A couple months ago, I tweeted, “i want a girl with a short skirt and lonnnnggggg covid.”
It was a moderately funny tweet. I felt guilty about it — though not guilty enough for me to delete it — because I know long COVID is real. I know someone who has it. I see the way it impacts their ability to live and work. It’s awful, and I don’t want to add to the voices trying to diminish it.
But I also love making dumb alternative rock jokes, and it seemed relatively harmless, so I dunno. Maybe I need to write to someone else’s advice column for guidance here.
Anyway, in this installment, I address one person’s questions about long COVID and another’s about their inability to cry. If those topics aren’t enough to get you pumped to read on, I don’t know what will. Let’s rage!
Dear Eve 6 Guy,
I’m chronically ill and had COVID really bad in early January after catching it from my daughter.
When it began, it was hard to breathe. I slept a lot. The first evening, my IRL friends begged me over Discord to see a doctor. One asked me to walk around the house, and I realized I couldn’t. My O2 level was 91. My husband was reluctant to take me; I don’t think he took it seriously. But my friends hassled him, and he did. But the hospitals were full and, even though my O2 hit 88, I was sent home.
I don’t remember most of the next three weeks except I was stuck in this dream-type place. (By that point, my daughter was much better, and my husband, who never got COVID, took care of her.) I saw my deceased cat and late father. When my father gestured it was time to go, I panicked and yelled. I have promised my daughter we’d get old together, and I successfully fought to wake up.
Outside of the friends who had urged me to get care and some close family, no one really asked me what happened. The few text messages I had from other people cussed me out for “ghosting.” (My immediate family was all fully vaccinated, so I guess people didn’t expect a three-week radio silence.) I think I had a near-death experience and came back to realizing most of my world didn’t give a fuck about whether I lived or died.
And when I tried to get better, many of my doctors dismissed me and patronized me as test after test came back showing damage to organs that hadn’t been present, high blood pressure that hadn’t been there, and so on. So fuck it. I bought my own oxygen machine until I could move, kinda. I took the reins of my own care and eventually started walking real distances and doing chores again. Still, I’m operating at 40 percent capacity.
Everyone loves a good self-starter success story, and everybody is now rooting for me, but I want to tell those who didn’t take it seriously while I was sick to get fucked. The only truly meaningful support I’ve gotten has come from others with long COVID I found online, some of whom have since died. I have survivor’s guilt on top of the trauma of almost dying and knowing a large number of people didn’t care.
It’s like some people want to celebrate my success without acknowledging my near-death experience. They didn’t care when I was dying alone in my bed, so why do they get to bask in my getting better?
How do I become less bitter and angry? It’s so hard.
❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤
Hi COVID Survivor,
How do I become less bitter and angry? This is your question, and I’m going to answer it, and I hope that’s okay.
You’re probably thinking, Eve 6 Guy, I wrote in to your column and asked a question — of course I want you to answer it. Yes, sometimes this is true. Sometimes people want answers to their questions. Often though, when I ask people for advice about a fraught interpersonal dynamic, what I really want is confirmation that my perspective is unimpeachable — and permission to continue to feel angry.
You have reason to be angry. You’ve been treated poorly by people who profess to care about you during a time in your life when you have been especially vulnerable and needed help and support most. That’s pretty fucked up. Your anger is justified. This makes your anger righteous. But righteous anger can be the most dangerous kind.
You forgive people for you, not for them.
It’s a lot more difficult to let go of righteous anger, and sometimes we shouldn’t. Sometimes we need it. Righteous anger can lead to positive action, but it can also be a force that threatens to swallow us whole.
A thing that has been incredibly helpful to me — and it’s impossible to overstate this — is realizing that people only treat you poorly when they are suffering from fear. This fear can be conscious or unconscious, but it’s there. And recognizing fear, even in a person who treated me like shit, can result in sympathy.
Now, let’s not confuse things here. If someone is abusing you in any way, you don’t stick around for it. You don’t say, “I recognize that you’re really just scared, and I now have sympathy for you, so I’m going to hang around for continued mistreatment.” No. The goal of converting your anger into sympathy is to make you more comfortable and effective at living your own life. You forgive people for you, not for them.
I think the reluctance on the part of some to believe in long COVID is their own fear. Pretending it’s a made-up thing or not as bad as people make it seem is a defense mechanism. I’ve witnessed this impulse in myself over the course of the pandemic. It’s like if I let myself truly appreciate the magnitude of the thing, it would be too much to handle. Too much uncertainty. Too many worst-case scenarios to run through regarding the people I love and my ability to make a living to support them.
There are times when in order to do what I need to do, I have to compartmentalize this shit. Is reducing it in my own mind right? No. Is it wrong? I don’t think so. I know COVID is real and can be disastrous. Only the dumbest of the dumb deny this at this point, but in a country where there are no top-down measures for control and safety, we have no choice but to go back to work and move around in the world. And this wouldn’t be possible without sometimes employing cognitive dissonance to mitigate fear.
Hopefully I don’t even need to say that I’m not excusing your friends’ behavior with you, but I am not excusing your friends’ behavior with you. I’m just trying to illustrate the way fear of something beyond our control can manifest in diminishing it for understandable, but self-centered reasons.
The truth is, this fear is a privilege because folks like you aren’t afraid of getting long COVID — you’re afraid of not surviving it. These are very different fears, but fear is fear, and if you can see the way it plays into the action or inaction of those who’ve mistreated you, that may open a window to sympathy.
Try not to focus on blaming them, but on how their behavior made you feel.
Having a gentler perspective on their possible motivations for being dicks doesn’t mean you need to keep being friends with them. Again, taking a gentler perspective is for your own well-being, not theirs. Sometimes events like this teach you who your real friends are and who you’d be best kicking to the curb. But believe it or not, it is possible to do the latter with a kind of humanist love in your heart.
Any lasting friendships are going to require a certain amount of forgiveness. Friends are fallible. They fuck up. They annoy us, and we annoy them. There’s no way around it, because after all, we’re talking about human beings here.
See if applying the above exercise can get you to a place of equanimity. Then make an attempt at communication. Try not to focus on blaming them, but on how their behavior made you feel. Maybe you’ll find them more receptive and understanding than you thought. If, however, they dig in their heels and continue to try to make you feel bad for feeling bad, it might be time to find some new people.
I focused on your friendships here, but if at all possible, find yourself a new doctor. The ones you’ve seen sound like they’re flirting with malpractice. I hope your condition continues to improve, however slowly, and that you can find a doctor who takes it, and your well-being, seriously.
The Eve 6 Guy
Boys don’t cry
Dear Eve 6 Guy,
This is an embarrassing question, but you seem to be someone who has figured out a lot of shit, so it’s worth a shot asking.
Growing up, I was taught that boys don’t cry and that if you did, it was a sign of weakness. If I was sad or injured or whatever, I was just told to keep my feelings in and never be visibly upset about it. All my male relatives were this way: They didn’t talk much, they didn’t hug much, and they definitely didn’t cry.
I know now that this is a very old-fashioned, sexist way of thinking. But it’s hard to break out of this mindset. So as I’ve gone through life, I’ve kept all my feelings in without even thinking about it.
Now I’m married, and my wife is very emotional. She cries over TV, movies, life. She has pointed out to me what I never realized before: that I’m a very closed-off person, and I never really talk about or show any feelings with her. I came to the conclusion that I can’t, because I don’t know how to.
When I’m sad, it just stays there in my head, then I feel angry. This leads me to be very quiet and withdrawn, sometimes for days. Over time, those feelings build up more and more, and I start to feel resentful that my wife can just yell or cry and get over what’s bothering her.
My wife said I should just let myself express my feelings and that this would benefit both of us, but after so many years of not doing that, it isn’t easy. I don’t even remember the last time I cried. How do I stop repressing my emotions, in a healthy way?
❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤
Hi Dry Eyes,
Well, you’ve come to the right place, because I’ve made a career out of crying. I cry in the lyrics of my songs, and I cry (metaphorically) online. I literally cry at sunsets and movies. And when I’m unmedicated, I cry at insurance commercials. You don’t want to be a person who cries at insurance commercials, so if you find yourself there, please write me back, and we’ll address it.
Quips aside, I don’t think actual tears are the best metric for whether or not a person is in touch with their emotions. I’m not knocking crying. It’s fine and helpful to cry sometimes, but it doesn’t need to be the goal. Let’s start with where you are, which I think may be further along than you realize.
First off, you are aware that you’re stifling your emotions as a kind of defense mechanism. Awareness and acknowledgment are a great place to begin. Even more importantly, you have a willingness to improve in this area. Willingness is everything. It doesn’t even have to be a lot of willingness. Even a barely perceptible amount can pay dividends.
Some people have been trained — or have trained themselves — to skip sadness entirely and move straight to anger.
You wrote something that is pretty interesting: “When I’m sad, it just stays there in my head, then I feel angry. This leads me to be very quiet and withdrawn, sometimes for days. Over time, those feelings build up more and more, and I start to feel resentful that my wife can just yell or cry and get over what’s bothering her.”
You identified your sadness. Some people have been trained — or have trained themselves — to skip sadness entirely and move straight to anger. The fact that you can ID sadness and distinguish it from anger is great. If you can express it in writing, then you can move to the next step, which is communicating it verbally.
Now, this is the part where I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest and emphasize the importance of finding a good therapist, if you can afford to. If that is an option for you, please do that before you finish reading this response.
If it isn’t, don’t despair. I’m going to do my best to impart a bit of what I’ve gleaned from my own therapy and spiritual work — plus the pain of repeated failures — and hopefully you can apply it to your situation.
Next time you feel sadness, give your full attention to it. Not in a way where you’re endowing it with any objective truth or overvaluing it. Just notice it with a kind of nonjudgmental curiosity: “Oh, there’s that feeling. Cool. This is interesting. This is that feeling that literally everyone on the planet experiences that we refer to as sadness. Right on.”
That everyone experiences sadness may seem too obvious to even be worth mentioning, but I’ll tell you why I think it’s important. The ego wants to tempt us into a place of terminal uniqueness: “My sadness is different, and it confirms that I am a coward, a creature too deficient to belong.”
When I remember that literally everyone experiences the full run of emotions, it makes placing judgment and shame atop a feeling like sadness seem pretty silly. Would you berate yourself for blinking or breathing? Probably not. Sadness is no less involuntary, and you need not be ashamed of experiencing a thing that it is literally impossible to not experience.
Make a habit of observing your mind with this kind of nonjudgmental, open-hearted curiosity. It could be helpful to devote five minutes each morning to closing your eyes, focusing on your breath, and dispassionately observing the contents of your mind. Notice the thoughts and the feelings, and when self-judgment arises, just notice that, too.
You don’t have to inform your wife of every thought and feeling you experience, but next time you feel yourself purposefully starting to stifle sadness, try expressing it in the simplest terms possible. Tell your wife, “I feel sad right now. I just wanted to share that with you so it doesn’t just stay in my head and turn into anger.”
Notice when you are being needlessly hard on yourself for having unavoidable feelings.
Maybe she’ll ask you why you’re sad. Maybe you’ll have an answer, maybe you won’t. Feelings are like weather, and sometimes they happen inexplicably, and that’s okay. But if you can identify the reason, share that with her, too.
Practice communicating your feelings like you would practice any other skill that requires improvement. Notice when you are being needlessly hard on yourself for having unavoidable feelings, and this will help you to cultivate a gentler perspective toward yourself.
It can also be helpful to notice when your mind makes snap judgments about others. You don’t have to stop your mind from doing this — it would be impossible to, anyway — but you can notice that you’re doing it. Practicing looking upon others gently can make it easier for you to do so with yourself.
Last thing: Allow progress to happen incrementally. Don’t expect to immediately become an expert at any of this. Just do the best you can, one feeling at a time.
The Eve 6 Guy