Darkness Into Light

COVID-19 has brought a lot of darkness into our lives and I feel like 2020 was a lost year of terror, stress, confusion, anxiety, and isolation--and of course a lot of unbearably sad deaths and people suffering from permanent health damage.

Thankfully, there's much more to be hopeful about in 2021 (HOORAY, VACCINES!). But there is still a lot of darkness and disease out there stalking us around the entire earth.

Struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic

I know that everyone has struggled during the pandemic or is still struggling (I am), but it's often hard to remember that you're not the only one who's suffering from fear, loneliness, relentless isolation, unemployment, destroyed self-esteem, grief, boredom, and whatever else COVID-19 has brought into your life. So many other people are battling related things, too.

Similarly, living with a painful chronic illness such as RA often feels very isolating and as though you're the only one in the world who's struggling with it. This is also not true, of course. But it feels like it's true.

Who really wants to talk about this stuff?

Why is this? Is it because we don't talk about these deeply personal problems in our lives? Or, we don't talk about them enough or openly and honestly enough? I think that might be the case. Who really wants to talk about this stuff, though? Nobody, I'd guess.

But, pretending everything is fine and trying to avoid the situations and emotions can cause harm, too. You can't keep severe suffering locked up inside you; it will find a way to come out one way or another.

Coping with pandemic restrictions

I recently reconnected with an old, good friend of mine whom I met when I studied abroad in Cork, Ireland, in college.

We were texting via WhatsApp (I only use it with non-US friends for some reason) and I asked her about a mutual good friend of ours. I had recently seen a lovely photo post she made on Facebook of the two of them taking a walk together--I think near where he lives, out in the beautiful remote countryside.

Ireland's lockdown regulations

Our friend has been hit hard emotionally by the pandemic and especially because of Ireland's extremely strict lockdown regulations (level 5) that have dragged on for many months: no travel outside of a 5-kilometer radius, nothing open except grocery stores and pharmacies, fines for not wearing a mask, fines for being outside of your 5-kilometer radius, fines for convening with others outside (even if socially distanced), fines for all indoor gatherings, and additional strict rules.

In May, Ireland finally began slowly easing lockdown restrictions after many, many months of people being trapped within their homes on this small, emerald island.

The mental and emotional impact

The texting conversation with my friend predictably turned to the direction of mental health and COVID-19's effect on people mentally and emotionally.

I revealed to her that I, too, have been struggling terribly ever since the pandemic started (mid-March 2020 in the U.S.). She lent a kind, understanding ear to me and listened to some of the emotional things I've been battling against: constant panic, isolation, severe loneliness, grief, catastrophic fears, and ruminating helpless scary worries I can't seem to control.

"I've never felt so alone in my entire life," I said.

A mental health charity event

She then told me that oddly enough, right then as we were texting she was attending a mental health charity event called "Darkness Into Light" by Pieta House -- an organization that helps prevent suicide and self-harm and offers counseling services free of charge.

My friend explained that this annual event first began in Phoenix Park in Dublin, but over the years has expanded and really exploded all over in Ireland and globally, too. She told me she was being part of the event located in her hometown of Kinsale (I've visited there and it's a beautiful place).

The lights could not be put out

She went on to explain that on this special night each year, many candles and lights are lit along with signs and messages of hope for people to see and be reassured that they're not alone. Unfortunately, it was lashing rain that night in Kinsale; however, that didn't stop the massive number of lights from appearing in the darkness.

She sent me a few photos of lights spelling out the word "HOPE" along with designs of glowing hearts made of lights, plus a beautiful parade of blue flashing lights from essential workers and their ambulances and emergency vehicles. It was sopping wet and rainy, yet the lights could not be put out.

I'm not alone in my struggles

She also shared a video of a news clip about the event in Kinsale, which was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes. I cried not just because it's such an important and emotional event for so many people, but also because it hit very close to home for me and the struggles and agonies I've felt myself during the pandemic.

I've been trying so hard to hold onto tiny slivers of hope and flickers of light in way too much darkness for over a year. "Darkness Into Light" showed me that I am indeed not alone or the only one struggling right now. With anxiety and depression, you are often enveloped in a heavy, hopeless weight of darkness.

Putting an end to shameful stigma

Seeing all of the lights and, especially, all of the people making those lights shine, gave me real hope that brighter days are ahead. And, that it's important to talk about mental health instead of treating it like a shameful stigma.

I feel the same thing needs to be done about not being afraid to talk about the pain and struggle of living with RA. Living with chronic pain and illness should also not be a stigma or something shameful to admit. And the constant pain and disability of RA often cause or exacerbate mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.

Help to bring the darkness into light

It's true, I have felt so alone during the entire pandemic, and not many people know about it. Or, if they have an inkling of knowing from a few social media posts or chats or texts, nobody has really reached out to me. I've also tried reaching out myself to some people, but have been ignored or blown off, which hurts.

I appreciate those who have offered support

To the few people who have reached out, have kept patiently listening and talking to me, and have truly shown up and been there--I appreciate you more than you can know. I wish I had lit a candle myself that night, to join in with the others, and as a message of hope to myself and others who are also still struggling and hurting. We're not alone.

Darkness can overtake anybody, anytime--especially those with pain: physical, emotional, and spiritual. We all need to help bring the darkness into light for everybody.

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