I’ll Be Eating Frozen TV Dinners for Thanksgiving, and I’m Genuinely So Grateful

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Photo by Artem Labunsky on Unsplash

ometimes you need to walk away from a situation to overcome a certain hardship, but sometimes you can’t. Or you can’t walk away exactly when you’d like to.

And that’s where resilience is built.

In January of this year, I moved to a small town where I knew no one. My nearest friends and family members were 3+ hours away. I was having a hard time finding “my people” in this new town. It was also the dead of winter, and that brought its own emotional hardships.

I fought through several weeks of the deepest depression I had ever known before I finally began finding my footing in this new town.

And then COVID-19 happened.

My social circle quickly dwindled again. I felt that familiar loneliness start to sneak back into my life. Because we didn’t know much about the virus back in March (and to be honest, scientists are still learning more every day, as is expected), I chose to take every recommended precaution. I did not stand closer than 6 feet from another person for almost 7 weeks.

One day, I decided I needed a Diet Coke from McDonald’s (need, not want), so I went through the drive thru and ordered one. As I handed the cashier my credit card, our fingers lightly brushed. It surprised me — I hadn’t felt another person’s skin against mine for weeks.

Those 7 weeks were difficult, but they were nothing like the depression I felt in January. What made it different?

I keep getting back up.

One of the greatest ways to build resilience is practicing getting back up and trying again. Absolutely feel your feelings — feel it all — but don’t dwell longer than you need to. Get back up. One great way to do this is, after feeling your feelings, shift your focus to someone or something else. How can you serve someone today? Who can you say hello to? Is there a hobby or project you can focus on for a while? Even the smallest step forward can do wonders.

I feel purpose.

I try to keep a positive perspective during the pandemic: by taking recommended precautions, I am taking care of the people I love. My mom, for example, has had health issues over the last few years that make her vulnerable to illness. While scientists are now stating that there is benefit to both the mask wearer and the people they are around (science evolves as we learn more, this is normal and expected), for most of the year scientists have been stating that masks are primarily to protect other people in case we are unknowingly carrying the virus. If that is true, then wearing a piece of fabric is such a small act we can do to protect those around us. If it is not true, then it was just a little piece of fabric. I don’t mind.

But I would mind if I unknowingly spread a virus to anyone around me. I’d be devastated.

People matter more: They matter more than the inconvenience of wearing a mask. They matter more than the temporary grief of living alone. They matter more than any selfish motive.

I know it won’t last forever.

We don’t have a timeline for COVID-19, and that can be frustrating. Some countries are making great progress, but in the United States, it feels like the “first wave” of the virus just keeps building.

Thanksgiving is coming up. In my state, they’ve asked everyone to take extra precautions leading up to the holiday to hopefully calm the huge surge of cases we’ve been experiencing. The state of Utah, where I currently live, has recently enacted a mask mandate.

Law enforcement in my small town have chosen not to enforce this mandate. And because this is my article and I can share whatever commentary I’d like to, I’ll again say: I feel frustrated.

I’ve declined an invitation to spend Thanksgiving up north with extended family because I would not want to risk their health. At least one of my family members has had a rough year with his health, and I would never want to do anything to put him at risk.

I’ve declined another local invitation to spend Thanksgiving with a friend and her extended family simply because I want to limit my social circle. Again, I want to do everything I can to make sure the people I love — and heck, even strangers — stay safe.

This Thanksgiving, I am planning to get the most delicious looking frozen meals from the grocery store (I anticipate feeling at least a bit sad, so I probably wouldn’t cook anyway), a special dessert, maybe some cinnamon Diet Coke (is it out yet???!), and watch every Thanksgiving episode of Bob’s Burgers on Hulu. It’s not the same as a full, delicious Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends, but I’m pretty happy about it, all things considered.

Would I rather be with family and loved ones? Absolutely. But am I okay making a small sacrifice for the people I love? 100%. It’s just one year. Even if my efforts to reduce the spread of the virus make no difference, I’ll at least know I made these efforts with the best intention: for the well-being of the people I love.

What About Mental Health?

I see many people posting about the emotional toll of wearing masks and social distancing. I’m going to bring this back around to my opening statement:

Sometimes you need to walk away from a situation to overcome a certain hardship, but sometimes you can’t. Or you can’t walk away exactly when you’d like to.

And that’s where resilience is built.

This is an incredible opportunity to build resilience, and help the people we love — our families, our children, our friends, our coworkers — build it as well. Here are some ways to do that:

Find and encourage other ways of connecting.

I found that I smile BIGGER with a mask on when I’m in public so that people can see the smile lines by my eyes. I also made a goal early on to give more verbal compliments to people, including strangers at the grocery store and the drive thru workers at McDonalds (again, Diet Coke). If I like your glasses or am grateful for your kind tone of voice, I’m going to tell you. It’s become second nature.

My family also started doing weekly Zoom chats at the beginning of the pandemic. We have not all lived in the same state for over a decade, and I don’t know if we’ve ever talked more or felt more connected to one another.

Find someone to talk to.

This can be a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. They can help you sort things out, process hard things, and make a game plan to move forward.

If you’ve never talked to a therapist before in general, I highly recommend it. Whether you are feeling on top of the world or in the darkest place of your life, being able to talk openly with a professional listener feels so liberating.

P.S. When I choose to share heavy feelings with a friend, I try to remember to ask them first if that’s okay. If they are also struggling, they may not be able to carry anything else at the moment, and that’s okay. All it takes is a simple text message: “Hey, do you have the emotional capacity for me to talk something out with you right now?” I’ve noticed friends asking the same question to me lately when they need a good chat. I love that it goes both ways, and that we can support each other in that way.

Take care of yourself.

Are you taking time to care for your body? Are you moving it each day (walking, running, strength training, stretching, dancing, etc.)? Are you eating enough fruits and vegetables? Are you staying hydrated? Establishing even one healthy habit can do wonders for mental health.

Don’t be afraid to get extra help.

This summer, I realized that while I was doing fine enough, I was also working really hard to keep my head above water, and maybe I could get some extra help with that. My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant. I also adopted a cat — but that was for both of us. I’m finally not alone all the time, and my cat (who came with his own prescription for anti-anxiety meds) finally has a peaceful, stable home.

I will note, sometimes it takes a couple tries to find the right medication. If your doctor does prescribe you a medication to help with depression, anxiety, etc., definitely just take the recommended dose, keep a journal or other record of how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor if the medication isn’t working for you. It is their JOB to help you find the right solution for you, and it can just take some time. Every body is different.

Don’t give up.

Please, don’t give up. If you are struggling with suicidal ideation, please reach out to someone you can trust, or reach out to a therapist or doctor. The organization I Don’t Mind has compiled a lot of resources and uplifting content (website, Instagram). If you want to feel less alone, I also interviewed three individuals who have dealt with suicidal ideation for an article for Healthy Humans Project. I also wrote about my own experience with it in my book.

Don’t Forget Hope

Even though this year hasn’t looked like I’d hoped it would — including a very unconventional TV dinner Thanksgiving plan — I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My compassion, understanding, self-awareness, patience, and resilience have all grown this year in incredible ways. I have high hopes for 2021. Even if the world doesn’t heal as I hope it will, I know that at least I am where I want to be — and I won’t stop moving in that direction.

Author, people person, aiming to do good. Christian/LDS. Find me on Instagram @lookslikewandering.

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