Survival Is Insufficient: Getting Unstuck From Your Pandemic Depression


Survival Is Insufficient: Getting Unstuck From Your Pandemic DepressionJanuary 2022 has been the most brutal of months. More than once I have apologized to friends for my depression or my anxiety or my disillusionment with the world or all of the above. I have spent weeks crying over everything and nothing.

January has been for surviving, not living fully, deeply, or richly. And to quote the motto of The Traveling Symphony in novel and recent miniseries Station Eleven, “Survival is Insufficient.”

I work. I do the bare minimum of household chores. I make doctor and dentist and tutoring and haircut appointments. I look around at my messy house and it makes my anxiety worse, yet I can’t find the energy to do anything about it because there is so much I have let slide. I worry about COVID and school shootings and the chaos that is America right now and one child’s grades and the other child’s social life and whether either of them is happy and I feel like I’m letting everyone down. And I go to sleep and I get up and I repeat the process all over again.

This is not the life I want.

This is not the life I thought I’d be living back in January 2021 when I was filled with hope and excitement. Vaccines were just around the corner. I believed so deeply that people would be on board and that by summer, COVID would be something we looked back on. A year later, all I have to show for my optimism is 10 extra pounds from emotional eating, some new worry lines, and a prescription for Prozac. I just want to throw in the towel. I have, as one of my favorite songs says, got stuck in a moment and I can’t get out of it.

Maybe you’re stuck too.

If you are, I just want you to know that I see you. And it’s okay. No one is meant to be living their best life in these conditions. What we have been through, especially parents who have to worry not just about ourselves but our kids too, has been brutal and it hasn’t really been done like this before. There’s no roadmap. No elders to turn to for advice on how they managed to juggle work and their kids and financial strain and societal expectations and political conflict while being disconnected from friends and family and other forms of support in the middle of a global pandemic that has killed roughly six million people.

So, if you are feeling sad and hopeless and frazzled and worn out and worn down by all of it, that is a perfectly legitimate response to the weight you have been carrying for nearly three years.

I see you and you’re going to be okay. I am going to be okay. Because as awful as all of this is and as awful as you and I may feel right now, I believe it’s temporary. And I believe we can get unstuck and find beauty and joy and wonder in the world again.

How does getting unstuck happen, you ask? And if it’s possible, why haven’t I done it already?

Well, sometimes you just need to stop and let yourself feel all the nasty, sad, horrible feelings and honor that. Stop and let yourself rest. And when you can’t stand it anymore, change something.

Here’s where we start:

1. Stop Beating Yourself Up

If you want to start pulling yourself out of the mire, you have to be the one to give yourself a hand. It’s hard to do that when you’re saying mean things to yourself. You didn’t land here through any moral failing. Being sad, heartbroken, disgusted, losing confidence, feeling powerless, or not having the energy to do all the things are not failures. Those feelings are part of life and as I said above, a natural and normal reaction to the exhausting hellscape we are living in. So, tell the inner critic to knock it off the next time she says “You suck at life. Why can’t you just fold the laundry as soon as you take it out” or “Your kid will never succeed because you didn’t get them a tutor soon enough.” Whatever lies that inner voice is telling you will not make you feel better. Your imperfections are what make you human. Embrace the perfectly imperfect and give yourself the freedom and permission to move forward.

2. Stop Comparing Yourself

As my wise friend Amy told me recently when I was bemoaning what a failure I am in comparison to a fellow writer, “Don’t compare your life to her highlight reel.” And she’s right. I have no idea what challenges this other woman has faced that she doesn’t share publicly. And besides, I’m sure perfect children are boring and owning a beach house is more trouble than it’s worth. Probably. But just because other people seem to have not a care in the world, that does not invalidate your feelings or your experience of this moment in time.

3. Accentuate the Positive

I recently started reading the poet Ross Gay’s Book of Delights. He spent a year identifying things that delighted him or captured his imagination and documented them in a book of essays. Pre-pandemic, I used to be really good at seeing the beauty in ordinary things or moments and feeling the joy in those experiences. The longer the pandemic and my isolation and lack of experiences outside my four walls and small community have gone on, the less I have looked for the transcendent within the ordinary. I have been surviving. And survival is insufficient. To that end, inspired by Gay’s book, I have slowly begun to look and listen and seek out what delights me. A yellow warbler at the bird feeder. Golden hour trips to the dog park with my puppy. A hot cup of turmeric tea. Colored pens and a new journal. Rediscovering a favorite old album.

4. Celebrate the Little Victories

In addition to finding little happys, celebrate your little victories! You put away a basket of laundry? Hooray! You scheduled an appointment you’ve put off! Hot damn, girl! Way to go! When you’re hanging on by a thread emotionally, just trying to hold it all together, every bit of energy counts. Heck, if you get a nap in or make time to meditate, do 20 minutes of yoga, or get a proper shower and throw on some makeup or a pair of pants that zip, celebrate those self-care wins.

Life is a marathon. Sometimes the course is hilly and hard. Your legs are cramping. And you’re asking yourself why the hell you’re doing this. That’s where we are right now, friends. But you’re not running this one alone. There’s a whole pack of us slogging up this hill together. Hang in there. The finish line may not be in sight, but I’m pretty sure there’s a water station up ahead.

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Hey, y’all! I’m Dawn – a native Tennessean who could not wait to escape the small town for the big city. After attending a women’s college in Atlanta, I took root there and stayed. One marriage, two homes, two kids, and 25 years later, here I am, back in Tennessee. My husband moved here in January of 2016 to start a new job while our two boys, Brendan (born 2003) and Beckett (born 2006), and I stayed behind to finish the school year and sell our house. We arrived in July 2016 and have been working to make a happy new home here since then. We love living on the North Shore and I am enjoying finding unexpected beauty and little joys throughout our new city. I am also mama to fur babies, Josie the Rhodesian Ridgeback/Lab mix, and Miller, a sweet orange and white tabby cat. I'm into art, movies, music, TV, pop culture, nerdy stuff like Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and I know more than my share about the DC Universe, Pokemon, Minecraft, Battlefield, and all things LEGO thanks to having two boys.