Birthday #2 In Lockdown

On finding joy after a painful year.

by Jessica Tarlov
Originally Published: 
The lessons learned as one writer celebrates another birthday in lockdown due to Covid-19.

Today, I turn 37, but this year, my birthday marks more than the usual “I was born on this day” milestone. March 9 rolling around means that it has been a year since I was out in the wild without a mask, carried a handbag that didn’t have hand sanitizer in it, or went more than a few hours without talking about Covid-19.

It also marks the beginning of making a real effort to have a more positive outlook, after a year of not letting myself feel any profound joy. Like millions of others, I’ve felt trapped in what feels like an inescapable loop of misery and malaise for the past 12 months. But that isn’t because good things haven’t happened to me — they have! Case in point:

I got into my elevator at about 12:30 a.m. after a disastrous date. Dejected from my evening, a man I had never seen before was standing next to me in the elevator and, lo and behold, going to the same floor as I was. My new next-door neighbor, who also had been on a not-so-great date, turned out to be not only good looking but a fantastic partner, too. We have since consolidated into one apartment and spent the past year navigating the pandemic together. Pretty great, right?

My neighbor-turned-boyfriend and I went to Los Angeles for a month to stay in a gorgeous house in the Hollywood Hills with another couple who we love. I was able to finally see my sister, Molly, who was seven months pregnant and separated from her East Coast family the entire time. Although we didn’t get to hug, just being in the same (outdoor) space with her meant everything. And a couple months after we went home, she gave birth to quite possibly the cutest baby the world has ever seen. My parents and I didn’t get to meet him until he turned six months old, but we loved him from the very first FaceTime. Pretty great, right?

In a year when unemployment soared and so many friends faced horrific work challenges, my transition to working at home was pretty seamless. I have an incredible home studio for my cable news hits, and Bustle Digital Group is thriving due to my colleagues’ hard work and our unique position in the marketplace. I’m proud of the work we’ve done and feel fulfilled by my job. Pretty great, right?

There are many reasons why the pandemic’s mental health toll has been so cataclysmic, and each of us has, at some point (or at many points), chosen to see the glass half empty when it really is half full.

Before you ask if anything bad happened to me personally, I can assure you it did — and it hampered my ability to find joy in those happy moments. Two of my best friends lost a parent to cancer, and my own dad — whose character, humor and dedication to my mom, sister, and me cannot be captured in words — has been very ill. There’s been much to cry about.

But I know I’m not unique in letting the bad outweigh the good. There are many reasons why the pandemic’s mental health toll has been so cataclysmic, and each of us has, at some point (or at many points), chosen to see the glass half empty when it really is half full.

The half-full approach doesn’t come easy to me: As a dark-humored New Yorker, who too often looks down on those optimistic types, I’ve always thought it was part of my “charm” to be above that all. Looking back, I definitely was not as charming as I thought.

As I look to the coming year, there’s a lot to take from the past. I’d encourage all of you to learn from my mistakes, too. Here are a few things I think we all can keep in mind as we navigate the tough months ahead:

  • Always be friendly in the elevator.
  • If you love someone, tell them — friends, family, lovers, whoever.
  • Take care of yourself. Our minds are so fragile right now.
  • Trust the science, but find ways to give yourself a (responsible) break.
  • Celebrate the good things. Amid the bad stuff, they’re happening all around us.

I know I’ll be trying to live by these lessons — although I don’t need another elevator “meet cute”! — and hope they help you find some joy. We all deserve a lot more of it.

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