You Are Loved

I am thinking today of those struggling with mental health, perhaps feeling an increase in the weight of life at this time of year. Sometimes we think Christmas comes with a guarantee and maybe even an obligation to be joyful, as if hearing music around us and seeing images of families in full celebration should kick us into a better gear, make us whole, but we know all too well that isn’t how it works.

The sting of loss can feel greater at Christmas, the burdens of life heavier and our inability to feel whole this time of year can increase our sense of failure. I wish that weren’t so. If we could convey one message to each other, not only at Christmas, but every day, it would be to confirm to our friends, our neighbours, our family that they are not alone, and that we form a collective of community that reaches across the room, across the street, across the country with a voice that says I’m here. Sometimes that voice may be just a whisper and we have to listen very intently to hear it, but it’s there.

I think with reasonable certainty that this Christmas will be even harder for many of us who struggle on ordinary days. The pandemic and protocols to keep us safe have built in a very real sense of isolation, of withdrawal, of disconnection from others. We may look the same as we scurry in and out of the grocery store and post office but hidden behind our masks is the ache to be held and to hold, to be comforted with our cheek pressed against another.

I know it is extremely difficult to find the right balance between physical safety and emotional well-being. We lock down long-care facilities and seniors’ residences in an attempt to guarantee their safety, to shut out the risk, but what we are doing is shutting out life, shutting out comfort and touch and connection and belonging.

The woman who checked me through at the grocery store yesterday said she was so weary from impatient people, from people who only seem to address their own individual needs. She did look tired, worn down. It is easy to focus merely on self as we go about our lives hidden behind a mask. We want the person in front of us to hurry up or get out of the way despite recognizing his glasses have fogged and he is having trouble seeing. We want the shelves to have what we need, we want government to know exactly how to handle every challenge. We are impatient and burdened and angry at times.

I had a conversation with a friend this morning and he said when he struggles to know how to react in certain situations, he poses a question to himself – what would Kevin do? Kevin is his son, a teacher who has an innate ability to know how to help children with high needs. We could pose that question ourselves when in any situation when searching for the answer. We speak of sharing kindness with others, especially this time of year though kindness should never be fixed on an agenda. When we extend our kindness outward, we are rewarded many times over. I think of the times I have helped any random person, the return to me was far greater than what I extended. Extending kindness and patience should include ourselves. If we are feeling rushed or panicked or irritated, maybe turn that kindness in and pat our own hand and remind ourselves not to fret, we have time, no hurry, breathe deeply, let your shoulders drop and your muscles relax.

When I comforted my children from nightmare, I smoothed their hair, and pressed my cheek against theirs, letting my body’s warmth surround them and the nightmare slipped quickly away. I can do that to myself. When I feel the slippery slope of despair under my feet, I can lengthen my breath and tell myself not to worry, there is no hurry, you’ll get there, one step at a time. You are loved, I can whisper in my own ear. Shh now, you are okay.