Dear Dr. Yael,
I am a widow of over fifteen years and, baruch Hashem, have several children who are all married with their own children and some even have grandchildren. My whole life, I have always been extremely outgoing and active and have always kept busy with work and then, when I retired, with various social activities and charitable causes. I have always valued my independence and, baruch Hashem, my physical health is decent and I can live on my own without any help.
That being said, Covid-19 has been extremely hard on me. While I enjoy living alone, I do not enjoy being lonely. Being apart from my family and friends for so many months has been terrible. Missing Pesach and all the Yomim Tovim with the grandchildren has been heartbreaking. I am not so good with the computer and would rather see their gorgeous faces and hug them in person. Many of my friends are afraid to meet socially or have medical conditions that put them at great risk. I try to go for walks by myself just to get outside, but I am not as steady as I used to be. I am nervous about falling and chas v’shalom breaking a bone because then I would really lose my independence.
Since it has gotten colder, it has been even harder to go out for walks. When it starts to snow and gets icy, I will probably have to stay inside all the time. It is almost winter, and I am really dreading being alone in my apartment all day by myself. What do you suggest for this depressed and sad widow who could really use a hug?
Sad and Lonely Bubbie
Dear Sad and Lonely Bubbie,
First of all, here is a virtual hug. No, it is not the same as the real thing, but soon this too shall pass, and you will be able to hug your eineklach.
I understand how you feel, and I am sure there are millions of people who could relate to your situation. You are not alone even though you may feel that way at this moment.
Seasonal affective disorder, also known as winter depression, is a real thing. It is a type of depressive disorder that only tends to surface during the winter months. Some scientists believe that it may have something to do with reduced exposure to sunlight. The isolating nature of the Covid-19 pandemic has only seemed to worsen seasonal depression for those who suffer from it. For those affected, the usual coping mechanisms, such as involvement with social activities, are unavailable during this pandemic, which only makes it harder.
I cannot diagnose you through a letter, but this is what seems to be happening to you. Your life before this pandemic suggests that you are normally a happy and mentally fit person. However, I will tell you that the combination of this Covid-19 pandemic with the cold winter has been such a negative force, that even someone with excellent mental health can find themselves in a ‘funk,’ if not in an actual clinical depression.
I firmly believe that being alone is NOT healthy for anyone’s well being.
So, what can you do about it? Only Hashem knows when this virus will end and when life will return to normal. The winter weather will last for another few months, therefore, here are some helpful solutions to help you cope with your current situation.
First of all, exercise is extremely important for both physical and mental well being. Exercise produces endorphins and other brain chemicals that will help you feel happier, more confident, and less stressed. Walking is a fantastic exercise, but you mentioned that you have been having some trouble walking steadily. I highly recommend getting evaluated by a physical therapist. My amazing physical therapist, Dr. Zvi Gutman makes house calls and has helped me improve my balance. It is extremely important, especially as one gets older, to work on balance. It helps to improve mobility, to reduce the risk of injury and to improve overall physical health. In addition, it will help boost your confidence knowing that you can safely walk around your neighborhood and enjoy your regular activities (especially when this virus is over!).
In addition to helping me with my balance, I appreciate any human interaction I can get right now, and Dr. Gutman is such a lovely person that I actually enjoy and look forward to my physical therapy sessions! Dr. Gutman comes to my home and follows Covid-19 safety guidelines, which puts me at ease. If you live in the New York area and would like to contact my physical therapist, here is his information: Dr. Zvi Gutman, DPT. (646) 481-7854. www.gutmanpt.com. (He accepts Medicare, Medicaid and most insurances. No additional fee for the home visit. Female therapists are available as well.)
Another idea for you is to find a hobby or activity that you can do from home. If you are artistic, perhaps you can take up painting or knitting. You can also support a local charity by volunteering your time ‘virtually,’ by helping to make phone calls or provide other support. As I am sure you are already aware, helping others can be very fulfilling.
In addition, while you mentioned that you are not tech savvy, I highly recommend asking one of your grandchildren for help to set up an electronic device with a camera. There are several devices on the market today that are extremely simple to use and many can be programmed to use voice commands. Modern technology is somewhat foreign to older generations, but it is a fantastic tool that allows you to interact with the world. You can play chess with friends, join a virtual book club, ‘visit’ your grandchildren regularly, and even listen to wonderful shiurim.
Whatever you choose, remember that Hashem is in control. Emunah is a powerful tool that can help overcome any awful situation. Knowing that Hashem is always there with you means that you are never truly alone. While this situation is terrible, Hashem has His plan and Hashem wants the best for us.
It may be a gloomy and cold winter right now, but iy”H we will be celebrating together again soon! Hatzlocha!