The chill’s arrived, complete with an insurrection mob in the U.S. Capitol’s statuary halls and Nancy Pelosi’s office. As if COVID-19 weren’t enough to attract loneliness, anxiety, and depression, now we have unease on the Hill.
All the more reason to hone your self-care and focus on making connections. How can we stay healthy through this darkest winter?
Since our LGBTQIA community is more susceptible to loneliness and depression, we have to make more effort to fight it. Data shows when COVID-19 began, loneliness overall shot up 20-30 percent, so a higher percentage with us.
According to Whitman-Walker Health, loneliness can appear in difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, lack of joy, negative self-talk and physical pain. When we feel alone, our minds wander and play the false-narrative tapes of being broken/not belonging.
With the help of a WWH therapist, I’ve discovered a surprising solution that’s been to focus, give permission and act on what’s fulfilling. By connecting with my strengths and authentic self, I feel more linked to people and friends. My therapist has helped me be more proactive and identify meaningful activities, and connections.
This journey from the pit started after April’s D.C. retail closings. I’ve worked from home for many years and sitting at home 24/7 wasn’t the plan. I abruptly discovered I’d relied on Logan’s coffee houses for significant interaction and meet-up space. I’d made friends and acquaintances at Peet’s tables. Then, like latte steam, some connections evaporated with the closures.
My therapist helped me to see and celebrate the snowball effect of every step, no matter how small.
With his encouragement, I became religious about going outside each day/night, rain or shine. What started as two-three-mile walks has evolved to bicycling 15-20 miles. Hearing the tire tread on the MVT (Mount Vernon Trail) is a joy ride into nature and away from my work, politics, and COVID-19 concerns. The exercise has been an anti-COVID-19 rock with better sleep, more energy and higher libido.
I’ve also found an escape from the phone apps and technology by reading fiction and novels. I’ve learned about other LGBTQIA people, immigrants, cultures and countries and chatted with authors. What started as one book, then a second, became one-done weekly. In the process, I’ve made friends at Kramerbooks.
It can seem small, but during lockdown, even trips to Trader Joe’s or Union Kitchen have landed connections. You see the same shoppers and get to know the staff. These shops have become neighborhood communities. A community is where you make it.
Getting outside and saying hi to shops’ staff and being proactive are empowering tools against anxiety. Showing kindness to others is also an easy way to release healthy endorphins.
I’ve tried building a safe hookup community. Funny, even over 10 months, I found hookups are less important than I’d envisioned. I’m no prude, and I like sex; but for the time and effort to coordinate a safe hookup, I’ll just handle it myself.
What I’ve found surprising was how often I encountered guys’ fears and emptiness. We’re in a pandemic with more isolation, and instead of men trying to make emotional connections, they want a quickie. An orgasm’s short-term fun won’t heal the loneliness. Another side is when you’re on anti-depressants, the hookup physiology may not work. So, by minimizing the loneliness, you can diminish the depression and have better sex.
It’s understandable that cuddling under the sheets can be an easy go-to. Yet, assuming you live through a bout of COVID-19, who wants a virus-related stroke, loss of smell or life-long respiratory illness?
Think twice and consider the warmth from being connected to yourself. Even a weighted blanket, a hot shower, music or scented candle will make a difference.
Follow your gut. Give yourself permission to do what makes you happy, without guilt, and connect in new ways. The more you’re proactive, the less room for loneliness.
Let’s work together toward a brighter year. This will be our toughest pandemic season, so let’s enjoy our own company and make good connections.
Tom Sommers is a D.C.-based writer and former chair of Center Global at the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community.