Thinking of Spring and COVID-19

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We are sheltering at home except for essentials here in southwest Florida. Some of our friends/neighbors have left for homes up north due to Covid-19 – one couple to Toronto because their insurance won’t cover Covid-19 treatment in the US and another couple back to Missouri because both have conditions that increase their vulnerability and they want to be near family and familiar doctors. We’ve been wondering when we should head home, doing a constant cost/benefit analysis. So far the benefits of staying in Florida are winning.

Friday marked the beginning of spring, but it wasn’t much noticed in Florida. Spring isn’t celebrated in Florida like it is in Michigan. It is hard to get excited about the awakening of nature in Florida because this subtropical climate doesn’t have a dormant season. Plants only slow down their growth a little in the dryer winter months and there are always some flowering plants to add patches of glorious color to the landscape. No landscape of drab blacks, browns, and greys here.

On the other hand, the first day of spring can seem like a cruel joke in Michigan. We don’t rush into spring in Michigan, the photos featured on this post were taken middle of May last year at Hidden Lake Gardens in the southern-most part of the state. For people in Michigan, the first day of spring is a celebration of hope that spring will really come – some day soon. I grew up hearing that “March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” I remember years when we observed that march came in like a lamb and out like a lion. Yes, we have had some really big snowstorms in late March and April.

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When I use my logic, I know that our quality of life is better where we live in Florida than where we live in Michigan. Here I have sunshine every day, our livingroom and diningroom are open to our screened lanai so I hear birds all day long, I have ready access to plentiful fresh fruits and vegetables at the market a mile down the street, I have daily access to our pool and a great neighborhood to bike in, and I can always drive into the Everglades if I need to run away for a day.

Through my writing I am realizing that it is my grief that is driving my desire to go north, even though my head says I’m better here. I feel a deep loss from loosing church services at a church that feeds our soul, my weekly visits to the Naples Botanical Garden, not having the miles of beautiful beach available for a morning visit or an evening sunset.

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I miss not being able to go to my favorite family-owned restaurants for a cozy, fun meal with Jim and I worry about the financial viability of these restaurants and other small businesses I frequent. Most of all I worry about the service staff that we have gotten to know, who now are facing an uncertain future without sufficient income. Their faces pop into my head and I want to help them but don’t know how.

If I look inside myself, I feel a very heavy heart and a soul that is weeping. Life as I knew it is being shaken, the ground has shifted so it no longer feels stable. It is real for me, as Jim just left to go to the drugstore for some items. I know that he is more likely to get sick because he is a male but I also know that cabin fever attacks him much more quickly than it does me. When he gets home I’ll remind him to wash his hands long and well. I feel sad about our (all of us) loss of security. We don’t know what will happen and no one likes the feeling of loosing a sense of control – maybe that is why people are hoarding toilet paper.

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I remember reading about a study a long time ago, of depression in old people living in nursing homes caused by the almost total loss of control. In one study they gave each resident a geranium to care for and in another they gave them a bird in a bird cage that they needed to feed and clean up after. In both cases the people were given control over something and their moods improved. They became happier people better able to handle the stress of aging within their living environment.

I can take control of several aspects of my life even though the threats I encounter come from a little known virus that is raging through our population and experts are projecting will get much worse before it gets better. Thanks to our freedom of the press and excellent access to social media I can gain a sense of control by informing myself of facts. I listen mostly to MSNBC because I appreciate the army of experts that they interview throughout the day. I read the Washington Post and get updates from the New York Times. I refuse to accept the propaganda of a deep state that is out to get us. The deep state consists of thousands of government employees who have dedicated their lives to making sure citizens are helped by government services. I refuse to be one of the people who believes that facts are fake news. I refuse to be someone who doesn’t listen to news because “experts” are saying something different and they don’t know who to believe. If I am going to maintain some control I need to make decisions – and to make decisions I need information. I need information from multiple sources and to think about who is trustworthy – based on their education and work experience. Over time I have learned that I can’t trust our president but I can trust journalists who tell us what they have learned and who they learned it from. I trust experts while always questioning motives and bias.

I gain a sense of control every time I make a decision to wash hands, stay home, and abide by other guidelines given us by the CDC and experts on infectious deceases and pandemics. I know I am in control when I eat healthy meals and do what I can to get good sleep to keep my immune system strong. I know I have some control over the outcome of this pandemic when I reach out with a phone call, a written note, or through social media to share assurance or comfort or just fun conversation with people I know. I know I will be able to cope with isolation by keeping active with knitting, quiltmaking, editing photo files, working puzzles, exercise, reading and maintaining safe social contact with others.

I have a plan and I know I will do okay during this shitty time (no I didn’t buy extra toilet paper). Do you have a plan? How can you maintain a sense of control?

Blessings and stay well.

 

Time Heals

Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock (Photo credit: simpologist)

Time heals. We tell that to young people who have had their hearts broken. Sometimes we say it to people who have had tragic losses, when we know how much they are hurting but don’t know what to say to help them hurt less. If we are the one hurting we probably need to hear it, we need to know that the emotional pain will lessen – will get easier to bear. But when we are in the middle of our pain we also want to scream “How do you know? How can you possibly know that this all-consuming pain deep in my gut will ever end?”

The experts on grief say that the only way to find resolution is to face our loss and feel our pain. This is hard work and no one can tell us the best way to grieve because there are so many different factors, such as the type of loss and the personality of the person. The grief following developing a chronic illness (fibromyalgia with chronic pain and fatigue) was a different kind of hard than other times of grief. Developing a chronic condition, especially one that involves pain, seems to changes so much about our lives and our sense of self.

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“falling apart” (Photo credit: Quasimime)

I have heard many people say, on blogs and discussion boards, that chronic illness and pain makes them feel like their life has fallen apart and they have lost their sense of self. I felt like I had lost my internal bearings, my security, something at my very core, something very important, but it was difficult for me to identify exactly what it was. I kept wanting to say that I had lost my self, but obviously that wasn’t true; my self was still waking up in the morning, fixing supper, brushing my teeth, going to the store for a gallon of milk, going to work, having lunch with friends. But I also wrote in my journal that I didn’t think it was an exaggeration to say I didn’t know who I was any more – and this brought tears to my eyes.

What caused me to cry most often was my fear of not being able to work; I wrote about that here. But it wasn’t just “work” work, it was being able to do the work of living my life fully, to be who I had known me to be as a wife and mother and friend and grandmother and church member and aunt and neighbor and… In some inexplicable way I had lost “me” and I didn’t know if I would ever get “her” back.

What does it mean to lose our self? In part it involves losing our ability to fulfill important roles. If we define our self as a parent, we lose our ability to parent, if we pride ourselves on being a caregiver we lose our ability to give care, a clear thinker can no long think, a provider can no longer provide, a hard worker can no longer work hard, a gardener can no longer garden. Sometimes it felt lost – totally gone. Sometimes only altered. Most of the time I didn’t know what was happening to me and this was scary. So much of my life activity was changing – I’ve written about that here.

My fear of so many losses led to a lot of emotional pain. I cried, sometimes so hard I doubled over. I sobbed. And I was angry – really angry. I went through a few months of being numb to the world – of being depressed and feeling the sadness at the back of my eyes. And then I cried some more. This didn’t happen in public, although some of it showed up in the form of more swear words leaking out inappropriately and less time on the outside of my door. I spent a lot of time staring into space trying to figure it all out.

This work of identifying what I was losing, according to the experts, is a necessary task if I was to heal. There was another aspect, however. People who develop chronic illnesses frequently feel defective. The loss of physical ability made me feel diminished, like less of a person. I worried about whether other people, my husband, family and friends, would still like me. After taking care of myself, I didn’t feel like I had anything left to give so why would they want me in their lives. From my journal:

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I looked at the cows at the farm today and was struck by how boring their life must be. All they do is eat and poop and sleep and eat and poop. I wonder if I am struggling with whether my life has any worth if I can’t be productive, if I can’t do for and give to others. Radical thought: Could it be possible that the sole purpose of my life is just to enjoy being alive? Lord, what do you want from me at this point in my life? Your second greatest commandment is to love one another. What does love look like when I have fibromyalgia? Does how I love change because I am sick? There is a flip side of this. Does being sick change how I let others love me? Does being sick make me less loveable? This question has some emotional kick.

Becoming aware of my fears, bringing them out into the light of day and rational thought, made it possible for me to begin to manage them. But getting control of my fears and feelings of loss wasn’t enough – I also longed to find a part of me that still existed. I began looking for evidence that I still had worth and had the same core self even though I felt vulnerable and my life felt uncertain.

Our beliefs about ourselves, our sense of self, are formed and transformed within relationships with others – what others mirror back to us (for a review of the extensive literature on this see Mikulincer & Shaver). I knew it was important to balance the negative thoughts and feelings I was experiencing so I looked for validation of my worth from within my relationships. I needed to reassure myself that the people in my life could see worth in me even when I felt defective. Here is a list I wrote in my journal:

  • My husband still loves me and desires me.
  • A valued friend is always eager to have lunch with me and understands the impact fibromyalgia is having on my self-esteem because of having Graves’s disease last fall. She treasures me for all else that I am. She wants my help in picking out quilt fabric.
  • Another friend was excited to see me and wants to have lunch with me on Monday. She also told me my suggestions for teaching her pharmacology course were very helpful.
  • Our long-time friends still want to get together for dinner and cards every month.
  • An esteemed administrator said she has missed having me on campus. She also said she really enjoys my insights into the books we read for book club.
  • A colleague who works under me said I am missed and my sabbatical has just started.
  • A friend sought me out at the picnic last weekend and really seems to enjoy how we kibitz with each other.
  • Another very capable colleague/friend said she enjoyed having supper with us and believes I can accomplish the program expansion we are going to propose. She loves the colors I chose for my living room.
  • A newer church friend seeks me out and has invited us to two different events.
  • A long-time friend asked me to run over to their house to give my opinion on their living room decorating.
  • Three different people went out of their way to say hi to me when I was on campus last week.
  • A colleague said she appreciated my encouragement and insight into starting her Ph.D. program.

I made these lists in my journal several times over the next few years as I was struggling to find emotional healing. They were an important way for me to find meaning and re-define myself. I was looking for a new way of living that didn’t include the sick role but instead had integrity. I was struggling to continue my life history, my story line, to include living with a chronic illness but also to re-member who I was; to put myself back together. Parker Palmer wrote these powerful words that resonated with what I was experiencing.

Re-membering involves putting ourselves back together, recovering identity and integrity, reclaiming the wholeness of our lives. When we forget who we are we do not merely drop some data. We dis-member ourselves, with unhappy consequences for our politics, our work, our hearts.

A large part of being able to continue my life story was figuring out how to connect who I once was with the person who now has limitation due to FM. Although the wonderful people who are a part of my life help to define me, I also knew there was a core me that I didn’t want to lose but no longer knew (or remembered). I was searching for some continuity of me. Here is a journal post from the third year after developing FM:

 I found a picture of me when I was about 2 years old that delights me. When I look at the picture, I see myself now. That little girl striking a pose is so “me.” There I stand, looking up at the giants, with my feet firmly planted, my hands on my hips, training panties on, one sleeve pulled up, a smile on my face, and a goofy but cute hat on my head. (Personal Journal, 2007)

I hadn’t lost me after all; I just had to look way back to remember who I am. And knowing who I am on the inside gives me the courage to continue the work of emotional healing and maintaining wellness while living with a chronic illness. Yes, time heals.

Here are some bloggers who have impacted on my life and my healing in ways that relate to this post, at least somewhat closely. They are expressing their reality, and in many ways also reflecting mine. Maybe they will bring some emotional healing to you. Together we will make sense of physical and emotional pain.

http://megansayer.com/2012/09/14/hearing-voices/

http://throughthehealinglens.com/2012/09/22/savasana/

http://withreverence.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/turning-an-external-encouragement-in-internally-realized-strength/

http://theretiringsort.com/2012/09/20/leading-a-textured-life

If you have posted on a related topic or we have inspired a future post, please feel free to leave a link to your blog in a comment with a sentence or two describing your topic.