When we received this email from Kate about how the pandemic had affected her, we knew we needed to share it with you. It is honest, raw, and real.
A girlfriend of mine, ten years younger with three adorable young children, posted a picture of herself on Facebook, laughing while the kids jumped off the diving board. A colleague mentioned that she and her twenty-something daughters were planning to have an “invent your own ” Margherita night to find a creative way to have some fun during the pandemic shutdown. Envy started to creep through my veins. The thought of a full house sounded so appealing. Having a pool must be like heaven, especially now with not much to do. While trying to remain positive about my own life, and recognizing how much loss others were suffering, I still began to obsess about what I didn’t have. The more I viewed posts of families hiking or boating together, the more I felt utterly alone.
I am 52, married, without children. I was always a late bloomer and a bit immature. I floated around after college for several years, in dead-end jobs and relationships. I finally got myself together, earned my Masters, and settled into my career as a school counselor in an affluent suburb of Boston. I married at 39 and didn’t start thinking about having a family until 41. Fertility specialists told me that IVF wouldn’t work. When I presented adoption to my husband, I knew deep down that I didn’t have my heart in it, nor did he. With our respective ages and the wait that can entail, it didn’t seem realistic. Years passed, we moved to a home in the suburbs, and adopted two black labs. I felt fulfilled. Sure I had my moments of wishing that my life had turned out differently, yet with my work, close friendships, and an active life with my husband on weekends, I always had something to look forward to. Once in a while, we would hang out with other single couples and I felt “normal” because they could relate to our lifestyle. Those get-togethers didn’t happen as often as I wished, yet the lack of frequency didn’t overtake my thinking. No feelings of loneliness were magnified. And then the pandemic shutdown began, and so did my intense reaction.
Like many people, I thought the shutdown would last only a few weeks, and I felt gratitude for having good health. However, when the school closed for the remainder of the year, and all outside entertainment ceased, any positiveness I had left turned into situational depression. I remember thinking that the shutdown was like drug withdrawal, but rather than drugs, the withdrawal was from people and our way of life. One evening, the withdrawal hit me hard as I walked my dog at dusk on the first warm night of spring. I noticed four of my neighbors, one of whom I am friendly with, sitting outside having cocktails. This image struck a nerve so deep that the pit of loneliness and despair was overwhelming. I teared up throughout the evening. The yearning I felt to be included and to socialize was unbearable. I tossed and turned that night wondering why my husband and I weren’t invited. My mind started to fill with other questions such as, “Why don’t we have more couple friends?” “Why did that one couple drop us?”
At that moment, I had transformed back to my teenage self, that girl who at 13 had just moved to a new town with too much time on her hands and one fair-weather friend. My younger self would ask similar questions like, “Why am I not included?” Back then, I would relish in the past, wishing for my old home and school, missing my best friend. With my two brothers at basketball
practice, and my parents working outside the home, my routine was to return from school, sit in my backyard, smoke cigarettes, and be sad. Afterward, I would settle inside with a big bowl of ice cream and escape my life by watching soap operas. I envied the actors with their looks and exciting lives. Now in the present day, I ended up in a similar place, using food and drink to break up my boredom and loneliness (fortunately the cigarette habit was kicked long ago), watching the scale creep up once again, envying others, and questioning my level of connectedness to people. Yes, I was brought back to feeling like my younger self, insecure, lonely, and miserable.
I called my life coach. She described that I was embroiled in what is called “scarcity mindset.” (Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2013). In the simplest terms, “scarcity mindset is the belief that there will never be enough, and actions and thoughts stem from a place of lack (Bell, 2015).” This lack can be related to social connection. In my mind’s eye, it means obsessing over what one doesn’t have, as well as visualizing that the “grass is greener” for others at an exaggerated level. I had so many questions.
“Wasn’t I deserving of a robust household?
Why did I lose out?
Why is everyone else having so much fun?
I lived in a constant state of regret for my past choices, all revolving around aloneness. Regret that I didn’t try harder to have kids. Regret that I chose to settle living in Massachusetts while my whole family lives in upstate New York. I worried for my future, wondering if anyone will care for me and my husband when we are older. My husband couldn’t identify with my plight as he is more of a loner who can entertain himself and rarely sits with regret or worry, and so I turned inward. I was mad at myself for not feeling grateful as many would look at my life and think it’s pretty good. But my mind wouldn’t stay there. I saw the Facebook posts to “use this time as a gift” and I couldn’t embrace it.
Fortunately, after some time, my conversation with my life coach started to sink in and I knew I had to work on myself. I began asking, how do I let go of scarcity thinking? How do I start living in the present again? How do I do this when the present isn’t the present I am used to?
Some days are better than others. I wouldn’t say I am miserable every day, just some. I find when I incorporate healthier habits, I am mentally stronger. Having zoom calls with a dear friend lifts my spirits. Life seems like it may start to open up again, although slowly, and I have glimmers of hope that it will get better. I have come to some conclusions, one of which is that I am actually proud of myself. Proud that I allowed myself to be a person filled with negativity and jealousy during this surreal time. I didn’t fight it. I couldn’t identify with those people who were bettering themselves, and it’s okay. This is who I needed to be to get to where I am now. My self-awareness has reached new heights. I hadn’t thought of my younger self and the depression I had experienced then, until now. It was eye-opening to grasp that even though I am much older, I still react similarly to challenging transitions, as I did at that young age. I have realized that a feeling of loneliness has been with me for a long time, but it was masked when life was normal. The pandemic brought it to the surface. Maybe change will come from this recognition. While I will never have my own twenty-somethings to have margaritas with, I can search for ways to bring more noise into our house and have more people enter through our doors.
A few weeks ago, sitting on my patio on a beautiful evening, I looked around at my neighbors in the distance and wondered why I hadn’t done more to pursue relationships, especially with all the women near me. An idea came to me about hosting a neighborhood party once people get more comfortable socializing. Getting the couples we occasionally see on the calendar more often, may make for closer bonds. My husband and I have talked about moving within the year, and with that move, we can look for a home that has a pool or a big yard, where friends and family can gather. I can continue to work on myself to not compare my life to others’ lives. I can sit in my loneliness and realize I will work through it.