“At some point in our lives, we have “our person.” The person who you could call at 3am in tears and knew they would stay on the line until you fell asleep. The one who was always happy to see you and when you would spend time together, hours passed like minutes. The person who you knew would love you unconditionally and no matter what you did, they would still be there. That person was my mom. My mom was always my biggest cheerleader. Between working full-time, raising me on her own, and being a social justice asset to our Northeast Pennsylvanian community, she had a lot on her plate. However, she picked me up and dropped me off at school every day. She paid for art classes, singing lessons, acting workshops, and so much more. We drank tea every night at the kitchen table and had conversations as best friends. We had endless inside jokes, book parties, and mother-daughter road trips. She listened to me and held me through death, divorce, rejection, and the pains of growing up that we know all too well.
Although I was creative, artistic, and deeply sensitive, as I grew older it became apparent that my anxiety was more than anxiety. I became obsessed with losing weight. My moods felt more saturated in color than others. I felt too much and slept too little. I would bend over backwards to please others even when it crushed me. My mother went to the ends of the earth to help me get better. And although I became a happy, ambitious, and successful woman who learned how to live and thrive with bipolar type II, anxiety, and depression, she was my rock and my entire world; I could not imagine my life without her. She kept me grounded after through breakups, work crises, a hurricane (literally), job loss, and so much more. Even when she was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer, she was more worried about how I would react to her illness rather than how she would live the rest of her days. For better or worse, that was just the kind of person she was.
Over the last two years I went from being a daughter to a caretaker. The woman who was my rock became a shell of the person I considered my hero. Slowly losing her broke my heart, and although I still struggled with panic attacks and depressive episodes, I had to seek support and healing in spaces and places other than my mom. I also had to hold myself accountable for my mental health in a new way; if I did not take care of myself, I would not be able to care for my mother. I needed to be strong for the both of us now.
I was also deeply afraid of being alone. I worried that I would be left with nothing and no one. I realized during the last two years of my mother’s life that I needed to be supported by people other than her; she could no longer lift me up. As terrifying and cold as it felt, I knew I had to let her go and create a new kind of support system even while she was still alive. I made myself join a CrossFit gym, committed to therapy, became closer with my aunt and uncle, and found a family at work and in my master’s program (my MA is in Clinical Mental Health Counseling-it’s my passion!). In doing so, I became dear friends with beautiful people in unexpected places and felt closer to my family than ever. Although grieving amid a pandemic has been unconventional, challenging, and at times heartbreaking, I am thankful for the good people near and far who have made sure I am loved and cared for.
Managing mental health is hard. Managing mental health during and after loss in the middle of a pandemic is harder. But choosing to live, sit with those feelings, and then let them go is the hardest of them all. I am left with 25 years’ worth of thoughts, memories, wishful thinking, and prayers for my mom, and if I allowed them to, they would consume me. However, I am a dogged optimistic and know from experience that everything is just a moment. The skin crawling-anxiety and the hazy depressive episodes are just a moment. The adrenaline spikes of pure fear are just a moment. The heavy sadness and disappointment in the people who I expected to be there for me is just a moment. The feelings are real, but they are not my reality.
To all of those who have experienced loss during this pandemic, my heart is with you. Grieving AND navigating the unimaginable circumstances of a pandemic, all while tending to your mental health requires courage, boundary-setting, and self-compassion. Not everyone will understand your struggle, but that does not mean you are misunderstood. I promise you; you are never alone. Please, please know this.”