“I don’t recognize my life. I don’t know who I am.”
Two weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who has been depressed. Because of Covid 19 and her age, she is quarantined and has been unable to visit with many of her friends. As she described the details of her life and her loneliness, she broke down crying, “I don’t recognize my life! I don't recognize myself! I don’t know who I am anymore!” My heart went out to her.
During the following week, I thought about how my friend’s experience is similar to those of many people today. Our lives are so different that many of us don’t recognize our lives either.
The circumstances of our lives are different. We are isolated in a way that we have never been before. Our time spent alone is now being imposed on us; we no longer have the freedom to choose it. Quarantines are separating us from those we love. We aren’t going to working. Some of us aren’t working at all. Our partners aren’t at work. Our children aren’t in school.
The demands of our lives are different. We are preforming new tasks: provisioning in a safe manner, cooking our meals at home, and taking care of the daily housekeeping tasks ourselves. Many of us are living with our partner and family 24/7. Many are responsible for full-time childcare and teaching our kids. Many are having to navigate working from home. And we are trying to balance all of these new demands and make our lives work.
On top of all of this, we are going through emotions we don’t usually experience. With the pandemic, the reality of death is looming before us, making us more aware of our existential fears. The scope and impact of this yet-to-be-treatable virus leaves us feeling powerless. The financial uncertainty that we are facing makes us insecure and frightened. Some of us feel angry. Some of us feel emotionally numb and cut off from our feelings. And some of us are all “over the place” in our emotional reactions.
During the challenges of trying to cope with these new circumstances and emotions, we often suffer from feelings of failure. When we are overwhelmed and down, our critical inner voices often flare up and have a lot to say. Because the situations are different that usual, our voice attacks are different from the ones we are used to.
In relation to the longer amount of time you are spending alone, you may have voices: No one misses you. They don’t care about you. No one loves you.
About your new work conditions: You’re failing at this. You’re not organizing your time well. You’re not up for this. You’re not being productive.
About to the new parenting demands: You don’t know the first thing about teaching! You’re letting your kids waste their time. Your kids hate you!
About your relationship: You’re going to get on each other’s nerves. You’re going to realize you hate each other. Your relationship is going to fall apart.
About your financial situation: You’re going to lose everything. You have no plan for this. You aren’t going to survive this financially!
About existential fears: You’re going to get Covid. You’ve got some symptoms; you’re getting it. You’re going to give it to someone you love. You’re going to die.
In general: You are failing at this. Anybody else could do a better job at handling this than you are. You’re an emotional wreck. You can barely function.
So, what’s a person to do? First of all, have compassion for yourself. These are tough times and they are tough on all of us. Be kind toward yourself.
Have compassion for yourself and the conditions that you are living with. Being isolated isn’t good for anyone. As human beings, we are social animals. We flourish in our social affiliations and we especially need them when we are stressed and struggling. Have compassion that, during a time that is particularly trying, you are deprived of the human contact that you would help you right now.
Have compassion for yourself and the demands that have been placed on you. Have feeling for yourself and all that you are trying to cope with. Cut yourself some slack and ease up on your standards. Don’t aim for perfection, it’s okay to be “good enough.”
Have compassion for yourself and the emotions that you are experiencing. Be accepting of the fears and insecurity you may be feeling. Be understanding toward your anger, frustration and sadness. Be tolerant if you are cut off from your feelings or your emotions are “all over the place.”
Second of all, reach out to others and ask for help. Visit or call a friend. Don’t just call to chat and catch up but speak openly about what you are suffering with. Or you can seek professional help from a psychotherapist through the safe protocol that medical practitioners are following during this pandemic. For many people, this current trauma is unknowingly triggering feelings that have been buried from traumas that took place in the past.
My friend felt much better after we talked, but she also set up an appointment with a therapist she had previously spoken with. The other day, she told me about their session. She said that she was relating her feelings from being isolated when she suddenly had an image of herself as a young girl immediately after her mother had died. She was standing in her childhood living room with family, but no one was noticing her, and she felt alone and detached. She told me that this image was unusual for her because she had almost no memories from the years following her mother’s death. She had blocked out that part of her life.
As my friend and her therapist explored her feelings and investigated this memory, she came to realize that the emotions that she was experiencing from being quarantined were, in fact, the feelings that had been suppressed since mother’s death. Had she been able to feel them and express herself at that time, she would have said, “I don’t recognize my life! I don't recognize myself! I don’t know who I am anymore!” My friend was relieved from uncovering and feeling emotions that had been significant in her life. She was also relieved that, in placing her feelings where they belong, she was able to see her current situation realistically and not through the emotional lens of her past trauma.