Last week was a tough one for me. I had just come back from visiting my family and it was wonderful, but the contrast of returning to my quiet apartment and a very uneventful pandemic life was unsettling. I am most happy when I am surrounded by people to love and cook for and think about; having grown up in a family of 11, it's engrained in my DNA. When I am left on my own, however, I tend to overthink things and have a tendency towards being hyper-critical with myself. Being with others offers a loving distraction to all that; it allows me to pour my energy into everything happening around me. While I am grateful that I enjoy giving so much, I also acknowledge that to be mentally whole and healthy, I need to learn to be with just myself.
Prior to the pandemic, being alone was something I avoided. It's those moments that I remember feeling the most acute loneliness, fear, emptiness, and depression. Living in Chile for a year was one of the darkest periods of my life because I felt crushingly alone. I would look out the window at the bustling city and feel so anonymous that it made me feel like I had been erased. Once, before a business trip, I traveled to Barcelona for a few days. Staying in my itchy, hot Airbnb and walking around Barcelona alone felt miserable.
I'm not proud of this. In fact, I feel shame around it. I wish I were someone who were completely content to be alone, like my partner. He can be alone for weeks and is a happy little turtle - it is one of my favorite things about him.
All that to say, pre-pandemic being alone was something I carefully planned out (in small short bursts, intermingled with meeting friends) so that I could stay "busy" and thus, keep my thoughts in line. Ha! Little did I know what was coming my way like a tsunami.
This pandemic has been a source of growth for me in this area. When I look back 6 months, I feel like I've graduated with a certificate in learning to be less busy and more comfortable with myself. I am immensely proud of what I have learned during this time and how I've learned to deal with my strong feelings. MBSR helped with this A LOT. Also, I'm not even truly alone, I have my partner with me, so I can't even imagine what those who are actually alone must be going through.
I wanted to share some small things I've learned during this time. When I am feeling relentless sadness, malaise, crushing loneliness, or just kinda depressed and can't shake it, here are some things I have done that have helped shift the energy. There's no one solution, sometimes I have to do a couple of them before I feel a shift, but I hope that they support you if you're feeling down.
I know. Don't bail on me, yet. This is the LAST f*cking thing I want to do when I am feeling depressed. It's actually the complete opposite of what I want to do, but exercising produces endorphins and increases dopamine so it's basically like taking a happiness shot. I recommend vigorous exercise, exercise that makes you SWEATY and BREATHLESS. Especially during COVID, I rarely do this on my own without being held accountable. That means going on a run outside (social pressure,) scheduling a Focusmate for me to do exercise, or MY FAVORITE: signing up for an online Zoom class. I even have some friends who have a pact with one another - they have to exercise 3x/week and send pics of them exercising. If they miss their weekly goal, the friends choose a punishment for them (their punishments are hilarious and not cruel, but they are a nice incentive to stay on track.) I talk a little about this in my video: getting shit done when you feel lazy AF.
Currently, I've been taking online classes at CRF (which is an amazing gym in NYC) - the classes kick my ass and make me hot and sweaty. What I love about them is that they hold me accountable because they are LIVE on ZOOM and hotrod calls me out on form and posture, so I can't just stop exercising bc I don't want to.
I don't put this under exercise because this is something altogether different- at least in the way I am suggesting it. First of all, I find it very useful to have a sad playlist. I have been growing one over the years and it just hits the spot for me. I shared it with my sister and she said it was whiny and complainy- EXACTLY. But that wasn't her cup of tea. So make sure the music is your cuppa. I like putting it on shuffle and treating it like a fortune-teller.
When you dance, the idea is to move your feelings through your body. Think of it as like an interpretive dance, you are moving out of your head and into your body. You let your body express the feelings. This one is really magical for me bc I can be as Eve Ensler refers to in her Ted Talk as "a floating head."
I've had a lot of realizations while dancing - it's kinda magical. I have these flashes of insight and clarity that answer a question I've been chewing on for a while. The trick is to keep expressing through your body, so when your head keeps thinking, push the thought to a body part and let the body express that thought. My body shows me the way. I actually just did one now and the shuffle goddess played a song by London Grammar. As soon as they came on, my tears started to POUR. Music and movement unlocks the feelings we hide with thoughts. I knew I had darkness in me and I was so grateful to release it. After you're done expressing your sadness, put on a sexy song and do some twerking. Feel sensuality rise up in your body. DON'T SKIP THIS STEP- it's so powerful to infuse your feelings with your erotic power and energy. You go from feeling like a victim, to a woman who CAN and WILL deal with this. I twerked to WAP and it was glorious. But then again, twerking to WAP will always be glorious, no?
Sink into the sh*t.
If you're like me, you gently run away and avoid your feelings and jump straight into solution mode. I've learned though, until I really let myself sink into the feeling, all my solutions will be flimsy band-aids. Surrendering is really comforting. When I remember, I give myself some time to just fully let myself feel the feelings, say for 30 mins. When I studied with Mama Gena, they even encouraged us to dress the part- some of my classmates would make trash bag dresses and put war paint on. Listen, whatever floats your boat! You can also meditate (I love Tara Brach), journal all the things you are feeling (sometimes I send this in an email to my sister,) watch a sad movie, mope, have a tantrum. Whatever allows you to just inhabit your feelings.
This one I think should be used carefully, but sometimes it really helps me when I feel "stuck" on something that I've already analyzed endlessly. I love finding a book or a Netflix show that looks idyllic and adventurous and interesting. I allow myself to take part in the pleasure of a delicious escape. Again, think of this as salt in cooking- there's a point where you can add too much.
Well, that's all I've got right now. One thing I think about this is all is that it's like a dark scary tunnel. The only way out is through. Wishing you love and courage.