This is just the beginning

And there’s a bit of comfort in that.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed right now.

The amount of news stories, updates, and conflicting information about the coronavirus pandemic? Overwhelming.

The number of local businesses and friends grappling with financial hardship and unemployment? Overwhelming.

The parade of social media posts urging to donate money here, or give blood there, or buy this thing, or do that thing? Overwhelming.

The constant chatter in my brain—calculating whether we have taken enough precautions, debating whether loved ones are safe, wondering how long this will last, worrying for hours on end? Overwhelming.

It’s all so overwhelming. And why wouldn’t it be? We are living in truly unprecedented times, taking in an onslaught of information, making difficult life changes, and keeping up with updated health and safety guidance at an incredibly rapid pace. It seems normal—sane, even—to feel overwhelmed. It’s also not sustainable.

I struggled with what to write in today’s newsletter because I don’t have any answers. I haven’t figured out how to manage my COVID-19 anxiety or channel my worries into either productivity or relaxation. Aspirational-Newsletter Me can tell you to take deep breaths, limit your news intake, and enjoy long walks outside. But Real-Life Me is regularly forgetting to unclench my jaw, spending way too much time panic-scrolling my phone, and missing the beauty of my daily walks because I’m too busy warily watching others to make sure they keep their social distance.

I don’t have any better advice than your average person. Likewise, I’m leery of acting like I do know the right approach; there are too many people who are sharing their uninformed coronavirus opinions like it's the gospel truth, which scares me. 

While I’ve never faced a pandemic, I do understand grief. This period of our lives—a time of lost income, cancelled events, isolation from others, mounting fears, and endless life changes—will bring plenty of grief. I know from my experience that the best way to work through grief is to allow yourself to feel it—to accept the feelings of sadness, anger, hopelessness, and fear that come with loss. I also know that the best way to counter these feelings is to actively look for reasons to find gratitude and hope. Even in the darkest times, those reasons exist.

There were things that I did right in the past week. I stayed at home and practiced social distancing—maintaining six feet of distance from other people—whenever I went outside. I checked in on friends and family more often, and looked for creative ways to stay connected via video. On Thursday, my super creative brother organized a virtual family game night, complete with a custom Jeopardy game, and a couple of rounds of Facts in Five. This Sunday, I invited friends to a virtual brunch, where we all made breakfast at home, then gathered together through the magic of technology to eat and catch up. Both experiences were a welcome respite from my worries, and a lovely reminder that we’re all in this together.

There were also many things I could have done better. I could have better regulated the amount of time I spent scrolling my phone, especially early in the morning or late at night. I could have eaten healthier and drank more water. I could have worried less about the actions of others, and focused more on what I can control. I could have spent less time panicking over lost income—reminding myself that there are many people in worse financial situations than I am. I could have meditated and journaled more regularly. I could have let my partner know that I appreciate him more often, instead of snapping whenever I felt stressed.

Still, I’m trying to give myself a break. It was my first full week of self-isolation, and, by most accounts, we have many, many, many more weeks of this ahead of us. That prospect is scary, I know. It’s hard to accept that we’re just at the beginning of this crisis because—really, where do we go from here? 

In her latest newsletter, journalist Anne Helen Peterson said it best: "We are all grieving our lives as they once were. It’s already clear that those lives will not return as they once were: there will be no all-clear signal, no magical reversion to 2019 day-to-day-life. What happens over the next few months will affect how we think of work, and domestic division of labor, friendship, and intimacy. Like all calamities, it has the potential to force us to reprioritize, well, everything: what are needs and what are wants, what is actually necessary and what is performative, whose work we undervalue and whose leadership is actually bluster."

We are already grieving so much. Accepting that this surreal period of social distancing, event cancellations, and businesses being closed might last for many months seems impossible. It’s hard to do because the long-term effects are unknown—and that’s terrifying.

For some of us, the losses are immediate; we are out of work, struggling to juggle childcare and jobs, angry about important events getting postponed, or panicked about bare supermarket shelves. For others, we are holding onto hope that not much will change. And then there are some of us who are still blissfully ignoring the seriousness of it all. 

All of these are normal responses to grief. But this is not a normal situation. We are all affected by this, and cannot ignore how our actions affect each other; the choices we make are either helping our neighbors or putting them at greater risk. Sooner or later, we will all face our grief head on. We will feel sadness, anger, hopelessness, and fear over this pandemic and its consequences. And we will all determine how to respond to those feelings. I hope we choose to stay open to good thoughts and deeds, despite how horrible everything may seem.

We are at the beginning of this crisis, which also means that we have plenty of time to get better at adapting to it. We have time to be patient with ourselves and the people we interact with. We have time to organize that cluttered closet that’s long been bothering us, and start a brand new TV series. We have time to adjust to our loneliness and boredom and, if we’re lucky, to discover new things about ourselves in the process. We have time to accept this new normal, to grieve what we’ve lost, and to find silver linings. We have time to reflect on our own actions, and what we can do from now on to make our world a kinder, safer, and more hospitable place. We have time to miss our friends, routines, and comforts from before, and to find more gratitude for those things than we ever thought possible.

We have time. I hope you find some comfort in that.



p.s. Thank you to everyone who responded to last week’s newsletter. Your replies were really lovely. This week, I’d love to hear what you’re feeling most anxious about and one way you’re managing those thoughts. Are daily walks helping you work through financial uncertainty? Is talking to your parents more regularly giving you some peace of mind? Are video chats with friends making you feel a little less hopeless about humanity? Thursday’s issue (which is normally for paying subscribers only) will be available to everyone, and I’d love to get as many replies as possible. We are all in this experience together, and we can all learn from each other.

Thank you for supporting My Sweet Dumb Brain

I wanted to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has subscribed to My Sweet Dumb Brain over the past week. My partner, Billy, and I are among the (many many) folks financially impacted by COVID-19, and the extra subscriptions help more than you know. I teared up multiple times last week thanks to all of you generous folks!

I’m currently offering My Sweet Dumb Brain at a deep discount: 50% off for a yearly or monthly subscription. If you’re already a subscriber, but would like to buy a gift subscription for someone else, you can do that.* And if you can’t afford a subscription, you can still help out tremendously by spreading the word about this newsletter to friends. Recommending My Sweet Dumb Brain to just one person makes a big difference!

The mission of My Sweet Dumb Brain is to help readers be kinder to themselves and others, especially when life feels extra tough. I sincerely hope my words help a bit during this extra-tough time. 

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*Substack doesn’t have an option to offer gift subscriptions at a discount. If you want to pay full price, that would be greatly appreciated! But you can also get creative: Venmo or PayPal $25 to a friend, along with a link to the discount offer.

This newsletter is written by Katie Hawkins-Gaar. It’s edited by Rebecca Coates, who’s discovering a newfound skill in organizing virtual playdates for her kids. Photo courtesy of Rory Hawkins. (Thanks again for the wonderful game night, bro!)