In the past few months I’ve had several calls from friends who’ve slid down the hill of tragedies we’ve piled up and are collapsed at the bottom in the vale of tears unable to climb out.
We’ve all seen the posts. “Bad day.” “Can’t get out of bed.” “Too much.” And we all understand and reach out. And then it happens to you.
It was a few things. First a Black filmmaker friend sent me a photo of a white couple on the deck of an expensive house. The middle-aged man was on the ground wearing a black T-shirt that said “I Can’t Breathe.” And his smiling wife was looming over him, her knee on his neck, enjoying their re-enactment of George Floyd’s murder. My friend’s caption? “Fix this.”
Then I read an article about how the economy was in worse shape than predicted, with many of the businesses that had furloughed employees unable to hire them back in the foreseeable future – see restaurant workers, concert and event teams, and sales folks who are being slammed. And as usual, the pain would fall heavily on artists, gig workers, people of color, the working poor and the disabled.
And then my beloved daughter sent me photos of an early birthday celebration with her boyfriend and his family. They were all smiling and sending me their love. And they’re all in Amsterdam and there’s no telling when we’ll be able to travel and be together and give each other a hug.
And then I got hit by lightning. Seriously. Lightning. It levitated me and blew out my hot water heater.
What’s next, God? Locusts?
Yes! Apparently there’s an infestation in East Africa. Oh and an Ebola outbreak in Congo.
And I woke up this morning and started to cry and couldn’t stop.
I share this not to draw attention to myself — I’ll be fine. My husband gave me a hug and made me a lovely breakfast and six friends called with offers of virtual company. I am not alone.
But I share this because I have been hearing with ominous regularity from people who are sliding down the hill into this dark pool of tears. And these are not people who — God bless them — suffer from depression or see therapists or take medication on a regular basis. These are folks like me — blessed with cheerful, upbeat natures. And if we’re sliding down the hill, I can only imagine how folks who have to swim through these dark pools on a daily basis are doing.
But whatever our nature, we’re all in it and it’s obviously a thing, this slide. And yes, some of us may be guilty of what’s becoming known as “white centering,” i.e. internalizing the suffering of others and making that the centerpiece. There’s a wonderful cartoon in the New Yorker this week that shows an exhausted white man having just climbed the hill of “Protest” being urged forward by a Black man to climb the hill of “Action.” So there’s lots to guard against and learn.
But it’s also bigger than any one issue. It’s the feeling that the world as we know it — the economy, our democracy, the healthcare system, our social networks, any hope of social justice — is disintegrating. That all our nets are broken and we are falling.
And there’s truth to that. The world as we know it is falling apart. In many cases, that’s a good thing. But we’ll have to fix — or replace — what’s broken. And as my friend said, it’s the responsibility of those with privilege of any kind — be it white privilege, economic privilege, social privilege — to fix it for others. It’s not the job of the oppressed to fix it — it’s our job. So there’s a lot of clarity in that and lots of purpose. And purpose, as has been noted, is the best antidote to grief.
But first it helps to admit how hopeless and helpless it feels to fall through the net. And how quickly the mind turns to self-recrimination and despair. It almost feels productive — this hatchet job on the self. If I’d only… I should have… Why even bother… This will never end… And if it does, it will end badly…
So the mind can be a poor ally and it helps to usher it to a seat and put it in time out. Be quiet, Mind. Do nothing. Wait. It will lift. Eventually.
Meanwhile there’s prayer for those who practice, and meditation, and long walks, and friends — even from a distance. These are good antidotes. As I mentioned, admitting we’re feeling absolutely horrible helps. Asking for diversion, company, an ear — it all helps.
Taking a step back from the news can also be helpful. Turning away from social media and the need to take it in and digest it and say something worthwhile can be a big relief when you’re feeling awful. Use the time to read a book. Make ice cream and eat it. Do something fun. I made a little two-minute video about a toddler releasing the butterflies she’d been tending — lightened me right up.
And if none of it helps? If you can’t get yourself to the mouth of the cave? Just breathe. Experts tell us we can survive without food, and water for days at a time. But we need a fresh breath every moment. So for now just breathe.
We’re riding the tiger and it’s not safe to get off. All we can do is hang on and sing the thing to sleep. And then maybe, just maybe we can slide off the beast and take a long hot shower and go to bed.
Because as my sweet husband says, “It’s just a day.” And we can survive just about anything one day at a time.
So when the moody blues descend, reach out. Hang on. Rest. You’re not alone.
P.S. As I read this two days later, I feel fine. And the folks who posted the horrible photo re-enacting George Floyd’s death have issued an apology and fled social media. So hang in there, folks. Together we can make a difference.
Thank you so much for all your emails. Reach me at WelcomeToThePandemic@gmail.com. And find me on Twitter at @epagenyc or on Facebook at ElizabethPage.
Elizabeth Page’s work as a writer and filmmaker focuses on folks impacted by social issues. Plays include Spare Parts (produced by Olympia Dukakis at Whole Theatre, Off B’way at Circle in the Square Downtown and nominated for a John Gassner Award), The Nazi Plays (Denver Theatre Centre’s US West Theatrefest) and Aryan Birth (Best Short American Plays.) Her work in television brought her six Emmy Awards and four Writers’ Guild Awards. As a filmmaker she has made lots of award winning shorts, and web pieces for artists such as Melba Moore. Her latest short film, Safe, about an accidental shooting, is currently in distribution in Europe.