Sometimes I’ve been out surfing when a fog has rolled in so sudden and thick that the direction of the waves is the only indicator of where the beach might be. I paddle in, lug my board over the dunes and the realization takes a minute: I’ve emerged along the road a quarter-mile from where I’d parked the car. Not lost, exactly, but startled by the divide between where my mind thought I would be and the reality of my location.
I feel like this all the time lately and have concluded: Something is wrong with me.
Pandemic-induced fugue state?
Media stories reminding me of past traumas?
The fact that my brain has been marinating in what are absolutely reasonable fears nearly nonstop for, oh, my entire adult life?
I know – I need a therapist. Again. Have you tried to find a therapist? First, you need to have either plentiful cash or decent health insurance (I’m fortunate enough to have the latter.) Second, you need to wade through a directory-generated list of “providers,” most of whom lack websites or any other way to get a sense of what they might be like. Third, you need to have additional time to try them out. The process requires determination, resilience and patience – qualities that, if we had them to spare, would spare us the need for therapy.
Science Vs., my favorite science-y podcast, ran an episode questioning whether or not therapy works. SPOILER: Yes, with a caveat. You’ve got to find someone who’s right for you. Connecting with your therapist is an even better predictor of success than the type of therapy.
I’ve tried therapy several times over the past couple decades. Mixed results; one very good fit, since retired. Is the effort to find a therapist worth the time, especially when we all know the drill by now? For severe issues, yes, outside help can make all the difference.
But in the meantime, all the years of wellness trends have taught us the importance of meditation, physical exercise, getting outside, strong friendships, journaling, gratitude. Over and over again, I remind myself that even though none of these actions solve anything, they do pull my brain away from the abyss and into a space where it may find a solution after all – or a way to live within the unshakeable sadness.
And my god, I hurt for the world right now. I spent two days vomiting last week and even in the worst moments, gratitude flooded me. My own home, a comfortable bed, a working toilet, all the water I can sip, a toothbrush. A husband to bring me tea and saltines, an Instacart driver to deliver ginger ale. I wept from the luxury.
The third day, I did not puke and so I worked. Eight Zoom calls in a single day! On many of these calls, people apologize for being sick, for being distracted because a child is sick, for being tired because they’ve just come back from a funeral. A colleague who is also a friend texts me, “Sorry I haven’t replied sooner. I’ve been busy spiraling out from all the bullshit fuckery of the world.”
Since the pandemic started, I’ve thought more about my past chapters than I normally do, what it would have been like if I’d still been at the smalltown newspaper, if I’d still been counting on that $11/hour radio job to pay the bills. Or before that, all the years of waitressing, bartending, serving people coffee, the whole time with cars that refused to not break down and three children insisting on care. Those of us on the Zoom, even with the very real problems weighing us down, are still lucky, I think.
But this is not a could-be-worse post – only the most narcissistic among us fail to hear the echo of that thought resonating behind every complaint. Nor is it a litany of the world’s horrors – those are displayed easily for anyone to find. This is just, again, a reminder that the loneliness and despair is not all, that the worst does not have to be the end, that the way to stop destruction is to build – a movement, a respite, a place in one’s heart for oneself.
The fourth day after being sick, I woke up filled with the buoyancy that comes with a return to health. Coffee sounded good again! The morning sprawled out with sunshine on all sides. My body demanded to be immersed in it. I drove to Arcata thinking I’d embrace the forest, but the expansive blueness of the sky and bay called to me, and so I landed at the Marsh, a sponge soaking up the beauty.
It was not perfect. I don’t know what to do about the houseless people who’ve built camps throughout the wetlands and whose morning ablutions I interrupted. I don’t know why some people leave dog shit on the trail. But my heart unfurled as my legs moved me alongside Klopp Lake, birds fluttering among the mist rising in the morning sun.