Hi, Carolyn: I am usually the one the family turns to, the mom with the right words to guide through life’s messes.
Well, now Mom is the one who is lost.
I know I am depressed by weeks of having no privacy, with my family working from home. I also know I am so blessed and should be able to weather this storm.
I am in a marriage with no physical intimacy, because my hubby was emotionally abused as a child. This is an issue he is not going to resolve and that I made peace with years ago. He gives what he can, but I need much more at this stage.
I have developed an attraction to someone I will never meet and know would not be interested in me if we ever did. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, since I cannot volunteer or even peacefully protest because of health issues. I waver between wanting to kick myself into gear and just sleep through the day.
How do I hang in there, knowing life will eventually return to some form of normalcy?
— Lost Mom
Lost Mom: I’m sorry, Mama.
And I’m grateful you asked, because I suspect the general outline of this problem is a common one. You’ve always seen yourself as X, but that doesn’t fit anymore. You crave Y, but your emotional contract says, “No Y.” You think Z might help, but the reason you need Z also makes Z impossible.
Welcome to America 2020.
I almost forgot: The moment you think you have it bad, you look around you and see worse, adding guilt to your bad-feelings pile.
Let’s start there: You can be “blessed” and still suffer. Don’t give in to binary thinking, that if you’re fortunate then you’re wrong to feel bad about anything. If it helps to remind yourself how blessed you are, then do that, yes — but if it isn’t helping, then stop. You feel bad? Need help? Then say, to yourself first, “I feel bad and need help.” It’s not a failure to be less resilient than you “should” be.
In fact: Admitting they need help, even tacitly, is what your family does in turning to you, so you’d only be living by your own example. Give yourself that much, at least.
Next, break open your binary thinking on other fronts. Being strong doesn’t mean you can’t need help. Being married doesn’t mean you’re a bad person for feeling outside attractions. Someone else isn’t the only answer to physical or emotional loneliness. Being at peace doesn’t mean doubts will never resurface. Being physically limited doesn’t mean you’re inadequate.
Most important in a practical sense, “into gear” and “asleep all day” aren’t your only two choices.
The value in breaking out of your typical role and thought patterns is to open yourself to new, small steps toward healing:
Ask others for help. Tell your husband you’re lonely. Treat that attraction as a cue to seek more pleasure, just non-adulterously. Something tactile, maybe — a pet, a craft — or physical, like dance or yoga. Support your causes from home by phone-banking, postcard-writing, fundraising.
And, of course, call your doctor about the depression.
In mantra form: Open mind, small goals, real progress. It might surprise you, the strength and clarity you can build from there.
Write to Carolyn Hax at email@example.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.