The Breakdown

Gratitude is good. But sometimes it’s not enough .

This is an excerpt from Shelter in Place season 2, episode 10: The Breakdown.

Every morning for the past couple of months, I’ve gotten up before my family, usually before the sun, not because I want to but because I’m unable to sleep past a certain point. For the first time in my life I’ve come to love the dark, those pre-dawn hours that are mine alone. No matter how tired or discouraged I am, there is undisturbed quiet, coffee with a splash of cream, a soft blanket across my lap–everyday miracles that I jot down in my notebook. This week I read studies about gratitude as a predictor of better physical health, gratitude as an antidote to anxiety. And it’s true, especially now. Gratitude helps a lot. 

But for the past few weeks, no matter how grateful I feel at the start of the day, by evening a sadness edged with despair settles over me like a low cloud. 

In this month’s Wall Street Journal magazine, Yale Professor Martin Hagglund wrote, “What is both interesting and challenging about breakthroughs is that you can’t have one without some sort of breakdown. Progress only happens because certain things start calling into question our paradigms.”

The other night as I was putting my kids to bed, my 3-year-old said, apropos of nothing, “I miss our cozy little home.”

It’s been a year of breakdowns for my family and me, that ultimately led us to abruptly leave our home in Oakland, spend a month on the road, and settle for the foreseeable future in Hamilton, Massachusetts, the town where my husband grew up and where his parents and two of his siblings still live. Though the journey here hasn’t been easy, we don’t have any doubts that it was the right call, and there isn’t a day that goes by when we don’t feel deeply grateful.

And yet each day, even as I’ve made my morning list of things to feel grateful for, that fog of sadness creeps in. It comes out in snippy conversations with my husband, or overreactions with the kids, or passive aggressive comments around my in-laws. It’s a painful reminder that no matter how grateful I am, I fall short on a regular basis of being the person I’d like to be.

The other night as I was putting my kids to bed, my 3-year-old said, apropos of nothing, “I miss our cozy little home.”

The comment surprised me. She’s been happy here, delighted to have Grammy’s daily attention, and access to baby dolls and art supplies and princess dresses.

And that’s when it hit me. This has been a year of breakthroughs, but as a family, we’re still very much in a breakdown. We’ve been trying to have a good attitude about our life now–and it is good, to be near family, to have support in a time when we desperately need it. 

My mom often told me growing up that change–even good change–is almost always perceived as loss. Being near our Massachusettts family during the pandemic is a good change. 

And I miss our cozy little home. My mom was right. Even good change still feels like loss. Gratitude helps, but still, we’re in the breakdown. I have to hope that a breakthrough is coming.

Listen to the full episode of Shelter in Place or read the full transcript here.

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