In early November, the CDC began issuing warnings against family gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I already had a flight booked from Detroit to Houston on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. This flight had been booked since October. I would be staying in Houston until early January when classes start again. I know my family wanted me to come home. I wanted to go home. But in the midst of tons of Instagram infographics that detailed how selfish it is to visit family during a global pandemic being shoved down my throat every day, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Guilty that I was putting my wants and needs over the importance of stopping a pandemic. Guilty that I would be leaving my grandmother and immune-compromised aunt, though they’ve told me countless times they can fend for themselves. Guilty that I might be taking my position of privilege during a pandemic for granted.
As MSU’s online fall semester drudged on, my mental health took a turn for the worst. I started therapy again, I was living by myself for the first time, and there was really nothing for me to do except schoolwork. Every day I would wake up, attend a Zoom lecture, and work on homework until I felt like screaming (sometimes I actually did scream, living alone has its perks). Every Monday morning, I would tell myself, “Okay, I just have to make it to Friday, and then I can relax and have fun.” That vicious cycle continued all throughout September, October and November. It was exhausting. It was isolating. And then I had a new fear: What if I go home and it doesn’t get better?
I knew my anxiety and depression were getting the best of me when I was still feeling broken even though I was doing everything ‘right.’ I was eating breakfast, getting dressed, going for walks, doing yoga, seeing my friends, taking long showers, keeping my space clean and playing with my cat. So why couldn’t I just feel better? I know I enjoyed living alone because I could do what I wanted whenever I wanted without being questioned or judged. It was freeing in a way knowing that at any given moment, no one would know *exactly* where I was (unless I’m sharing my location with you and you happened to check). On the outside, I recognize that I don’t have it that bad at all. I don’t have to worry about finances, I have supportive and loving friends, and I know I could go stay with my grandmother should the loneliness ever be too much. But my mental illness doesn’t know that.
I am at war with my own mind all the time. Rationally, I know I should be okay. I live a privileged life. I have it pretty easy. But mental illness doesn’t care about that. Mental illness makes me feel ungrateful for all the things I have. I constantly feel like an imposter. I self-doubt the anxiety that is causing my self-doubt. And then I feel even worse because my brain knows I shouldn’t be feeling bad, so then I feel like I’ve failed myself. Anxiety pushes my fear of failure to the forefront of my brain, and then depression brings a severe lack of motivation to the table.
Even now as I am writing this, I feel like I’m throwing myself a pity party. My brain is currently judging me for putting all of this into the world and thinking people might relate to my dumb feelings.
So, was it really selfish of me to fly home? I tested negative for COVID a few days before the flight. I made a conscious choice to board that airplane. And so did everyone else on that airplane. I wore my mask, and I used the alcohol wipe the flight attendant gave me that could burn off your fingernails. I watched “Rogue One” while my cat slept under the seat in front of me. I raised my mask once to drink some water. As we exited the plane, the flight attendant asked us to “maintain social distancing” with our fellow passengers, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I just spent the last two and a half hours elbow-to-elbow with a stranger, and now we’re supposed to social distance? I understand the flight attendant was just doing her job, but if airlines really wanted us to be social distancing, they wouldn’t still be overbooking every flight. Those kinds of things are out of my control. I needed to go home for the sake of my mental health. Where is the line of acceptability? Where can I find that infographic? I am so tired of feeling guilty.
When I arrived home, I was happy to see my family and my dogs. The 70-degree Houston weather was also a nice change. But then I was confronted with a new challenge: Being seen. I realized that while living on my own, I had figured out a system of dealing with the ugliest feelings that come with anxiety and depression. Now, I had to figure out a new system, and it had to be one where I wouldn’t be questioned for my actions. I had gotten used to never being questioned for doing random things at odd hours, and I liked it that way. Again, rationally, I know my family wouldn’t judge me. But again, my anxiety likes to build these things up into bigger issues than they actually are. I’m learning, though. I take it one day at a time. I’m glad to be here in a home that’s (usually) filled with laughter.
It’s hard not to feel guilty about traveling during a pandemic since the coronavirus has become such an individualistic issue. I shouldn’t have to carry this weight on my shoulders when there are elected officials all over the country ignoring their own quarantine orders.
I have to remind myself that all I can do is my best. So that’s what I’ll do.