I haven’t the slightest clue what to tell you that will make you feel better. The honest truth is that no one does. I am not a Zen master who radiates calm and sprinkles peace into your life the way my dad dumps parmesan cheese on his pizza. Nor am I a quick-fix healer who offers you hope in the form of motivational quotes on Instagram and clickbait to some sort of get-better-NOW(!!) pyramid scheme. I am, however, a therapist who works very hard to see things from angles that can often seem hidden when you’re in the throws of anxiety, fear, sadness, *insert overwhelming feeling here*. This is my attempt at providing you with ways to explore and acknowledge feelings as they come up, rather than be all-consumed by them.
So, like a week ago life seemed to still be humming along at a relatively normal clip for most people (at least in our country). Fast forward to the COVID-19 present and it seems that there are new restrictions rolling out every day that we really have no control over. Some of us are working from home, others are still working out in the far less trafficked world, some now have no job to go to, others are tirelessly trying to entertain their out of school kids, etc. We are all experiencing our own unique aftershocks from these changes, however universally each one of us has been launched onto the proverbial dartboard of grief.
Sometimes when I suggest to clients who haven’t experienced an actual death that they might be grieving I get some sideways looks, but hear me out. Grief is about loss and we get attached to a whole lot more than just someone’s physical presence on this planet. In our current state of affairs, we have all lost beliefs and/or tangible things that we previously knew to be true about our lives. I would encourage you to identify and acknowledge what this loss looks like in your own life presently. You’re already feeling it, but now we need to put words to it.
One of the most widely known grief models, the 5 stages of grief, was developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s. Since then, it has stood the test of time and can be a very helpful way to explore the twisted, tangled, knotted up mess that is the grieving process. I’ll outline it for you here with some rather generic examples, but to get the most out of it try matching up your own experience thus far with some of the stages.
So, you start out at normal la-di-da functioning….and then BOOM…things have changed…
Stage 1 – Shock and Denial – “I can’t believe this is happening”, “No way this is real”, feelings of avoidance, confusion, and numbness are common.
Stage 2 – Anger – “This is frustrating, unfair, and ridiculous!”, feelings of anxiety, irritation, and shame often show themselves here.
Stage 3 – Depression and Detachment – “There’s nothing I can do”, “I can’t deal with this”, here comes the overwhelmed, low energy, blah train.
Stage 4 – Dialogue and Bargaining – “How did this happen?”, “What could I have done?”, this is when the desire to reach out and tell your story can emerge, you’ll be looking to find meaning in what has happened.
Stage 5 – Acceptance – “I am ready to move forward”, “I have a new plan for the future”, you’ll likely start feeling a new sense of security and empowerment.
…then the idea is that you return to meaningful life and go on your merry way…sound good?
Ok, so it’s not quite that easy. It should be noted that this process is NOT linear and will look different for everyone. There is no magic amount of time or ratio for how long to stay in each stage. Some people will skip stages and get stuck in others. Sometimes you’ll think you’ve reached acceptance only to one day find yourself back in anger. One big thing I want you to take from this though is that it is normal to feel all of these feelings during this time. Give yourself permission to wrap your head around what you are going through. We are all in uncharted territory here and ignoring these feelings is only going to perpetuate our discomfort.
This is seeming to be a one day at time process, so when you notice you are overwhelmed try increasing your awareness of what stage you might be in. Sometimes just the act of stopping and trying to understand a feeling can be enough to take the edge off just a little bit. Strong feelings always pass eventually, just not usually on your preferred timeline. Be compassionate toward yourself and let go of expectations that you have to have everything figured out. It is not possible.
I am in the midst of reading the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott at the moment (which I highly recommend!), and this passage has continued to resonate with me as I myself have tried to adapt to what life is throwing our way. Use it if you’d like…
We are on a global journey where we cannot see the destination, but in all actuality we always have been. Nothing is more certain than the two to three feet ahead of us, therefore we need to trust ourselves to make the best decisions we can based on our reality. Afterall, that is all we really have control over.
As this continues to unfold, I intend to keep up with my writing (that’s what the above-mentioned book is all about), so stay tuned. For now, I’ll leave you with a quote I heard on Mad Men (but is probably really from someone much more refined):
“Our greatest fears often lie in anticipation.” – Don Draper
Stay safe, healthy, and grounded everyone ❤