I have always felt as though I had an invitation to tell me all of your business on my forehead. I can’t really keep a secret so don’t make it information that can’t spread like wildfire but otherwise, ever since first grade, people just told me things. It started with the questionable choices that their babysitters made and later, the boys they had crushes on, and today, the things that they don’t often share with anyone else. They tell me they are hurting themselves, planning to take their own lives, hearing voices, bursting from the pain of watching a loved one in pain, and unsure how to keep going forward. They tell me that they are anxious, depressed, overjoyed, hopeful, and alone. They tell me all of their business and while I never felt a responsibility for the long list of boys that Megan and Allison had a crush on, I do feel a sense of responsibility for the people who open up to me now.

Every time I give a speech, people line up to talk to me, while hunching their shoulders, averting their gaze from each other, and sticking as close to the wall as they possibly can. They look like a huddle of people trying to disappear while waiting in line to be noticed. They come up to me and I introduce myself, shake their hands or hug them, and bend my legs a little to appear smaller, more on their shrunken level. Then we stand up together as the burden of their business lifts after sharing it.

A dear friend recently called me to tell me that she was feeling panicked. With three children at varying levels of understanding the current chaos and uncertainty, she was finding herself simultaneously calming nightmares and preparing for well-deserved tears at the news of a prom cancellation. She would end each heavy sentence with, “I know we’re privileged, I know we have more than we need, but this is a big deal. These are real feelings that they are having.” I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was asking me to agree with her and I do (wholeheartedly) and am wrestling with the JV version of these questions, as my own younger children ask me if Abraham Lincoln died of early coronavirus. While we laughed at the question, I realized that he had asked it because he too believed that he may befall the same fate as our 16th President.

I keep asking my husband questions about the moment in history that we’re living through each day. When I ask him about the stock market, he calmly explains the chaos and shrugs his shoulders when I ask what we can do about it. When I ask him about the pandemic declared in our world, he calmly explains the chaos and shrugs his shoulders when I ask what we can do about it. I’m sure we could find the answers but they don’t come easily to us and there is too much information to sift through to find the truth. The one question I know the answer to is how to try and meet each moment with kindness, distract myself by being in service to others, and build community so that when we do find the answers, we don’t forget about gratitude, community, and connection.

The actions feel small, given everything that we’re dealing with, but the action of moving forward every day, even if it’s by a little bit, is a brave one. I know no other equation than the one that turns chaos into kindness. It has been what has saved me during the darkest times of my life, and it’s the one that I believe will be the antidote to the uncertainty and fear that surrounds us.

Here are some suggestions that may be helpful to you:

My prom got cancelled.

First, I am sorry. Your feelings are valid. The choice of how to respond to this unfortunate news is yours, and if I were you, I might spend a couple days under the covers in the prom outfit you may have already picked out. But after that, I might also donate what I would have spent on prom night to the following organizations that provide experiences for young people who can’t dream of the prom you had planned to attend.

Princess Project: http://www.princessprojectsf.org

My guests can’t travel for my wedding.

First, I am sorry. Your feelings are valid. I can’t imagine celebrating my big day without the people most important to me. You may consider moving the date or the location, which is a huge headache. I found an amazing organization called Wish Upon A Wedding that helps cover the wedding costs of people experiencing serious illnesses.

Wish Upon A Wedding: https://www.wishuponawedding.org 

I am stressed, all of the time now. 

First, I am sorry. Your feelings are valid. I feel myself leaning in this direction too in this stressful time we’re experiencing. Our friends at the JED Foundation put together a tip sheet on managing stress: http://bit.ly/2IKVpyl. It’s also OK to not be OK, as Lady Gaga tells us all the time, and notOK App helps you connect with people when you’re not ok and with resources to find support when you don’t quite have the words to ask for help. 

JED Foundation: http://bit.ly/2IKVpyl

Not OK App: https://www.notokapp.com

I won’t be able to see my grandma for a while, because she can’t have visitors. 

First, I am sorry. Your feelings are valid. I would miss the grandparents in my own life if I couldn’t see them. I love writing letters so I’d get started on writing those letters right away and I’m sure they will absolutely brighten their day. You can also write letters to neighbors at your local Senior Center or you can find a pen pal through this organization that I found, called Pen Pal Seniors. 

Pen Pal Seniors: https://reachoutamerica.com/pen_pal_seniors 

I am scared. 

Me too. As a mother, I struggle to explain the panic to my children and find myself down a long tunnel of misinformation on social media, questioning every choice I’ve ever made. Our feelings are valid. There is always someone there to listen to you, in real life and online. One of my favorite resources is Crisis Text Line and to access them, just text 741741 to connect in real time with a Crisis Counselor.

Crisis Text Line: https://www.crisistextline.org 

I feel lonely in isolation.

As events are cancelled and we are asked to stay at home, we should accept this invitation with the caveat that we will stay connected. Technology now allows us to stay in constant connection, so let’s leverage it for the positive purposes intended. Let’s reduce the clutter of fear stoking and blame oriented messages in our feeds and focus on stories based on facts and personal stories. Let’s share our feelings, connect with others around theirs, and build stronger bonds through shared experiences. We are all going through this moment of extreme uncertainty together, let’s use it to unite around our shared humanity. If you want to read inspiring stories about kindness and breaking through mental health stigma, try Channel Kindness. 

Channel Kindness: https://www.channelkindness.org/

Pictures of empty stadiums, airports, and other places make me nervous.

Let’s view these empty spaces, built as places for connection, and build empathy for what this means for others. Think about the hundreds of workers from janitors and food vendors, to security and event producers.They are usually in the background and do their job best when we never notice the value they bring to our lives and experiences. Be grateful for their work and remember that many of these workers are paid hourly, so when they are told to stay home, they are often doing it without a paycheck or financial safety net. For those with the privilege of telecommuting with a paycheck, recognize that the livelihood of so many are as uncertain as our stock market or global travel options.

I want help staying calm. 

While chaos innately causes us to turn inward to protect ourselves and our loved ones, take this moment for self-care by being kind to others. While you have an extra few hours in a day due to cancelled commute time, work trip, or sporting event or concert, take a moment to write a card, an email, or send a text to someone who has influenced you. Take a moment to say thank you, I’m thinking about you, or I love you. You can also write encouraging notes to strangers through Find Your Anchor boxes. 

Learn more about Find Your Anchor and how you can support: https://findyouranchor.us/

My school is cancelled and my mom can feed me lunch at home. What about the kids that only eat at school? I know some. 

Thank you for thinking about others, how incredibly kind. You’re right, more than 30 million kids access the National School Lunch Program every day and as schools close, not eating lunch cannot be the option. Each community has a food bank and donations to these vital community institutions are urgent. You can find your local food bank via Feeding America and if you want to do more, one of my favorite organizations is called Kids’ Food Basket. They provide more than 7,500 nutritious meals to kids in Michigan every day and as schools close throughout the state (and elsewhere), they have activated their emergency food program. I decorate bags as a way to share a kind note during uncertain times and encourage you to join me. You can send bags to Kids’ Food Basket: 1300 Plymouth Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505 (and if you’re able to donate, they’d be so grateful).

Feeding America: https://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank 

Kids Food Basket: https://www.kidsfoodbasket.org/emergencyresponse/ 

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