Pandemapocalypse 2020

There has been a lull on this blog for several months, ever since the start of the pandemic. I never thought that in these modern times I would write those words. It sounds like the beginning of a post-apocalyptic novel rather than a blog in the age of the 20th century. But that is the reality – we are in a pandemic, and it’s made things sort of fall apart.

I have felt totally deflated the past few months. At first, all my energy went into worry and anxiety about what was happening and what was to come. Then, came a period of gratitude for time home to grow and develop myself without the obstacles of life. But quickly this turned into a hopeless depression, in which I felt  the weight of what was going on around me and inside me, and I couldn’t escape. I could feel the reality I had worked so hard to fit into crumbling around me. For so many years, I wasn’t able to participate in the world in the way it expected of me – I couldn’t work, do school, or really succeed in any “productive” way. And that productivity, that contribution to society, is how we were judged. It was a matter of what you were worth in a literal dollar amount, what the value of your time was. That was something I couldn’t be a part of because I was so sick, and as a result I felt immense shame for years. 

I worked hard since beginning recovery to reverse that – to work hard to meet that expectation. I saw “being an adult” as my goal post that I struggled every day to meet, going to school full time and working while trying to maintain my health, home, and recovery. Even with going to outpatient appointments 5 days a week, I worked hard to meet all the markers of “success” that I could. And I was so proud of that. It made me feel like I was finally enough, that I could finally do enough. 

Now, suddenly, the whole world has been rocked and this paradigm has been shattered. Suddenly “doing the right thing” consisted of staying home and being alone. The life I used to lead, the one that used to be a marker of sickness and depression, was suddenly the standard and was encouraged in order to protect others from this terrible illness. 

On the plus side, I no longer had to feel badly about not having the energy, physical or mental, to go out and be social and do things on top of the daily struggle of getting through and “being productive.” But on the other, every depression-induced habit I had that was integral to keeping me sick was suddenly the only way of life. 

I fell into this deep depression for a solid month, in which some days I could literally not get out of bed. During this time, life felt hopeless. My whole paradigm for which I had suffered so much, held so much shame around, and worked so hard to succeed at, was suddenly shattered. The world was uncertainty. There was nothing to ground myself to, nothing to hold on to. 

I feel I actually handled it really well. Even the deep depression, I recognized for what it was and did my best to cope through. I was flexible with my expectations of myself, and understanding and compassionate around what I was feeling and experiencing. But even so, this didn’t make it any easier. It may have made it more bearable, it may have reminded me that time will pass and I will get through. But it hurt just as much.

This is something that I think often gets passed over when we talk about coping skills. We act like these skills will make it better – that the higher you go on the tolerance pyramid, you can always use your skills to bring you back down to a grounded state. But grounded does not mean a lack of suffering. It doesn’t mean the pain goes away. It just means you can handle it. 

You still have to feel it. You still have to be vulnerable with your pain. You still hurt and suffer. You just have the strength to get through.

Since the depression has passed, I have just felt spacey. Unable to concentrate on or even remember what I care about, unable to focus in on my wants and desires. Numb. Distant. Far away. Dissociation is one of my most common coping mechanisms, and I think right now it’s something a lot of people are using to get through the reality of a global pandemic. 

But it feels like I’ve been silenced. Creatively, intuitively, emotionally. Like everything I am feeling and wanting and needing is locked in a box somewhere deep inside me, cold and alone and starving for attention. I feel deflated, like the balloon you get for your birthday and then sits there for six months because you don’t want to lose the joy it represents although the reality is its empty, those moments gone. Just a carcass of a memory that once was so fresh and real. 

I can’t paint or draw, write or sing. It feels like every time I try to take a step towards creativity that I am wearing iron boots in quicksand, being pulled down down down until I’m too exhausted to even try to move. Motivation is non-existent even though time is ample, and this results in feeling like a failure for not adequately and productively using my pandemic time. 

I love to plan. It makes me feel centered and grounded, as though I have a grip on the constantly changing world around me. But in this new world you can’t plan, not even a month ahead, because reality is changing just that quickly and in just that intense of a way. Everything is fluid, nothing is real, and I’m floating in limbo.

“Isn’t this a recovery blog?” You might be asking. “Shouldn’t she be writing about her ED?” Well the truth is that I don’t feel particularly dominated by ED anymore. The mindset is gone, the behaviors squelched, and recovery feels pretty solid. That doesn’t mean I don’t have trouble eating. I’ve been so anxious that it, combined with the vast amounts of Vyvanse I am on to make my ADD riddled brain functional, makes it very difficult to eat at times. In fact, lately its been often I’ve struggled to get food in. I’ve been working with a special doctor to help with my various physical ailments, and part of that is eating a pretty restrictive diet, on which I have felt amazing. No pain, way better GI symptoms, significantly less brain fog. But even with all the amazing foods I am trying to put into my body to nourish it back to health, it doesn’t always happen. And that is okay. The important part is that ED is not dominating my mind, that I don’t feel terrible about myself and my body, and that I am trying my hardest to get down what my body needs.

This post has been all over the place, but I feel like its nature reflects the state of the world and myself at this moment. I feel scattered in an uncertain world, and life just keeps throwing more shit onto my back. “Can’t catch a break” has become my mantra. But I am trying. I am trying to remember what makes me happy. I am trying to remember what I want and need. I am trying to reconnect with myself and my expression and my voice. And I feel like in this crazy world we are all living in, trying is all you can do.

Being Seen

I never realized how important it is for me to feel seen until the last few years. I began to realize how much it mattered to me to be heard and validated in my last relationship, which lasted over two years and ended over a year ago. We worked a lot on our communication and relationship, and that was something we identified was of great importance to me feeling secure and loved. Having my side and experience heard and validated, whether in an argument or in a decision, was often the difference between me lashing out or breaking down and us moving forwards. For most of my life before that, I was unsure why I felt so insecure when instances came up where I felt ignored or cast aside, or even when I just wasn’t explicitly told I had done something right. It just seemed that I was high-maintenance, or that I over-reacted a lot — or this is what I was often told. In reality, I had certain needs that weren’t being met and that rocked the little bit of stability I had at my core and put me on uneven ground. 

It took me a long time to believe that naming and finding ways to meet your needs wasn’t being “too much,” it was a necessary act of survival. We all have needs, and when those needs aren’t met we begin to decline. Abraham Maslow studied these needs and devised his theory on human motivation with a basis in the hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy is drawn as a pyramid, with the idea that higher needs cannot be well-met if the lower, foundational needs aren’t being satisfied due to a lack of foundation to build up from.

The lower needs are more basic survival needs, with physiological and safety needs at the very bottom. Physiological needs consist of things that are vital to life, such as nourishment and hydration, air to breath and shelter to sleep in. Right above that are safety needs, which consist of literal safety and security, but also stretches to things like health, a job, personal security, and other resources required to be secure in life.

It is easy to understand how lacking in this area would make it very difficult to focus on anything but trying to become secure — if you have no food, you will have a hard time prioritizing your health; if you have no job, you will have a hard time focusing on building strong relationships. Thus, each lower level must be fulfilled to a certain degree of stability for one to be able to move up the hierarchy and focus on higher levels of needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Plateresca / Getty Images

Next come psychological needs. Once basic survival and security is met, the next needs deal with love/belonging and esteem. This is why it is not enough to just give a child a home — rather, you must love and include them while reinforcing their capabilities and autonomy for them to develop normally and healthily. When these things are missing, psychological problems and mental distress develops.

Love and belonging refers to intimate relationships and your support circle — friends, family, intimacy, and a sense of connection. I always felt I had these but in reality never felt I belonged due to an inherent lack of deep connection within my relationships. This is where being seen comes in — belonging and connection requires others to know you on a deep and intimate level, and doing so requires that they see you for who you truly are and validate that. And then that they love you regardless. Without this, one can’t build esteem, which consists of self-respect, respect for others, strength and freedom, among other things. Without love, belonging, connection, and being seen, you can’t build yourself up and believe in your worth. You becomes stuck in a belief system that puts you at the bottom and reinforces the idea that you are not enough to deserve being seen, being loved, or belonging.

This has been my largest deficit throughout my life, an inability to believe in my inherent worth. To believe I am enough. Instead, I have always believed I was too much. And this was reinforced by my intimate relationships, especially my family. I was often labeled as dramatic, overreacting, high-maintenance — many terms that reinforced the idea that what I was feeling was wrong and made me unlovable. I couldn’t belong because I wasn’t like everyone else. In reality, I have always been sensitive and felt big. I was never making my expression or my feelings into more than it was — I really felt everything that I was saying I did. But instead of being validated for that, which would allow me to deal with what I was feeling and be heard for my suffering, I was made to feel that the way I inherently am was bad.

This was never anyone’s intention. My family didn’t set out to invalidate me, they set out to normalize me. They didn’t feel the way I did, and my emotions scared and frustrated them. As I have grown older and embraced who I am, rather than trying to push it down and stifle it while simultaneously feeling constantly crazy, I have realized that though I feel big, if I am heard and my needs are seen, I can meet them quite easily. And that there is nothing wrong with needing things.

Everyone has different needs, and so many of them, like mine, are based in deficiencies from their childhoods. Needs that were discounted or never met, and as a result are all the more important in adulthood. And just because someone else’s needs are different from yours does not make their needs invalid, bad, or wrong. It just makes them different. And if you love someone and want them in your life, then trying to meet those needs is a part of maintaining the relationship just as much as recognizing your own needs and asking for what will meet them is a part of caring for yourself.

When I was 18, I tried to kill myself in front of my parents. Things had not been good. I had been hospitalized earlier in the year, and my parents had treated it like a one-and-done-check-meagan’s-crazy-off-the-‘to-fix’-list kind of thing. I was hospitalized for 10 days, and finally had felt like the suffering I was experiencing day in and day out was being seen. I was put on a ton of meds, I was depressed, I was struggling.  The day after I got out my parents insisted I return to school so as not to get behind. I was so drugged up my mom had to dress me. I slept through my classes for the first time in my life. My schedule was changed so that I could leave school everyday at noon and go to therapy. 

In my parent’s eyes, I was supposed to be better. I went to the hospital, got medicine and treatment, and got discharged — thus, *ding*ding*ding* all better. I was drowning in my sorrow which had had a medicated band aid placed over it, and everyone had moved on but me. My visibility was gone. Again, I was not seen.

So I made the decision, after another argument with my parents about how much I was suffering and how they wouldn’t send me to the hospital because ‘what about school?!’, to down a bottle of klonopin in front of them. I have never seen so much terror on my mom’s face. My dad yelled at me something to the effect of what have you done. I ran upstairs, threw up the pills, and then walked out the front door and kept walking. 

At this point, I do not believe I really wanted to die. If I had, I would have kept down the pills. Rather, I wanted to be seen. I wanted people to take me seriously when I said I AM SUFFERING. I NEED HELP. And I still struggle with that. I have had to fight for the treatment I have been given. I had to fight for breaks when things were too much and I was suicidal and afraid for my safety. I had to fight for treatment for my eating disorder. I have had to fight for what I am going through to be seen. I have had to fight for my needs to be validated and met.

I do not write this to villainize my parents. My parents did the best they could. We sometimes forget that in these situations, the mentally ill person is not the only one having a hard time. It is so incredibly distressing to have someone you love be so sick, especially when you have never felt the way they describe and you have no frame of reference from which to understand it. People can only be there in the capacity that they can, and that is entirely based on their level of education and experience with the issue at hand. My mom didn’t know how to help her suicidal daughter anymore than I would know how to help a 10-year old who’s father just died in the Vietnam War, something she dealt with in her childhood and would be much more equipped to help another with now.

Everyone’s parent’s fuck them up no matter how hard they try not to. Unfortunately, it is impossible to cover all the variables that can lead to distress later in life. I was so well cared for growing up. But because I was different, I felt invalidated. So now, I fight to be seen.


The reason I am writing on this topic now is because of a painting I made over this past weekend that so succinctly speaks to this feeling. I have fought to be seen for so long, I thought it wasn’t an issue anymore. But it is. It keeps coming up in therapy. The need to have my struggles validated. The need to have my trauma be recognized as real. The need to be heard without someone trying to alter my story. The need to own my life, own my trauma, own my story.

See Me
acrylic on 18×24 canvas paper

I just began EMDR again, and I think perhaps that is where this need is stemming from, at least partially. I had my first session last week, and since I’ve had one or two memory flashes, but mostly I’ve just had a lot of feelings come up. Feelings of being at fault for the bad things that have happened to me. Feelings of being inherently not innocent, of welcoming bad into my life. Feelings of being complicit. Feelings which have come up at other times in other ways, especially in feeling responsible for my own mental illness and what it has done to my life. Feelings of shame and guilt, most of which is not my shame and guilt but others’. The deep dark root of the void is beginning to show itself, which I suppose is the point. That is why I am diving into this part of my treatment. But it’s like all of these shitty feelings and beliefs about myself are my foundation — they are at the bottom of my pyramid of self and have interfered with my ability to move up the hierarchy of needs. Like a parasite that has infested the foundation of my safety and inhibited the grounding and rooting necessary to thrive. Instead of love being rooted, a lack of belonging has. Instead of understanding, a belief of being simultaneously too much and not enough has festered there. How can you grow towards self-actualization, towards becoming the most you can be, when you are so deeply rooted in a belief that you are nothing?

I feel as though I am beginning to uproot this parasite, these weeds that have hindered the growth of the good. But like when you pull a weed from a flower patch, the earth becomes torn and unsettled before it can be patted down and grown into, I feel like my insides are being torn up little by little. This general sense of unease has permeated my being, something I am describing succinctly as ‘bad weird’.

I am afraid of being uprooted. All I have ever known is weeds. I do not know what will be taken from me and my life as those weeds are removed. Even though I know it will be replaced with good, it is terrifying and I feel sick. I suppose this is probably what the weeds feel like when they are torn from the ground and left to wither and die so that the flowers may grow.