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Last year took a mental and emotional toll on all of us.
It was a difficult year (in some way or another) for most people. A year later, while Asia is experiencing a second wave of the coronavirus and families are getting wiped out in days, the United States of America has its COVID-19 numbers more under control and it is all set to reopen. The world feels turbulently confusing at this time.
For the first time since December 2019, I sat on a plane last week to travel from New York City to Georgia. The packed airport and lack of social distancing on the airplane weren’t exactly soothing despite being fully vaccinated. But I am glad I got out of my comfort zone and took a flight. Sometimes, a little nudge is what we all need to face our fears and remember how brave we are. I stayed double-masked throughout the journey and didn’t eat anything on the plane. I felt grateful for the mobility, which I know my extended family and friends in India don’t have at the moment. I firsthand know what that feels like.
Last year this time, New York City was a hot spot for the Coronavirus. Hospitals didn’t have beds or space to hold the dead bodies. We couldn’t get groceries delivered for weeks. My friends who lost their parents to COVID didn’t get the chance to say a goodbye. As a resident and citizen of one of the most dynamic cities in the world, I along with thousands of other New Yorkers, experienced food insecurity.
I don’t take my freedom today for granted. While I am excited about businesses reopening in New York City, in-person meetings, hugging people after a year, and some level of normalcy returning to our lives…I am also nervous. I’m not sure if I am ready to transition to a life that involves taking the subway daily and venturing into bars. I am not dismissive of science; the pandemic and what it’s cost me and those I know has shaken up my confidence. It will take some time for the faith to grow. I want people to give me (and others) the space on how to handle life post lockdown.
I don’t expect anyone to understand my motivation or behavior, but for our true healing to begin this mental health awareness month, we need to let go of five things:
Don’t hold grudges for the ones who didn’t call you back. Don’t expect people to drop everything and call you. We have been on high alert for over a year. Most countries have experienced ebbs and flows of highs and lows. We have all been impacted. Between anxiety, trauma, exhaustion, unemployment, and grief, we might be experiencing extreme fatigue. We have all lost something or someone over the past year.
Life can be colorful and vibrant if we break that shell of self-absorption and start to show up to our relationships without expectations. Learn to connect meaningfully with yourself. Be grateful for your tribe and community and connections. Don’t focus on that one person who doesn’t get you. Look at the thousands who accept and adore you for who you are.
A friend of mine lost her son in a road accident three months ago. Last week, her mother died of COVID. Losing a child and a mother in the same quarter—God forbid anyone has to undergo that level of trauma. But you never hear her grunt that she is more distressed than everyone else. On the other hand, I have a colleague who makes it a point to remind everyone how their suffering has been the most heart-wrenching. This person expects people to drop everything and show up for them during the pandemic. As a result, people have started to avoid this person’s phone calls.
My point being: Please don’t compare your suffering. It’s not a competition. The pandemic happened to all of us. Let’s show some grace.
This past year, we all found different ways to cope. Some baked, others drank. Few others worked out to the point of pain. Many found solace in watching Netflix and scrolling their screens. We all did our best to survive. Be it experiments with bread to growing an herb garden, we found something for perceived stability.
Don’t roll your eyes if your mode of survival differs from your friends or cousins or neighbors. I have colleagues who didn’t step out of their studio apartment for three months when New York City first went on pause on March 14, 2020. I know people who threw massive parties because they didn’t believe the virus would harm them. We have to hold space for conversations that we might not understand. We have to have compassion for stranger methods.
A friend confessed that she felt 10 years older when she looked at her face in the mirror. I reminded her that we had endured two decades’ worth of stress inside a year. Did you know that a significant number of women are turning to plastic surgery because extended periods of staring into the mirror can induce self-loathing?
Also, I was listening to the news the other day that the majority of Americans have gained two pounds a month since the pandemic hit. We were stuck at home not knowing which breath was going to be our last. Plenty of my friends and colleagues got memberships to monthly wine club deliveries because their consumption went up. Access to in-person dance classes, yoga asanas, and other forms of movement closed.
So, what if you gained a few pounds and your clothes fit differently? You survived a traumatic year, and you should be proud of it.
The human race is resilient. Once we start to move more freely and stop relying on food or any other substance for emotional healing, weight loss will happen. If you don’t look at yourself with love, nobody else will. Remember: your body carried you through a global pandemic and you survived. That’s a whole lot to celebrate.
An Indian American friend confessed that moping about the devastation in India made her feel less guilty about being healthy. I asked her to build on that emotion. With her family under lockdown in India and the COVID cases on the rise, she believed that she didn’t have the right to enjoy good health or celebrate life.
Fact: no one can serve others from an empty space. You can take care of people in India by staying in touch, comforting them, making donations, connecting with organizations that are working toward bringing food and oxygen cylinders to COVID-hit families, and not adding angry, verbal diarrhea to social media because enraged people don’t need more ammo.
This pandemic has magnified every existing inequality in the world. How can you help lessen gender inequality and poverty without pouring empty words into your posts? You don’t have to be dramatic in how you experience other people’s suffering. Listen. Be present.
I recently read somewhere, “Not everything that weighs you down is yours to carry.” To be truly compassionate and present for others, you have to check in with yourself and make sure you don’t burn out. Misplaced guilt helps no one.
May is mental health awareness month. Your mental wellness is just as important (if not more) as your physical health. Talk to a mental health practitioner if you feel the need. Connect mindfully with those who nourish you. Make self-care a priority. In the meantime, to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month and help you navigate life post lockdown, I have launched a course “How to manage pandemic stress with Ayurveda!”
Until then, be safe, be smart, be compassionate, and be kind.
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