Depressed and with my income gone, one simple question saved me | Coronavirus outbreak

September 10, 2020

It’s 2020 and finally I am making money, I said into my whiskey in February at a restaurant in Portland, where I was meeting friends after my flight landed. We were toasting the new-ish year before a book launch at Powell’s Bookstore. You might have to dig into the well of your imagination to recall these things: travel, eating inside restaurants, maskless faces, crowded bookstores. After having had a baby four years before at 41 (a geriatric pregnancy it’s called), I was now finally able, to begin to dream of moving out of my 500 sq ft one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, upgrade my 2005 Hyundai, get some new hearing aids.

Enter global pandemic. All my income went (as well as my penchant for alcohol due to newly developed gastritis and gallstones). I’d made my money through live events and travel, both not happening. Gone also was my ability to understand what was spoken, as I am a deaf person in a masked world. A lip-reader.

Despite my antidepressants and the arsenal of tools I have from teaching my Being Human personal development workshops, depression kicked in. I couldn’t get out of bed.

Then, I remembered the way I saved my own life before, while I was still waitressing at the restaurant I worked at for 14 years.

How may I serve? It was a simple question I asked myself.

It wasn’t completely altruistic. I used this question as a distraction from figuring out my own income. But hey, it’s a better distraction than drugs. I posted on Instagram, “Do you have food to eat?” not because I thought I could feed everyone, but I knew the community I had built would lift each other up.

They did.

Someone left a comment saying they didn’t have food and another follower sent them groceries. Someone lost their job, another sent cash. One said she was letting her son sleep in because he woke up starving and she didn’t have money to feed him; someone sent me money to forward to her. It was beautiful to behold this embodiment of “I got you”, the words I tattooed on the inside of my left arm during my book tour last August in Nashville. I went with a woman I had given a scholarship to for my retreat to France after the loss of her son. We both got the tattoo.

A woman named Dayna Mondello asked if I would like her to start a GoFundMe to streamline this process of people helping each other. We called it On Being Human 2020.

I offered a donation-based virtual workshop and put the earnings into that GoFundMe. I started a Chat and Feed interview series to keep generating money so when people asked for support, we could provide it to them. It was a gesture to offer hope, a reminder they weren’t alone, and a perhaps a chicken and some toilet paper (if they could find it).

It was just me in my family bedroom, laundry and Legos by my feet, talking to celebrities via Instagram Live. Those celebrities would promote it to their followers and ask for donations. It grew to $125,000, and a group of volunteers helped disperse the funds to folks in need.

Every person I asked said yes. Pink, Elizabeth Gilbert, Erin Brockovich, Maria Bello, Mandy Moore, Mark Duplass and Debbie Allen, to name a few. There was no hierarchy of careers, no judgment, no camera crew. Some sat in their bedrooms, some wore pyjamas. I called it my fancy talkshow because of its utter lack of fanciness (a desk lamp lit my face, which apparently looked so bad that it prompted three people to send me a ring light). Each interview was simply two humans who wanted to do the most primal of things: feed people.

Something else happened. The whole community fed each other. We remembered that, in order to be of service, we just need to find a way to do love.

Love as a verb. Something beloved John Lewis often spoke of, and how he lived his entire life. Whether that means donating time or money, sharing a link, or listening.

Sometimes it means the courage to ask for help as a way to remind others how brave it is to do so.

I often say, “When I get to the end of my life and I ask one final: What have I done? Let my answer be, I have done love.”

I want to say that at the end of each day too. Doing love looks different for everyone. Despite the terribleness of Covid, technology has allowed us to connect in meaningful ways. And you don’t even have to wear pants.

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer, retreat leader and public speaker living with her son and husband in Los Angeles, California

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