One of my favorite quotes speaks to the importance of being kind to everyone, since everyone is fighting some kind of battle whether we know it or not.
I thought a lot about that this week because it felt like every conversation I had with others was about some personal struggle. One of my oldest and closest friends quietly told me that she finally called her doctor and asked for medication to help manage her depression, anxiety, and insomnia, which have gotten the best of her during this lockdown. Another friend told me that he was relieved to finally attend a small in-person AA meeting. In that gathering, he said several people spoke about the increased rate of suicide during lockdown and how challenging it’s been for all of them to stay sober during this isolating time.
Another friend spoke to me this week about the exact same thing and asked me why the media isn’t covering the devastating mental health toll of Covid-19. The impact of unemployment. The loss of health care. The rise in suicide, depression, anxiety, and loneliness. The loss of human connection.
“Maria these are Covid collateral stories,” my friend said to me. “You must shine a light on all of this.”
“Agreed,” I said.
So, here are some stats I want to shine a light on: A new study from Everytown for Gun Safety finds that the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 could cause about 20 more lives lost per day by suicide, this year alone. According to Census Bureau data, a third of Americans are feeling severe anxiety right now and a quarter of Americans are showing signs of depression. And a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of 56% of adults. Think about those sobering statistics.
So here we are. All of us trying to hold it together for those we love and for those who depend on us. Here we are trying to hold it together for ourselves. We are all trying to put on a brave face in an uncertain situation. We are all trying to rise above the bad news that infiltrates our consciousness on a 24/7 basis. We are all trying to look for silver linings. We are all trying to help out, reach out, and tell ourselves that things will finally get better once… (fill in the blank).
But what are we to do until then? I have one idea, and please don’t say it’s a little idea, because I think it's big.
Be kind. After all, everyone you know is fighting some kind of big battle. You may not be fighting pancreatic cancer like Congressman John Lewis, who sadly lost his battle this week. Or like Alex Trebek is, who my son, Christopher, refers to as a living legend. (Trebek's new memoir about his struggle and his life comes out this week and we are so honored he agreed to answer some questions for us in a Sunday Paper exclusive below.) But many others are struggling like them.
You may not be fighting depression like my friend, but millions of others are. You may not be struggling with sobriety, but millions are. You may not be filing for unemployment, but millions are. You may not have lost your health care, but millions have. You may not be going out of your mind wondering what you are going to do now that your kids can’t go back to school, but millions are. You may not be struggling to put food on your table, but millions are. You may not have an underlying condition that causes you tremendous anxiety about Covid, but millions do.
Or, maybe you’re struggling with all of the above, and then some. That’s where the rest of us come in to help. Very often, the answer to easing someone’s pain is finding someone else who is willing to hold space for them. Very often, the answer to easing someone’s anxiety is finding someone else who is willing to listen to their concerns and not judge their thoughts, even if it means hearing the same thing over and over again. Very often, the answer to what many of us are looking for is not an answer at all. It’s simply a loving presence.
There is a lot I miss about my pre-Covid life. There is a lot that I find discouraging, depressing, and debilitating about this present moment. I know those feelings aren’t going to magically disappear once the election is over, or once there is a vaccine.
That’s why “once upon a time…” is now. You are so often the answer to someone else’s pain, loneliness, or fear. You are often the answer to those feelings in yourself as well.
So, if you need help, here are some ideas (and see below for some additional resources). If you are managing and coping yourself, then reach out to a friend who might not be. Listen, hold space, be kind, and try not to judge. The answer to our collective pain is multifaceted but being kind to one another is a good place to start. Giving one another a sense of belonging, because so many people don’t feel like they belong, be it because of their skin color, their religion, their sexual preference, or even their age. Telling someone they belong, they are seen, they are valued, they are loved eases many of life's woes.
Exhibiting love and holding space are huge offerings. Each of us is capable of holding space for another person today. We don’t have to wait for November, or for a vaccine, or for someone to tell us to do it. Trust me when I say that everyone you know is engaged in a battle. The answer to that war will always be love.