I‘ve completely lost track of time, it’s all just blending together. Is this the second week of shelter-in-place? The third? Who knows. I saw a meme the other day that said March 2020 is 8,000 days long. Real.
And in the midst of it all, I’m slowly realizing that the emotions and experiences coming up wild. I’ve swung from feeling happy that I get to be home with my family, to tearful about things I can’t control, to angry, and everything in between. I’m here, as a total non-medical/mental health professional to tell you that it’s okay if this is happening to you, too.
While I am no professional, I think I could have a doctorate in one thing by now… grief. I’ve written about it some here before, but the cliff notes version is: I’ve got three dead parents and a solid handful+ of other close family members who have (almost) all died in the last ten years. This state of global pandemic is bringing up anxiety, fear, stress responses, and yes… grief.
Speaking of stress responses, I read something online about how our reptilian brains have no reference point for this situation. You know, the fight, flight or freeze part of our brain? This is uncharted territory. We can’t fight it (though we might get snippy with our loved ones in the meantime), we can’t flight (hello, shelter-in-place), so a lot of us are just stuck in ‘freeze’ mode. Is your body begging for a nap, early bedtime, or lazy couch cuddles instead of that 5k you were planning on running? All normal.
A few weeks ago, as things began to unfold, my first thoughts were of gratefulness for the fact that my dad isn’t still alive and battling cancer. Because what on earth would I even do to protect him? Then I thought about all the crafts my mom would be making while quarantined—she could single-handedly mask the world, and they’d all be bedazzled. While my living family member’s health is (currently, hopefully) not impacted by COVID-19, my grief and anxiety live in every part of my world. And my world is pretty much 100% Coronavirus right now.
Then, there’s the pre-grieving. I don’t think it’s kicked in for me just yet, but I know it has for some folx I love. I know this one well, too. After 2.5 years of battling cancer along-side my dad, I’m a pre-grieving pro. No doubt there are a bunch of us right now who are scared shitless for the lives of our older family members, people we love who have preexisting conditions, or ya know… literally all of us since it seems this virus doesn’t have a type. Pre-grieving is it’s own cruel beast because it makes us feel guilty for not living in the moment that we have. But right now, as we all sit in isolation, what else is there? If you’re worried about people you love, and your brain is preparing you for the worst… that is also totally normal and real.
And no, the feelings aren’t strictly about deceased family members (past, present, or future). I’m also grieving the ‘little’ things. A canceled family road trip to Utah’s national parks that should have kicked off next week, a romantic anniversary getaway to stay in a treehouse in the woods with my partner, and a whole bunch of other big (little) things. We’re all grieving the lives and days and adventures we should be having. Some of you might be actively grieving the loss of your wedding as you envisioned it, or other legitimately big things. Again, it’s all real.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of advice. Somehow a fake doctorate in grief gets you nearly zero tangible skills or tools that you can easily share or guide other people in. It’s a degree each person has to earn for themselves. Here’s what I can share (and I’ve got a slew of other members of the Dead Parent Club… AKA the whole current staff of APW… who will back me up)… there’s nothing you can do but go through. Feel the feelings, pull out a yoga mat and get in child’s pose, go find a sliver of sunshine and let it hit your face, cry in the shower (that’s my preferred location), phone a friend and get real about it, write in your journal, meditate, go for a walk (you can cry there, too). Just let the feelings be what they are, feel them, go through them, and come out on the other side. You will come out on the other side. It won’t feel like it, but you will. And if you don’t feel the feelings, they’ll show up like angry waves of destruction, and I promise you don’t want that. (She says after having her fair share of blow ups this week.)
So, APW, how are you coping? What’s popping up for you? How are you handling the array of emotions that are coming up? Do you need a place to vent about a canceled big or little thing? Do you need to ask a Ph.D. in grief what it means when you can’t stop thinking about your parents? (She doesn’t know the answer, but she’ll listen!) We’re sorry that Wandering the aisles of your local target is mostly off-limits, so come wander the halls of APW with us. We’re in this together.