If your emotions have been all over the place while social distancing, you are not alone. On Tuesday, I cried for almost the entire day. Half of my tears were about my upcoming wedding, feeling uncertain it will happen, the other half spent on guilt—how silly to cry about a wedding when people are losing loved ones, losing lives. I spoke with a friend yesterday who is single, experiencing the same sense of grief/guilt about the loneliness of being single during quarantine.
I’ll never forget a time in college when my boyfriend had just broken up with me. I was beside myself, crying to my friend Kelli. Somewhere in between telling her his verbatim breakup speech for the 19th time, I hiccupped my tears to a stop. Kelli’s mom was going through treatment for breast cancer, and I was crying over a breakup. After I apologized for my insensitivity, she said something to me—and I won’t get the words quite right—that has honestly been one of my most memorable life lessons. She told me that she wouldn’t wish what she was going through on anyone, but that her experience didn’t invalidate my pain. Cut to present—there are people having objectively more harrowing experiences than most of us are with the coronavirus crisis, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t shitty, scary, and deeply upsetting to all of us, in whatever form that may take.
I am so proud of our global community for largely trying to minimize our own pain under the knowledge that others are suffering more. I would never, ever compare postponing a wedding to a loved one becoming ill, but can’t two things be true at once? I can maintain perspective as a logical, sympathetic human being and still acknowledge the only truth I know for myself at this moment—my own experience.
I’m not saying that anyone should take to Instagram and cry over a lost vacation—I’ve seen that, and it ain’t pretty. I’m not saying to stop donating to the many causes and people who need help right now—continue to give what you can and acknowledge, if it’s true for you, that there are many people suffering far worse than what many of us are experiencing right now. I guess I’m just suggesting, after a day that felt like an eruption of bottled up emotions because I was trying so hard to maintain perspective, that it’s important to acknowledge that experiences are relative, but they’re all still real.
Be kind to yourself, try to be kind to your friend who makes an insensitive remark or your coworker who seems particularly snappy or critical. Individual circumstances may look wildly different, but we’re still experiencing this thing collectively. And if you’ve found yourself in this sadness/guilt loop, I hope you can give yourself permission—if only for an hour or an afternoon—to acknowledge the beauty of this togetherness, and also the validity of the truths only you can know.
This essay originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.