Feelings in a Pandemic

I've had HIV for 11 years and I don't consider it to be the most important part of my life. What is important to me is how I live and what I do with what I am capable of. I believe I have a pretty good handle on my health, physical and mental.  However, I also would be ignorant of my own feelings to deny them, and I thus can't deny that I have had some ups and downs since the pandemic began.

Mental health during social isolation

The year 2020 brought some interesting new challenges.  For the first time since diagnosis, and perhaps in my entire life, I am in an imposed isolation.  When I was first was diagnosed, I had isolated myself, but this was to heal and to find myself once again.  This is different -- it isn't a choice and it isn't about finding myself; this is about survival.  Still, it is isolation, and it has brought with it feelings I have not had to address in years.

Recognizing feelings of fear and loneliness

Initially, I was scared, as many of us have been.  The last time I left my house was the 18th of March, and I am still in-home.  While the fear is still present, its power over me is lessening, and I want to take a moment and address the other feelings that have come up.  For the first time since diagnosis, I can't see my friends or family, can't go sit at the park and enjoy the breeze without being aware of potential pathogens floating in the air when kids run by me, and I feel lonely.

Limited support during social isolation

So, the question I have to ask myself is, what can I do in the presence of these feelings when my community is not as closely connected as we had been and my supports are more distant?  I have come to a few conclusions. 

Reflecting on how to best react to these feelings

First, I am not my feelings -- I am the holder of them. They don't define me.  Second, it is normal to feel what I feel and it would likely only make me feel worse to try and fight them.  If nothing else, it would add extra struggle to an already difficult situation.  Third, while I can't choose how I feel, I can choose how I respond when these feelings are present.  It's not that I like feeling lonely or scared, but I don't have to let these feelings control me.

Finding ways to maintain mental health

But, if I am not fighting feelings, how do I keep them from controlling me?  Well, what I have found is that I can accept their presence and still focus my time, energy, and efforts on things I value and over which I do have control. 

I'm learning to navigate a digital world, connecting with others in ways I haven't previously, and to find value in this experience.  I'm building skills, expanding social networks, and reconnecting with old friends I didn't have time for when I was commuting to work.  I'm hanging out on Zoom, playing games online, and also focusing on my fur babies who are stoked their daddy is home all day.

There's no point denying or fighting my feelings, but there is hope for a meaningful life even in their presence.

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