all, none of us are the same people we were last March. None of us think the same or feel the same or even want the same things. And why should we? We’re still wading through an absolute shitshow, and not even world leaders can keep it together.
So maybe you’re not like me, and can take stock and size up and step into the person you’ve grown into lately. (If so, congrats! Goddamn!) But if you are, look back on and sort through the last year of trauma when you want. Milestones can be important, but they can also be a reminder of the moment you felt yourself begin to slip. Right now all that matters is that you keep your footing. Only you know how to move onto the next moment in a way that helps you build yourself rather than deplete the energy you have left.
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