We Crave Connection, and That’s Okay
Just one year ago, I lived the Hollywood dream. My apartment, which I shared with my fiance and our cat, was comfortable and spacious. I would often eat organic food and drink overpriced coffee. I spent far too much time partying with my friends, and even more time stuck in endless Los Angeles traffic jams to get to band rehearsals, photoshoots, recording sessions and business meetings.
Within a week of starting my internship in a glamorous PR marketing company in Beverly Hills and my part-time job in a fancy cafe right next to it, the world collapsed. At least, that’s how I experienced it. It is safe to say we’re collectively experiencing something akin to trauma, and whether you felt that COVID has affected your daily life directly or not, there’s no denying that everything is different these days.
The topic of mental health has been given much more attention recently, even more than before, much because of COVID quarantine and isolation. But this time, we don’t have the veil of busy social lives and endless entertainment to fill up the void. At the height of a global pandemic, people everywhere attempt to cope with a change in reality. As emergency alerts are sent worldwide encouraging people to once again stay home, many dread the situation even more than they usually would, especially since many of us still haven’t recovered from the first stay-at-home orders. In some places, like my current city, life never got back to normal - not even close!
In the height of winter, I lost the first few outside activities I could enjoy. I retreat to my home, and fiddle endlessly between the Internet and TV. It’s like watching a horror movie that is gory and terrifying but you can’t seem to peel your eyes away from the screen. Suicide rates have risen in Japan; violent crime against women and children has risen in Brazil; and general societal restlessness has risen in the United States leading to violent outbursts, bombings and even an invasion in the Capitol. Calling my family on the phone, or checking with a friend, it all feels useless - how many times can we say: “I’m okay,” without true meaning?
Worldwide, it seems as if people seem to be suffering tremendously. Those who socially distance, crave human contact. Those who don't socially distance are publicly shunned. Whether a person chooses to ignore COVID or not, it’s hard to pretend that emotions aren’t out of control everywhere.
News outlets claim that depression and anxiety reports have risen significantly during the quarantine, including among children. I can only imagine my eight-year-old nephew who used to play soccer every day with his friends, go to school, and had playdates every weekend with many friends. Now he alternates between his small apartment and his dad’s house, playing with his two-year-old sister and claiming desperate boredom. Luckily, his parents are athletes and play with him actively. But what about those parents who are disabled, or work so much that they can’t afford to support their children? Just thinking about it feels hopeless.
But aside from depression and anxiety, when I truly look around, I see endless loneliness around me. In my mother’s eyes, I see the sadness of her being far away from her other children and her grandchildren. In my father’s eyes, I see the suffering of having immunity illnesses and being caged up in a small apartment. Believe it or not, such solitude could easily be the reason why so many walls anxieties and depression are up these days.
The anger and restlessness people have been so eagerly expressing? That, to me, translates like deep grief of human connection burning inside people’s hearts as they witness their reality as they always knew they would crumble in front of them. It’s easy to attach the idea of loneliness to those who have personally lost someone due to COVID, however, something else has been intoxicating interactions around us.
How many people lost connections these days?
Take a moment to ponder: have you lost a friend to this situation? When I say ‘lost a friend’, I mean, have you had problems communicating with people around you, or have you gotten frustrated with how people face COVID? Have you caught yourself engaging in arguments about politics or issues more often than usual? There are so many reasons to be angry, but we cannot ignore the anger that comes from this sudden stillness.
I’m somebody with immense privilege of having my parents’ home to stay at, outdoor space, and plenty of privacy, and I am still struggling immensely with coming up with activities to occupy my time and content to consume - there’s only so many TV shows that pique my interest. I’m a creator, an artist - the experience of life itself is what keeps my craft going. As I sit to write, I find myself explaining the same feelings over and over. Music has lost its appeal to me. I feel like my songs come out as a repetitious cry for better days, but the hope in them doesn’t reach my heart. There’s only so much I can learn. There’s only so much working out I can do. There are only so many times I can text my friends about how bored I am. And there are so many times that all I yearn for is touch, connection, and presence. A hug from a friend I miss. The scent of a lover. That laughter that comes from deep inside my belly and resonates all over, as I watch my friends make a fool of themselves in a bar.
For a lot of people, the concept of strength comes from enduring everything, every hardship, with a smile on your face and denying how deeply it affects you. Although I’m a strong advocate for resilience and endurance, we must acknowledge bravely that connection is essential.
Admitting everything we miss and desire is the first step to healing this wound in our hearts. It’s the first step in understanding that - to get through this long winter (in the Northern Hemisphere) or this scalding Summer (in the Southern Hemisphere) - we all have needs, very specific and deep needs.
One important piece of awareness we must face is the fact that we’re being forced to look at our inner selves deeply these days. This is not comfortable, or enjoyable. If you’re struggling with it, that’s okay because you’re not alone. Any mental health guru or spiritual leader who says this is a great thing and you will come out stronger, in the end, is partially lying. Because we’re humans, and it’s okay for us not to be able to process every single hardship at once.
So the first step is to recognize that it’s okay to not be okay in these extreme circumstances.
It’s hard to reconcile with the cognitive dissonance. We know we must avoid contact, but many need to work hard in public spaces and submit to the constant fear of exposure and transmission. Meanwhile, some of us seem completely oblivious to any of this, partaking in crowded gatherings, and living fearlessly. Perhaps they’re stuck in the anger stage of it all -- perhaps they’re in the denial stage of grief. Regardless of what their reasoning is, personally, I watch it unfold as if it’s an alternate reality that doesn’t fit into my brain. I judge, yell, fight, and cry in rage for their selfishness but in the depth of my soul, I understand them better than I can write in a few paragraphs. I, too, want to be young again. I too want the sun shining against my face and singing in Karaoke until I lose my voice. I too want to get on stage and sing to all of you.
The dichotomy experienced through the mirror, as I face my reflection who seems lost in thoughts and impossible daydreams, as I try to consider the fact as I expect myself to simply become myself again, whole and alive.
The human experience is already complex in its nature. To live is to suffer - that is, after all, a big part of our human experience. It’s challenging to cope with mental health even on the best of our days, so why are we expecting ourselves to suddenly have more endurance or more capability to cope now?
To truly go through this moment in the most responsible manner possible we must follow the guidelines of our healthcare specialists. We must avoid gatherings, wear masks, and social distance. But to get through this in the most healthy way we must face our ghosts and shadows.
Our mental health must be our priority. To prioritize our mental health, there needs to be some degree of understanding of ourselves. It’s probably not the time to work through our most terrifying trauma, but it is the time to be especially kind to ourselves and ask: where am I hurting, in my heart? What is it that is making me truly struggle during this time? For each of us, the answer is different. And maybe the answer changes every day. And that’s absolutely okay.
It’s completely okay to seek out a therapist or a psychiatrist - which is something really amazing and brave to do, by the way! I’m back with a psychiatrist and I’m very happy to have supported these days. It’s also completely okay to write in our journals about our feelings, or some journal app. It’s also okay to meditate for two minutes or exercise for even one minute. It’s okay to call up your friend and say how much you miss them. And it’s okay to take up a hobby that makes you feel nurtured and loved.
And that’s precisely the crux of the situation. Nurturing. Whether we realize it or not, our friends, our social lives, our work, our routine are all part of how we often nurture and self regulate.
I encourage you to face yourself. What do you miss the most? What do you crave the most? What makes you feel really anxious about this situation?
Grieve it. Honor it. Write about it or talk about it - face it! Process this situation, acknowledging the seemingly endless struggle. By ignoring a wound and leaving it exposed to air and dirt, it gets more and more infected until we can’t do anything about it. That’s how mental health is, too. And because we don’t have access to all those things that used to make us feel truly good, it’s our responsibility to take on this role ourselves, and if we don’t feel capable, seek the help we need.
But it’s truly hard to seek help if we don’t give ourselves the chance to cry it out and process it all.
Mikka’s list of lessons:
As a singer and performer, I truly miss the stage. So now I started dancing every day. I’m bad at it, but I don’t care. I pretend I’m on stage, I have fun and exercise!
I tried baking. I failed. Many times. So I gave up. It’s okay, it’s completely okay to fail and let go! Actually, I learned to enjoy sucking at things. For example, I’m a horrible painter but I do it anyway!
My patience is very short. So I am taking responsibility for it and learning to try and articulate to others when I’m not particularly patient.
I learned to tell my friends/family members when I feel like I need to socialize. Articulating loneliness feels incredibly awkward at first, but after a while, you grow used to talking about it.
I learned that the hard days are gonna keep happening, and some days I’m not going to leave my bed, and in those days I should just sleep a lot, eat well, and be very kind to myself.
If you’re struggling, seek help. And if you’d like to vent, feel free to contact me! At firstname.lastname@example.org
Grief: Jacobs Shelly: Pathologic Grief: Maladaptation to Loss. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 1993.
Violence against women and children in Brazil <https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/brazil/publication/brazil-addressing-violence-against-women-under-covid-19>
Social relationships and health <https://science.sciencemag.org/content/241/4865/540>
One in for adults report anxiety and depression <https://www.kff.org/medicare/issue-brief/one-in-four-older-adults-report-anxiety-or-depression-amid-the-covid-19-pandemic/>
Artworks by Mikka Bea
Edited by Emiru Okada