Welcome back, my friends. In Part I, I tried to convey the magnitude of loss that humans are facing during the COVID-19 situation. Today, we will look towards the hope and focus on surviving this difficult time we are in. As I mentioned in Part I, there is quite a range in terms of how we are each affected. So, to begin with…
Recognize and Allow Your Own Experience
Allow any and all of your feelings. They will fluctuate. They will be different from other people’s experience and that is okay and normal. The first week, I was on a high. As scary as everything was, it was different and weirdly exciting. Adrenaline was pumping. I had a hard time falling asleep at night because I had this buzz of electricity humming in my body for about a week straight. I was in survival mode and ready to take all of this on, whatever it would entail. Week 2, I was ANGRY. My 24-hour mantra was, “This sucks!”. At the same time, I was feeling deep sadness and worry for people I knew who were having to go to work unprotected. I was mad at the politics. I was mad that some people seemed immune to this anger and sadness, more focused on staying “positive” and “flourishing” through this tragic time in our human history. And I certainly didn’t want anyone to question my experience of feeling angry, lost, confused and sad, even if my thoughts weren’t quite rational. Having worried thoughts about all the what-ifs is normal when in a crisis. If you get stuck and completely immobilized or overwhelmed by panic because of those beliefs, that’s a different story. On the same days I was feeling angry, I was also enjoying that it was so quiet outside and animals seemed to be coming out more on the trail I walked. I was letting in peace. The more I could recognize and allow my entire experience as it unfolded, the less I felt pressured to fit some idea of how I should be. **If you find that you are having difficulty functioning due to your anxiety, it may be a good time to reach out to a mental health professional.
Pain And Sadness Are Not Bad
In her book, “It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok”, Megan Devine talks about how we live in a culture of positivity. We want to feel good and happy all the time. While wanting happiness is a normal human striving, we tend to then cling to this pursuit of happiness at all costs. We reject pain and sadness when it’s present, and we fear that if we let it fully in, pain will devour us alive. It was only two weeks after my brothers died, and there were people who would jovially ask me, “So, are you okay now?” They just wanted me to hurry up and be happy again. Why do we do this? Well, other people’s pain makes us uncomfortable. Because we know it hurts and it sucks! Even as a therapist, when I am sitting with someone who is in deep pain after the death of a loved one, I have a strong pull towards wanting to help them feel better. But, I know I can’t and to try to do so would rob them of their right to have their own grief journey. It would also make them feel that I’m yet another person who doesn’t get it.
It was by knowing deep pain and sadness that I came to realize what values I want to live by, to live with more love and presence and to enjoy when life is going well. Pain sure as hell doesn’t feel good. However, when you allow feelings to be present with as much compassion, presence and patience as you can humanly muster, over time your feelings will transform into something else. And, your ability to cope with the hard grit of life will grow.
As I mentioned earlier, for many people this may be their first personal experience of grief and loss. Many of us are grieving the life we had before the COVID situation. We may reminisce longingly for how simple it was to go into a grocery store. Or being free to gather with friends. Our lives have been impacted on so many levels. And, it will not “just go back to normal” as I heard many people wish for in the early days. We are in limbo, adjusting to some temporary “normal”, only to have to transition again at some future date into our new “normal”. This can lead us to feeling an ever-present background of uneasiness, groundlessness and disorientation. Have you noticed that your dreams are exceptionally strange and rich? I sure have. It’s our psyche’s way of processing this new landscape we are in.
Loss Was Going to Happen to You at Some Point
I recently listened to a Zen teacher talk about the pandemic. He posed the question, “Did any of you think you were going to get through life without any significant loss?” Nothing like good ole Zen to crack the whip! While we don’t like it and we try our best to avoid it, painful stuff is going to happen. For people facing their first significant loss, the resistance and fight against the fact that loss happens is one of the hardest first hurdles to overcome. We cry out, “This can’t be true!” We revolt, “It’s just not right!” We bargain, “But we had our entire life planned out!” We stand dumbfounded, “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this!” We try to make sense out of why the loss occurred. The bottom line is that sudden, catastrophic changes are a fact of all life on this planet. It’s a hard truth to swallow but a truth nonetheless. It’s normal that we rebel against this Truth because the loss of something we held so dear brings us to our knees like nothing else can and loss can leave our lives completely shattered for a long time.
When the Pain Is Too Much
While pain and loss are to be expected in all of our lifetimes, falling into deep depression and losing all sense of hope is not the place to land indefinitely. It’s sometimes a fine line to walk between grief and major depression, and if you find that you have thoughts of wanting to die, please reach out for professional help. You don’t have to do grief alone and despite the ugly sides of life, there is always something worth living for.
The last idea I want to leave with you is that while the COVID-19 situation is a very difficult experience for most of us, we must find ways to cope. I don’t want to paint the picture that we should all be lying in our beds with curtains drawn, eating bags of chips for days on end and isolating ourselves from the rest of the world. My saving grace during these weeks has been frequent walks to the edge of a park where I could see the wide open sky, trees and all kinds of birds. Observing the predictable cycles and beauty of the natural world has always provided a source of comfort through times of change.
This is the time to lean on your coping crutches, my friends. Watch movies, clean out your closets, find a way to donate or help, call your friends, do some daily exercise or movement, do some art, listen to music, take an online class or feel free to just sit idly. Boredom can actually be a great catalyst for creativity. One thing I personally think is very important is to find ways to reach out and serve others. Engaging with others from a place of love and care opens you up to a field of belonging. Mattering to someone else, even to a beloved pet, gives our life purpose and meaning. And lastly, it can help to regularly remember what you are grateful for. Can you allow yourself to open up to and savor the small, simple moments of joy?
For many people, the worst part of this experience may be boredom and cabin fever. If that’s true for you, try to remember from time to time that it’s a good problem to have right now. But, it’s okay to feel that your situation sucks too. For others on the front line, there’s going to be a lot of trauma to work through. Many people will have caught the virus and lived to tell the tale. And for those who have lost a loved one, my heart is with you and may we all be ready to extend an outpouring of compassion, love and support.
If you are having a hard time dealing with grief, anxiety or depression, I am here to help.
Please visit my contact page to set up a free 15 minute consultation.