A couple weeks ago I made a commitment to give up social media for 44 days beginning on February 26th and ending on April 9th. For those of you with a religious background, you know that those dates line up with the liturgical calendar as the season of lent. This season is a time where many believers choose to fast or give up something to make room in their lives for Jesus and look forward to Easter Sunday. I didn’t grow up in a kind of church that celebrates lent, but many people I admire have found that following the liturgical calendar has brought some sanctity to their wounded relationship with the church and God. I wasn’t sold on it, but I was excited to see how this season without social media would change me.
As many of you know, two weeks into lent was when coronavirus broke into the United States and began ruining lives in my country as well as in hundreds of other places outside of my home. It was detrimental. It continues to be one anxiety attack after another as this disease runs its course. I was out of town when there began to be talk of school cancellations and travel bans and social distancing. It was one of the most anxiety inducing vacations I’ve ever had. Meanwhile, I had no real idea what was happening because I was only hearing second hand accounts. I had no idea what people thought of this virus or how bad it was expected to be. I had to Google news sources and look through articles to figure it out. As someone who is used to getting her news from Twitter, it was a real change.
Thankfully, I didn’t get stuck out of the state and was able to return to my family without drama. But I’m still recovering from going on emergency leave so suddenly, my siblings being out of school, all my classes getting transferred to online, and my mom’s store getting shut down for the time being. It’s weird to think that its not just me having these complications. I’ve had to attend virtual seminars on how to cope with all this change, everyone seems to have nothing better to talk about, and this virus is the only thing happening in meme culture too. I’ve wanted a break.
There was a tweet that someone sent me that I found hilarious that said, “I wasn’t planning on giving this much up for lent.”
I went from working two and a half jobs plus doing a full time Master’s program to doing school and my internship online. The quick transition feels like it gave me emotional whiplash. One moment I was sprinting and before I knew it, something had knocked me out. God said, “full stop.”
I jokingly told my siblings that coronavirus is God’s way of punishing the world for not honoring the Sabbath, but sometimes I find myself laughing at how true that sounds. We live in a world that is go go go all the time and now that things have stopped, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Working from home has become a series of beating myself up every time I take a break as if every waking moment of my life has to be about productivity. I feel guilty for watching Netflix because there is always more laundry to be folded and dishes to be done. Even with nothing going on, I feel like I need there to be something going on.
The first few days stuck inside drove me mad. I had such bad anxiety. I realized it was because for the first time in a long time, I am without distractions. There is no social media to numb me, no work to throw myself into, and no friends problems to deal with. There is just me and my pain. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it?
Suddenly the world goes quiet. What do you see?
The fierce injustice regarding paid sick time? The horror that the chronically ill face when they try to receive care? The way that diseases mainly harm the vulnerable populations like the sick and the elderly? Or how illnesses devastate communities in poverty and are only a mild inconvenience for those in good health and the wealthy? Do you see that we are stuck in a system that will crush those with its heel to remain at the top? Do you see the way the environment has come back to life when humans back off? Do you see the good we can accomplish when we unite?
Don’t close your eyes to the scary things you don’t want to see. Don’t shut your eyes to your anxiety. Feel it. Let it sit with you. Wrestle with it. Avoid the temptation to numb out with social media and movies and distractions. Now is the time; we’re out of work, the world is giving us the time, and we have a choice to make to listen or ignore it. There is a world of suffering out there, aching for your attention.
I’m not saying to avoid self-care. No; self-care is absolutely essential. As my professor often tells me, “Self-care isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.” Don’t let the chaos overwhelm you, but don’t you dare pretend it isn’t there. Those of us in vulnerable populations are begging for our lives for you to take care of yourself; wash your hands, avoid physical contact, don’t go out unless you absolutely have to, and clean your surfaces.
On one hand, I’m glad we are waking up and rising to meet the occasion that this virus has brought us too; but I am absolutely devastated that it took this long to get your attention. If only we had paid sick leave before this virus spread to countries all over the world, maybe the woman from the Wuhan market could have afforded to stay home. If only people took their health seriously before this virus; maybe then the sick and the elderly would be healthy enough to fight this off rather than dealing with coronavirus on top of the plethora of other health concerns. If only we had cared when it was just the vulnerable getting sick. If only, if only, if only.
Hindsight is always 20/20.
I don’t know what is going to happen these next couple days or weeks or months. This is not what we had planned. But somehow I have managed to have a sense of peace in me. I am watching a nightmare unfold right in front of me; one that easily would have driven me to suicide had this happened when I was in high school. Yet there is peace. Despite my inability to see through this situation, despite the unhealthy ways I’ve coped since this all began, and even despite nearly going stir crazy locked up in my house with my family…there is peace.
I smile to think of all the people in the world who are stuck at home and have no choice but to sit and enjoy the little things. My family plays a lot of board games. My mom and I drink beers together. I have found a love for VR and videogames with my brothers. My siblings and I stay up too late and watch movies and eat popcorn. My family has been loving the Lord of The Rings right now. I live for FaceTime calls with my baby niece. My mom cooks breakfast every morning. I have time to write and make art and draw. I am basking in this extended Sabbath. Church happens on YouTube Live. Communion is coffee and donuts. We pray over Zoom meetings. And it is not ideal. This life is breaking my heart every day. Every day I wish for a safe place for my siblings to run around in without getting sick. I wish I didn’t have a compromised immune system that would make life less scary right now.
But there is a joy in giving up. I think I’m finally starting to let go of the reigns. I’ve come to accept that I am not God. There are things I can control; how often I wash my hands, how often I go out, taking my medications, reminding my siblings to wash their hands, and how I live my life. And then there are the things I can’t control; tomorrow, today, the future, disease, the government, the opinions, the news, the world.
I look at all the shit in the world and know it is not my job to save it. All I can do is be present in the time that I’m in and use that time wisely. That’s all any of us can do. We’re trying our best. That is enough.