Back in January, I decided to try meditation. After a tumultuous year navigating the end of my marriage and ensuing separation and divorce proceedings, introducing meditation into my life in 2020 made sense. Being enveloped in stillness while practising mindfulness was something I welcomed in my busy life — a reminder that with all I had going on, it was important to pause.
Fast forward a few months later and the whole world is on pause as we forge and fumble our way through this COVID-19 pandemic. That stillness? Now it feels stifling. And the welcomed mindfulness? It’s now a continuously exhausting state of being, because I have too much time to think. After I left my marriage, I froze in a seemingly never-ending state of shock before I thawed enough to begin processing my feelings. I was confused, embarrassed, and blamed myself for why things fell apart even though everyone who loved me told me it wasn’t my fault. It took me a long time to start believing them, but eventually I did. Gradually, I began working my way through letting go of the past and embracing the present — and, dare I say it, anticipating the future. They say “time heals all wounds,” and I agree, but I wasn’t ready for all the time this isolated life has given me. With more stillness and mindfulness comes the uncomfortable realization that I may not be as healed as I thought.
Grief is not a linear process, but prior to the pandemic I felt I was solidly moving through the stages and rebounding better when I slid back a step or two. Materially, I was rebuilding my life in a way that made my friends and family proud. After assuming the best I could hope for was moving back to my mom’s after selling our GTA home, I hit some major career wins, signed a lease for my dream apartment, and started setting new roots. Co-parenting our two young girls was going well, therapy continued, I was spending time with the loved ones who got me through my roughest days, and I was even back on the dating scene (with equal parts tragic hilarity and genuine connection). The split had come out of left field and left me feeling off-balance for a long time — but working, dating, and socializing with friends made me feel good about myself. Where I had once only felt shame and embarrassment about my marriage ending, they helped a new confidence to bloom within me, and I felt smart, capable, and worthy of love of all kinds. My life was moving! I was thriving! I was getting past the worst of it all!
Then, the pandemic landed like a meteor.
Quarantining means no friends or family will be coming to my rescue if I become ill, and single life means no partner will be here to care for me.
Like many of us, I’ve been scared, anxious, depressed, and numb. My mom, a nurse who just retired in December, went back to work on the frontlines in a provincial COVID-19 assessment centre in my hometown. I’m worried for family and friends and wonder when I’ll be able to see them again. My days now rotate around attempting to work from home (which I am lucky to do), educating my kindergarten and preschool-aged daughters, and trying to find ways to keep our spirits up while confined to home. With a carefully planned routine, the girls split time between myself and their father. When they leave, I enjoy a few moments of quiet before one of my biggest fears starts to whisper in my ear: I’m worried about getting sick, because now I’m alone.
The first time that revelation hit me — that I was alone, and no other adult would be coming home to bring me soup or medicine or call the doctor for me — I sat on my bedroom floor and cried. Quarantining means no friends or family will be coming to my rescue if I become ill, and single life means no partner will be here to care for me. My anxieties around getting sick amplified seemingly dormant feelings of loneliness, and it was crushing to admit. Isolation illuminated the fact that there’s a big difference between the fear of loneliness, the acceptance of being alone, the peace of solitude, and the fire of independence — and I didn’t like how easily I slipped back to being afraid. Personal trauma plus global trauma minus the usual ways of coping is a tricky equation, and one I’m trying to find the solution to.
I’m angry that this pandemic is giving me a test that feels wholly unnecessary: “You thought you were healing? Let’s see how it works when you have nothing but yourself.”
My therapist told me that I need to learn to sit with negative emotions. “The only way through is through,” she often tells me, so I’ve been forcing myself to acknowledge those feelings when they arise. Sometimes I occupy the girls with Disney+ while I “go to the bathroom,” which is a moment for me to lean over the sink and cry, before washing my face and returning like nothing happened. Other times when I’m alone, I sit silently on the couch, and think about one thing I’m mourning and one thing I’m excited for. I journal every night, because the hardest emotion for me to process is anger. I’m angry about the ways I struggled before and the ways I’m struggling now. I’m angry about how unfair it is to try to reach peace and forgiveness without the explanations and accountability I feel I’m owed. I’m angry that this pandemic is giving me a test that feels wholly unnecessary: “You thought you were healing? Let’s see how it works when you have nothing but yourself.”
In the quiet of the days and nights that seem to blur together too easily, I think about who I want to be when this social vice grip is loosened. I want to be someone who speaks kindly to and about herself. I want to be someone who doesn’t rely on the reassurance of others that yes, things are okay and yes, I am enough. I want to be someone who isn’t as angry, who is brave, who can trust others, but most importantly, who can trust herself. In the quiet of these days and nights, I sometimes say these things out loud, an incantation to will it to be so. I believe it will be, because I was on my way to being that person before all this. When we emerge from our homes and stillness and mindfulness again become welcome pauses, I will know that I’ve solved the equation, I’ve passed the test, and just like any thorough student, I’ll be able to show my work.