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Quarantine Made Me Sit With My Pain. Now, I Don’t Want it to End.

Could resuming normal life signal the end of our emotional transparency?

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A wise woman named Glennon Doyle once said, “All of our suffering comes when we try to get to our resurrection without allowing ourselves to be crucified first.” I didn’t embrace a word of that beautifully-crafted mantra at first. But then quarantine happened, and I understood. Quarantine started with a lot of false expectations: mainly that, in the absence of life’s annoying demands, we would become free and calm like prophets. Isolation would command all the unnecessary engines to seize running, so that the lake of our life would ripple no longer— instead growing utterly, divinely still. 

Being a sixteen-year-old at the brink of adulthood is hard, but doing it inside four walls proved harder yet, so no, for me quarantine was not a moment of stillness or a window of time where I could fully accept myself. That  would be too fast of a resurrection.

Instead, to my teenage self, the past three months were all of pain rising all at once to consume all of me. For once, though, I was not given a friend or school or concert or restaurant-shaped escape door out of all that pain and just had to sit with it. I sat with it all that time and now, the outdoor patios and extended store hours leave little doors everywhere, once again beckoning me out of hard places and into cheery, light, populated ones. 

I don’t want us to forget our respective lessons learned in quarantine, but I fear that this is exactly what will happen now that everything, it seems, is normal again. 

At first, sitting through the pain was not one of my priorities. On the contrary, the beginning of stay-at-home orders welcomed a vigorous wave of productivity. I ran daily 5ks around my neighborhood and cooked meals to accommodate my spur-of-the-moment vegan diet, while others were writing the next King Lear, organizing socially-distant picnics and investing—almost collectively— in exercise equipment. Quarantine’s slogan became: “Use this time wisely, or you will regret it.” In hindsight, these self-imposed tasks and to-do lists were just another kind of escape door, allowing all of us to insulate feelings which we should have ripped open and quieting what we should have let bubble. In other words, we became interested in anything that would silence the nagging voices inside, asking a slew of questions: What does this all mean? Will I still get to live a full life? If so, when?

Jogging and pouring my feelings into brownie batter did nothing to suppress the voices. They came back, undaunted, in the form of days spent lying in bed— curtains drawn, sleep mask on. I could not reconcile my previously go-getter, high-achieving high school self with the person now huddled in layers of blankets— sleeping and crying in intervals— and neither could my parents. 

Things first changed when I got a therapist, expecting someone who had all the answers to the most burning of my questions: how do I stop all this suffering? Instead, she did not talk much. My therapist let me do all of the talking: starting right at childhood, marching through my pre-teen years and finally putting all the little and big conflicts of the past month into words. How does talking about it feel? I felt the energy drain out of me with that loaded question and wanted, more than anything, to crawl back into bed. Instead, I heard myself say, “Hard. But good to finally put it in words.” It turns out that the best thing my therapist did for me during this time was nothing at all, allowing me to marinate in my pain until I was ready to accept it, to draw back the curtains and get out of bed.

Now it is summer and I have indeed accepted pain. My personal crucifixion is far from over— I am only sixteen, after all. But things are moving along. A couple of weeks ago my family booked an Airbnb for a quick beach getaway a couple of hours from home. Last weekend, we went out to eat at a favorite Irish restaurant’s new outdoor set-up. It is also very probable that in a few months, after I get my driver’s license, I will be driving to a brick-and-mortar building to attend college for the first time in my life. 

While everyone is sighing one big sigh of relief at these terrible days finally (hopefully) loosening their grip on our lives, I am still reluctant to leave behind the moments in quarantine when I felt like I could not go on living. These days made me feel real pain and realize that I cannot be without it. 

I wonder if the exciting bustle of the outside world will turn us back into maladaptive and emotionally-limited humans. Will it seduce us to skip the essential step of sitting with pain and proving to ourselves we can survive it? I am not sure.

 None of us are ready for resurrection just yet, so I hope that this small truth, along with the reminder to keep wearing our masks, will make us a bit more humble as we step out of our house— for the first time in what feels like forever. 

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