Finding Your Voice – Walking into the Light

The early days of COVID-19 were an utter blur for me. I was glued to my television, watching more news in a week than I had all year. Like all of us, I was clueless about what to expect, and not knowing the future or how this was going to all play out caused a deep panic and uncertainty within me. I grasped for anything that I thought would sooth me, whether it be ordering Cheesecake Factory with money I did not have or indulging in 6 hours straight of television. These unhealthy coping mechanisms weren’t born overnight. Like a lot of people, I’ve experienced different traumatic events in my thirty-four years of life and these go-to mechanisms seemed kind of automatic when COVID-19 took center stage in my life. I’m pretty sure I gained 10 lbs after a couple of months and left absolutely no show unwatched in my queue in an effort to self-sooth the crushing uncertainty I was feeling.

When Covid-19 took America by storm, everything changed. Our plans were derailed and we didn’t know when the train of life was going to start moving again. We still don’t know! We were and still are worried for our friends, our family and for ourselves. We wonder why people can’t just wear masks. We ponder theories about why the U.S. seems to be failing so miserably at containing the virus. Some of us, myself included, have experienced loss and heartache because of this disease, a disease it still feels like we know nothing about. We have dealt with unparalleled economic uncertainty and despair. We feel that nothing is in our control anymore. We don’t feel safe in our environments.

I remember the early days, before everyone was used to maneuvering in this new world together. Whenever we crossed paths with a stranger, it was almost as if we were encountering an enemy. We wearily wondered “why aren’t they wearing a mask?!” and we huffed and puffed when someone got too close. As a society, we were collectively on edge. One minute I was avoiding the enemy and the next minute I was the enemy. Neither scenario felt good to me and it was very lonely.

About a week after the life-changing death of George Floyd, I was at an all-time low emotionally. My heart was broken, my pants were too tight and the depression and symptoms of Traumatic Stress Disorder that I had experienced since I was 18 were back in full force. For years, I have managed to keep many of my irrational and ruminative thoughts at bay through therapy and medication, but now, it seemed that even my trusty pal Zoloft could not help me. I felt hopeless, but having experienced all of these emotions before, I knew that I had to keep coming up with new solutions to my old problems. Being in a global pandemic brought grief, pain and uncertainty. Couple that with the heartbreak I was feeling for the Black community and the anguish I felt about the white community and even my own actions or lack thereof, and you’ve got a recipe for an “all-time low.”

So, out of coping mechanisms and desperate to work out these complicated emotions, I started walking. I started at 7,000 steps a day and quickly made it to an average of 15,000 by the following week. Within days, I noticed a huge improvement to my mood and my mindset. Some days, I walked three hours a day simply because I had to. I listened to podcasts, music and sometimes I just let my mind wander with no background noise at all (personal shout-out to Taylor Swift for releasing an album at the perfect time). As each day passed, my steps accumulated and I pulled myself out of a dark place and into a place of acceptance and gratitude. My thoughts became more rational, more forgiving and more solution-focused. As my calves grew sore, my pants started to fit and my mood increased. I was walking my way toward surviving this thing.

Over time, I challenged myself to get more and more steps. Every night, I held myself accountable by texting my mom my step count. She has always been my biggest cheerleader and would respond with “wow” or “amazing” and even at thirty-four, I loved the validation from a parent. My walks took me all over my favorite city in Illinois, my city, Evanston. I walked along beaches. I walked along Sculpture Park. I walked everywhere the wind would take me. I fell in love with walking.

I could go on and on about the benefits of walking, but I think you get the point. What is that point? That the old adage is true; it’s one step at a time, people. It’s one foot in front of the other, literally and metaphorically. The walk of life is paved with ups and downs and twist and turns. It’s about the comeback, not about the setback. Okay, I’m done with the metaphors. But, for real, find your version of walking. We can all reach for that bag of potato chips, but we know we aren’t going to feel good in the long run. Find something that will make you feel good, not just now, but for the long haul. You can find some really good resources for getting by during this time in Cindy Danzell’s most recent blog and all over the internet. The choice is yours! Choose wisely and always remember: you got this.

Author: Jules Lloyd, Student and Community Engagement Coordinator, Office of Student Engagement