It’s been 10 months since quarantine began.
And it’s been 4 months since I started to bottom out.
When I bottom out, I’m not entirely sure that anyone but my wife knows it’s happening. It’s possible that my kids don’t even fully pick up on it.
When I bottom out, I don’t post red flags on social media. I just keep churning out my usual content: Cute kid pictures, goofy kid anecdotes, music recommendations, and overly strident political rants. Same ol’, same ol’.
When I bottom out, I don’t look for answers in a bottle. I stick with my tried-and-true habit of one beer per week no matter how listless I feel. (I guess old habits die hard, both the drinking and non-drinking kind.)
When I bottom out, it usually lasts about 2 months before I wake up again. This has been the cyclical pattern of my ebb and flow for the last few years. But given the accumulated strain of an extended quarantine, along with an extended moment of truly intense political turmoil, this time I bottomed out for a period twice that long. I started fading (and stopped blogging) in mid-September, and I didn’t start feeling like myself again until a week or two into the new year.
That’s 4 months of hibernation. 4 months of not feeling like myself to varying degrees. 4 months of lugging around a furrowed brow and a clouded mind. 4 months of being physically and emotionally unable to either wake up early or write, both of which I’ve long known are integral to my peace of mind and sense of identity. 4 months of wondering how long it would be before the world would feel manageable again.
One third of a year. One seventh of my daughter’s life.
That’s a long time to be bottled up and bottomed out.
To be sure, I made plenty of memories with my daughter, my son, and my wife during those 4 months. The storytime and outdoor time I carve out every day with the kids comprised the majority of my “up” moments, when I captured a fleeting but very real sense of bliss and purpose. The outdoors — which I experience at the playground, the woods across from our house, and on the Appalachian Trail — has proven itself the most effective antidepressant I’ve found.
But despite those many lucid moments in nature, or in the book nook of Greyson’s room, a fly on the wall of my soul would attest that my confidence, my clarity, and my charisma have all been at a low point since last fall. The needle on each of those gauges has been close to E. I’ve been running on empty for so long that I’m fortunate I didn’t break down along the side of the road with a busted heart gasket.
One possible silver lining of the Covid era is that mental health has finally gotten more attention, and the stigma associated with that particular battle seems to be going away. People are more willing to admit that they’re struggling. And that is a good thing. The Pollyanna theory that we all simply need to think positively is not the solution to the many deep, aching psychic fractures that have carved up our lives over the last year.
We’ve all experienced a trauma on some level, including those of us who have remade our day-to-day lives in order to preserve the safety of our families, and the many who have lost income and livelihoods, and especially the millions who have lost loved ones to this insidious virus. And that’s not to even mention the trauma we have all experienced living through the most politically tumultuous year of the last half-century (or longer). The Trump era has bruised our collective psyche in a way that has further amplified the myriad Covid-related traumas we’ve endured.
In any case, and during any era, we all bottom out from time to time. And whether it’s on a financial, emotional, vocational, or relationship level, more people than usual have had the bottom drop out for them at some point over the past year. 2020 was an extraordinarily messy year, and 2021 won’t offer any kind of clean slate. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but this particular tunnel is a long one.
And here’s the thing: It’s okay to not be okay. And it’s okay to ask for help.
It’s a beautiful thing when you finally reach the end of your bottomed-out hibernation period and begin to wake back up into your life. Back into your half-buried, almost-forgotten, true self.
I’m grateful that my ebb has finally ebbed, and my flow has started to flow again.
But wherever you are on that spectrum right now, just remember:
The tunnel isn’t endless. Light will return.
So be patient with yourself.
And don’t ever give up on looking for your self.
For a more in-depth description of what my bottomed-out hibernatory periods look like and feel like, click here to read my blog post from last February called “I, Myself, and Me.“ It helps me a lot to write about my own mental health, and I hope you are able to find some solidarity in whatever shared experiences we might have.
Thank you so much for reading!