The Art and Sadness of “Getting Through”

By De Elizabeth

In high school, I referred to them as “Dread Days.” They were, quite simply, days that provoked the feeling of dread, for reasons entirely appropriate in a 14-year-old’s world: science lab with the girl who bullied me in elementary school, a history class presentation where I was underprepared and my crush sat in the first row, having to complete my volunteer shift at the library instead of spending an afternoon with my friends.

Initially, I only used the phrase in my head silently, but eventually started labeling them in my planner with two D’s, written as tiny as possible and in purple ink. In the days leading up to a Dread Day, I’d have a pit in my stomach, knowing that whatever fun I was having in the moment would soon be overshadowed by the knowledge that something unpleasant would take its place. On the morning of a Dread Day, I’d repeat to myself: Just get through it; just get through. When the day was over, I’d cross off the “DD” in my planner, feeling a sense of overwhelming relief.

The practice continued throughout college (a class I hated, rehearsals for a show I detested) and even into my adult life (a dentist appointment, a staff meeting at work that could have been an email). I became an expert at getting through, at taking one moment at a time, minute by minute, hour by hour, until the thing I dreaded was a thing of the past, and usually something that, in retrospect, wasn’t all that bad at all.

In many ways, the “DD” mental exercise prepared me for the early days and weeks of motherhood where “this too shall pass” became a mantra so tangible that it could have been an actual life raft. I constantly looked ahead to some sort of invisible mile marker when things would be “easier” in some way: when I’d be physically healed from childbirth and no longer in pain, when I’d sleep all night again and not be perpetually exhausted, when I could communicate in actual words with my daughter — all of these scenarios felt like little beacons of light, if only I could “get through” until then.

Today, in the midst of an actual, real-world, real life pandemic, when so much is uncertain in ways that things have never been uncertain before, the art of getting through is more crucial than ever. We’re going to get through this, I’ve found myself saying to almost everyone in recent days and weeks — almost just as much as I’ve said it to myself. It may or may not be true, of course, but it feels crucial to believe it.

But it’s been more than a month since many of us started practicing social distancing; more than a month since we’ve left our homes, since we’ve seen friends, since we’ve hugged family members. We’re living on a loop, it’s a blurry ferris wheel of meals and snacks and cleaning up and work emails and bedtime and coffee and alarm clocks and sleep and morning and night and afternoon. In many ways for me, it’s reminiscent of those first few weeks of maternity leave where everything sort of feels upside down and you’re just grasping to find a “new normal,” when in actuality, nothing will ever really be “normal” again.

That’s the flip-side to “getting through” — you do get through, you always do, but there’s often the toll of lost time. What are you missing, what aren’t you realizing, when you’re looking ahead to what comes next, when you’re fixated on putting a moment behind you while you’re still living it? It’s not to say we should be “appreciating” a pandemic, and it’s also not to say that spending time at home with family is horrible (I realize we are privileged to be able to stay home, to have basic comforts, to have “stay home” be our only role in this crisis so far). But if this situation has forced us to reckon with anything, it’s our own mortality, our very existence on this planet. Who is to say that any of us, or our loved ones, are safe? Who is to say that these anxiety-producing weeks aren’t actually a foggy bridge between “before all this” and “after,” but rather a prologue to something worse? The uncertainty is heavy; the unknowing is terrible.

If I could go back and talk to my high school self, nervously doodling “DD” in her planner, I’d tell her that she’s strong. That she can survive a bad history presentation, that it’s actually not such a bad thing to sit on the floor of a dusty library on a rainy afternoon, that all of those things that seem so horrible and impossible in this moment will actually one day seem like nothing at all. That the things that matter will be louder than the things that were hard, and all of it — high school, college, every other chapter thereafter — will one day be over and done with, and it won’t matter if the moment was filled with dread or joy, they all come and go just the same.

And who could have ever foreseen a time when such mundane things would be missed? A time when so many of us would long for a routine dentist appointment, a flat tire, waiting in line at the DMV, a delayed train — the things we once would have rushed past, sighing, aggravated, ready for the next thing on our agenda. The things we, without thinking twice about it, just wanted to — and did — “get through.”

Featured image by Lisa Fotios from Pexels