Some thoughts on creative socializing and mental health… (I need a better title)

So obviously with all that’s happening with coronavirus we’re all having a lot of adjustments to our new (temporary) normal. Many are beginning to work from home, most to practice social distancing on some level, and that’s good and wise, but for most everyone it’s entirely new, and maybe even scary and depressing.

For me though this isn’t new. I’ve been living the socially distant/quarantine life for over three years now because of my mental health challenges. I have OCD which focuses on germs and health obsessions,  and I also have severe social anxiety caused by years of trauma. I’m not at all happy about that, and I thought I was all but done with it-but that’s a topic for another day. Nevertheless, this is almost entirely life as normal for me and my family. That’s made it easier in a lot of ways and I’m thankful for that, but watching how people are coping creatively has brought up a lot of feelings for me, and I’m trying to convert those to constructive thoughts to share with you. 

One of my most fun Instagram follows is, because of exposure through a friend, currently quarantined. She is a huge extrovert (as am I), and I totally empathize with her distress at being home alone in her apartment for 10 days. As I started to view the creative ways that her friends are loving her and saw others learn to build community creatively, finding new ways to do togetherness, I started to struggle. Nobody has come and danced in my street, had lunch with me from 10 yards away, made a daily phone or FaceTime appointment… Etc. I’ve got a few friends who have let me know I’m loved and missed, a few have continued to invite me out despite my saying no often and lots who I know would be available to do whatever I need if I asked. I’m so thankful for that! That is so valuable.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to know what to ask for or not to feel like asking is a burden. Even the few times I have asked for a specific way to connect within my limits I’ve been soon forgotten,  and it’s hard to ask again. It’s embarrassing trying to explain why I’m in this position anyway, and after three years I’m afraid that even those I love most have all but given up on me. None of this is a judgment on my friends and loved ones. My situation is something we don’t know how to handle, especially in a social media age. We think people may want to be left alone entirely, or assume if we see their name in our feeds they’re OK. Without social media maybe we would be more proactive about reaching out,  about connecting, about actually finding out how to meet needs, but we’ve largely forgotten. 

But now, we are all in the same boat! We are all lonely and learning to find proactive and creative ways to connect, love, and create community.  that’s so awesome! Truly I celebrate it! But now that we all know how this feels can we learn some things? Can we take all these amazing creative ways to connect and remember them? Can we have them as tools in our toolbox for loving our friends for whom social distancing has to be -hopefully temporarily, but still- an indefinite a way of life?  you know how you feel after a few days or a week of this? I’ve been all but housebound since November 2016 and limited since March 2015. I think many would brush that off as “my choice” but I promise you it hasn’t been. That anxiety you feel about contracting or passing on this illness? I feel that way about EVERY illness. On top of that I have social anxiety from 35 years of emotional trauma building on itself – none of it has been any more my choice than what we are all facing now is yours.

If someone had asked me sometime over the last few years what they can do- not allowing me to say “ oh no nothing I’m fine”  but actually asked me something like, “what can I do for you? how can I love you” I don’t necessarily know what I would have said but I’m wondering if maybe it would shorten the time that I had to live like this. That’s not to shift blame on to anyone- I am completely OK with and thankful for the journey God has had me on and I know that his timeline is perfect but with my social anxiety especially,  small amounts and increments of time spent with people are the most practical thing I can do, along with the inner work of healing my self image and therapeutic work I do with E. So, please, don’t underestimate the difference your love can make in helping someone heal. I know it’s harder than offering help in the specific ways that come naturally or make sense to you, but the extra effort could make a big difference. 

So, let’s use this. Let’s remember. Let’s actively love others, asking maybe not IF they need anything, but WHAT they need- HOW we can love them. Let’s be active participants in each other’s healing.

Maybe we can start brainstorming ideas or asking our friends who struggle with mental illness these questions now, and build a toolbox so that when this is all over, when life is gone back to “normal“ the people who are still struggling and the people who are still living socially distant lives aren’t forgotten, because I’ll be honest, I have felt forgotten by most of the people in my life over the last few years. I know it hasn’t been intentional. I know that most of them just don’t know what to do,  and like I said before, I don’t always have the answer for that, but I know I’m not alone either and I know that if we work hard now, while we have more time and resources, we can use this time and those resources to build better ways to love one another.  

I’m gonna leave you with a music video from my favorite band, which has become my favorite music video ever and kind of an anthem for this time- one of many anthems I’ll be sharing with you, but definitely an applicable one.

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