A Gift of Darkness #CopingwithCOVID19
The collective grief of my country has surged for the second time in my adult life. The first time, I was a young adult, in college on September 11, 2001 when terrorists commandeered planes and used them as bombs to target America. About 3000 Americans were killed. People rallied together. They cried and prayed and lauded firemen as heroes. Many other countries offered condolence or support. I also began to understand for the first time that my country was not everything I had been taught, and that there were not only people who hated us, but that they had good reasons.
Nearly 20 years later, we are now facing a worldwide crisis of far greater magnitude. A pandemic the likes of which have not been seen for a century. It is causing a complete disruption of life as we knew it. In our longing for things to return to ‘normal’ people are starting to say things will never go back to how they were. There will be life ‘before’ and life ‘after’. We are at a curious time in-between. In some sense this is a pause. Things are already changing. We are grieving the loss of our way of life. We are grieving the deaths of some 200,000 people from a virus that was unknown six months ago, approaching 50,000 American deaths. These numbers are continuing to rise, with no end in sight. We are grieving our own mortality and that of our loved ones. We are grieving the markers and milestones of a normal life that we forego; living in relative isolation from our normal support community.
The Kübler-Ross model of grief includes feelings of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As I understand it, they are not milestones on a path, but just various emotions associated with the grieving process. I am seeing people acting out these feelings throughout social media. I myself swing from acceptance back to anger or depression several times a week. Or maybe even several times a day.
Are you feeling supported and seen? Do you have people to share your sadness with? What are you missing? Has someone you love died? Have you lost employment? Do you feel guilty for feeling bad because others ‘have it worse’? Are you lonely? Do you feel disconnected? Are your emotions mixed? Are you experiencing complicated stress?
It is okay if your feelings fluctuate. It is okay if you are confused. It is okay if you don’t have the energy to do the things you think you ‘should’. It serves no one to compare our pain to that of anyone else. We can hold space for others who have a very different pain. We are each having a very different experience in this time. Whatever you are feeling is valid. When you deny yourself your feelings, you are serving no one.
Have you found something to fill you at this time? Is there anything that brings you back to yourself? Is there anything that brings you joy and peace? Have you learned anything useful about yourself? Has this pause helped you confront anything about your life that needed to change?
I love so many of Mary Oliver’s poems, and felt that this one really speaks to our time.
The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
What will we find in our box of darkness? Will we eventually come to understand it as a gift? Right now I am feeling it is full of the unknown. It is full of a different kind of time than I have encountered before. The grief is very non-specific and continues to grow and shift. Though I feel unflappable during the day as a typical overfunctioner, and am able to go about business, I sometimes wake at night with my heart racing. I know there is anxiety underneath. It is sometimes hard to name. I am trying to take time for introspection and take note of things to change.
Covid-19 is quickly leading to economic collapse in the United States, with more than 20% unemployment. I meant to be applying for a graduate program or a job and now I am stuck schooling my children at home in a country that just lost more than 26.5 million jobs. There is a real threat to many families that they may not have enough to eat or a place to live. What does it say about our economy if a few weeks pause can be so devastating? Fortunately for us, my husband still has his teaching job. School has changed completely, as everything must be done remotely. Teachers have scrambled to find ways to continue the schoolyear remotely. My children are currently healthy, though grumpy due to the complete disruption of their lives. On the other hand, my oldest daughter is living elsewhere, and continues to go out with friends, so now I feel like I can’t see her or let her visit her siblings. I ache to just see her and give her a hug. I want to see her at the table with the family, or cuddled on the couch while we watch a movie or read together. I would love to have her with us, to share her beautiful singing voice and see her play with her younger siblings. Her high school graduation should be in a few weeks, but it won’t be. No prom, no last anything. None of us knew the last day of school would be the last day of school for this year. Now we’ve been schooling at home for 6 weeks.
A plague of loneliness and isolation is accompanying the spread of the virus. People who have been thrust out of their normal routine are experiencing higher levels of depression. Paradoxically, those experiencing loneliness tend to further self-isolate and have a hard time reaching out and receiving the support of others. I myself have a hard time connecting with people the way I’d like when I am in survival mode. I have a hard time lifting others when I’m flailing.
My area of the country has not been hit particularly hard; I do not personally know anyone in my area who has tested positive for Covid-19. I recognize that is a privileged position and am watching what is happening throughout the world. I am concerned about the political divide in the United States that is just being exacerbated by this crisis. (We have enough problems with an election looming and our inability to produce a viable candidate who has not sexually assaulted anyone). Riots about the right to leave home and be exposed to large crowds are bewildering to me.
When we grieve by ourselves, we can only grieve part way. When we show our grief to others and they witness it, something changes. We both feel more validated and the grief perhaps grows a little easier to carry. Our losses will continue to accumulate for a while. We may have a hard time identifying what it is we have lost and why we feel the way we do. Taking time to name a loss and share it can bring clarity and aid in healing. If you share a grief with someone and they criticize you for it, find someone else to share with in the future, that person is not ready. If you do not have someone you feel you can share with, try journaling.
The interplay between times of darkness and light give depth to our experience and perspective to our lives. Right now, our widespread feeling of destabilization reveals that our sense of control was illusory. Our system was more fragile than we had imagined and the world was never really as predictable as we thought. This is a novel opportunity to turn inward, re-evaluate our lives for a time, and eventually find out how resilient we are.
My recommendations: if your circumstances allow, find time to be out in the fresh air, exercise, and enjoy nature and sunshine. Find time to meditate and practice non-attachment. Try listening to music you enjoy and moving your body. Try the healing benefits of creativity through an artistic outlet. Reach out to others you care about and check in with them regularly. Find something to laugh about and share it with someone. Try journal therapy by writing out all the scary thoughts you don’t want to tell other people about. Do an inventory of your sleep habits. Are you getting adequate and quality sleep? Do you wake well rested? Do you have a skill you can share with others somehow? Do you have time now to pick up a new hobby or practice an old one? Do pets or plants feed your soul? No matter your circumstances, go easy on yourself.