Even as we inoculate our bodies and seemingly move out of the pandemic, psychologically we are still moving through it to make space for this individual land collective trauma. – Deborah Siegel-Acevedo, Harvard Business Review, July 1, 2021
Two months ago, I took a break from the many workshops I’d facilitated in the past academic year. The virtual experiences, which while offering a way to continue to our cancer and cardiac patient writing groups, seemed to take much more energy to lead without the in-person interactions among the group members. Still, I was grateful we could offer them via Zoom.
Yet so much of my daily life had become virtual: meetings, doctor appointments, grocery shopping, chats with friends and family. Spending so much of one’s life in virtual interactions produced a different kind of fatigue, felt deeply, and with it, a pervasive kind of spiritual malaise. What strange new world was I living in? What would “normal” life look like once the pandemic ended? I began to shun the daily news headlines and reports. Reading them was anxiety-producing and depressing–even confusing much–of the time.
I turned to my morning writing practice as a way of relieving my feelings of sadness and worry, hoping to find a little bit of solace in the midst of the pandemic storm—but as the lockdowns continued, my pages were becoming filled with the musings of a woman who was anxious and slightly depressed—feelings which I’ve since discovered were common among many of my friends. There were days I wrote little more than a paragraph or two, and more than a few pages dominated by the mood of the isolated existence of lockdowns and waiting for a second dose of vaccine.
Cold comfort perhaps, but my experience wasn’t unusual. “Depression among adults,” Siegel-Acevedo wrote, “has increased three-fold since the pandemic began.” When I read the statistics of rising case counts, vaccine shortages and losses of life, I was chastened. My situation was relatively safe and comfortable compared to the losses of so many others. I got tired of myself. “Pull up your big girl pants, Bray,” I murmured one morning after a particularly fruitless writing time. I needed a cognitive overhaul.
I took a break to shift gears, break the cycle of “the blues,” and return to my writing with the goal of making sense of these past many months, not to ignore or suppress what I was feeling, but to express it, detail it, and in doing so, move through this strange chapter with some greater understanding of what impact this pandemic has had on me, my life, the way I think about the future now. What had I learned about myself that could be used to positive effect—even if ZOOM workshops are going to be in my life yet for some time to come. After all, the good news is that many more people, coast to coast, had access to the online writing workshops. And writing, Siegel-Acevedo’s article remind me, has always help me—and many others—navigate the painful and difficult times in my life, invariably leading to discoveries of possibilities for my life to be even more fulfilling or meaningful.
“Writing expressively,” she stated, “can also lead us toward hope…writing our pandemic stories to remember…and to envision ourselves whole again…to sit with and determine the meaning of our …human experience and existence.” And in a world with so many people in need and suffering, with climate change undeniably critical, how might this experience inform the actions we take, the ways we live.
Siegel-Acevedo quotes the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, near the conclusion of her article. “The wound is the place where the Light enters you,” he wrote, something that expressive writing can also help us discover. Writing honestly and deeply about our own pain and trauma can help make our fears, scars and traumas visible, where we can begin to understand them, make sense and learn from them. We being to realize we can change the way we are living and responding to people and events in our lives, and that’s when healing begins. Centuries later, Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen echoed Rumi’s word in his now famous song, ‘Anthem’ written in 1992, his lyrics described by many during this most recent pandemic experience as “a beam of light,” the words still relevant as we wait for this chapter of our lives to be behind us.
The birds they sang
At the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be…
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in…
–Leonard Cohen, from his 1992 hymn, Anthem
- Pandemics are historical events that have occurred throughout civilization. Yet, when it began, it seemed unbelievable, almost surreal, most of us. What do you remember most vividly? Write about your experience of the pandemic: the isolation, lockdowns, anxiety, concerns, losses, coping strategies, lessons.
- Where did you find relief from the anxiety and constant barrage of fear-arousing news? What gave you solace? Hope?
- How did the light find its way in for you?
- How has your sense of what’s possible in the future changed?
- What books, songs, poetry or other music gave you respite and comfort? Why?