Greetings to you all on a fabulous July Monday morning!
On Tuesday, March 17th, the Alberta government declared a state of emergency in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been 111 days since then. Can you believe it? What a roller-coaster! What have been your ups? your downs? How have you managed to get through the last 111 days? And what have you learned about yourself that will get you through the next 111 days? Go you!!
I’ve been wondering….have you noticed your moods and emotions change from day-to-day? Like one day you feel angry about the infection numbers? The next day you feel lonely and hopeless in self-isolation? Perhaps the next you are wondering what’s the big deal, anyway? I mean, it’s just the flu…..? I have noticed that my moods and emotions change moment to moment (second-by-second some days 🙂 ) ! It’s exacerbated by watching the conflict over the importance of safety precautions on the television news, listening to my friends and family’s worries, seeing folks take a walk in my neighborhood with masks and gloves….
Well, the good news is that this is completely normal. We’re not going crazy, we’re not too weak to handle this, we’re not inept or irrational. WE ARE NORMAL. Because we are all grieving.
If you have a few moments, grab a tea and settle in. This email’s a bit longer and denser than the previous…
We’re grieving the loss of life as we know it. We’ve lost our freedom. Our regular daily routine. Our face-to-face, physical connection with people. Some of us have lost even more….loved ones, jobs, financial stability, our health. Then there’s the worry of what more there is to lose if this coronavirus continues….
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined the stages of grief in 1969, known as DABDA1. She identified that with any grief, people move through the stages of grief in a dynamic way, moving in and out of the stages, spending prolonged periods in some, and possibly missing other stages all together. Reinforcing that we all share similar patterns in experiencing grief, but that we all experience it slightly differently, too. The goal is to eventually reach the acceptance stage and spend most of our time, if not all, there.
Why is this important? Because to know that the stages of grief are NORMAL, UNIVERSAL, and WELL-RESEARCHED, we can feel comfort in knowing that we feel these ways because we are human. There’s comfort in shared suffering and knowing we are not alone in it. And as we gain understanding of the stage of grief we are experiencing, we can see there are other stages that, for better or worse, can be expected as we continue to put one foot forward towards the acceptance stage. So take comfort as we look at the five stages of grief.
This stage is often, but not always, the first we move through when we experience a loss. It’s characterized by a disbelief in the reality of the loss and a feeling of numbing, or shock. It’s actually a survival mechanism. It’s our mind and body’s way of only handling so much at a time. Relating to the coronavirus, it could sound like this:
– this is nothing to worry about. It’s only the flu.
– I’m not in the vulnerable age range that the news is talking about. I won’t get sick.
– this is just a conspiracy so that governments can control us even more
In this stage, people start to face the reality of the loss and turn to anger to compensate for the more vulnerable feelings (like fear) triggered by the loss. Anger helps us feel powerful and in control when facing something we have no control over. Anger can be demonstrated as the relentless crying out of “why me? why now?”, blaming others, taking it out on others, and refusing to comply with the rules. Anger is a valid and important stage in the grief process. It’s healing to acknowledge our anger and find healthy ways to express the emotion as we progress towards the acceptance phase. This might be a good time to practice mindfulness of emotions or self-compassion mindfulness. Relating to the coronavirus, anger could sound like this:
– My roommate said if I leave the house I can’t come back in. She’s making my life hell.
– I hate this coronavirus. The government can’t tell me what to do. I’m going to visit my friends if I want to.
– My employer just laid me off but others in the company are still working. They’ve always had something against me. Why does this always happen to me?
Bargaining is another normal stage of grief that is focused on minimizing the pain and suffering we are feeling. This is another way of trying to take control over what we cannot control. We use negotiating and compromising to try to avoid or lessen the impact of grief and regain some or all of what we’ve lost. This is where we might make deals with God, or our higher power, or even ourselves that if we could only regain what/who we’ve lost, we’ll be a better person and life will go back to normal. In this phase, we may also engage in the perpetual questions of “what if?” – questioning the ways in which we might have been able to avoid losing someone or something we held so dear. These days, you might hear bargaining like this:
– God, if you will heal my mom from the coronavirus I promise I will be a better daughter to her from now on
– What if I had just gone to visit my Grandma when I had the chance? Maybe I could’ve saved her from getting sick.
– If I just wash my hands with sanitizer every time I go out and come back home, I’m sure I won’t get the coronavirus.
This stage of grief usually sets in once our attempts to control the loss have failed and we come to acknowledge the reality of the loss. The depression stage is more commonly known and accepted when it comes to loss. In this stage, we feel the burden of sadness over losing something or someone that was important to us. We may feel utterly alone, hopeless, and helpless. This stage, as with all the others, is also normal and necessary. It’s vital that we honestly and openly feel our loss, as painful and overwhelming as it may be. Only through feeling it, processing it, and accepting it can we move through it and eventually arrive at the stage of acceptance. During this pandemic, depression may sound like:
– this coronavirus has taken away all my goals and dreams. Life will never be the same for me again.
– I’ve lost my job and I will probably lose my house too. I give up. There’s no use trying.
– I have lost touch with all my friends. I feel so alone. I can’t stop crying.
This stage marks the acceptance of the reality of the loss, combined with a renewed strength and optimism for moving forward. It’s an acknowledgement that while our loss is still tragic and unbearable, we will be okay and we are more and more (little by little) ready to forge a new path in the absence of who/what was lost. We still feel the loss, and still have days where we feel the despair, the bargaining, the anger, but generally our mood stabilizes and we start to mobilize resources towards navigating a new life’s path. In this pandemic, acceptance may sound like:
– I can do everything possible to keep myself safe and sanitized, and if I get the virus, I get it. I will stay strong no matter what.
– I hate not being able to visit with my friends and family. But this won’t last long. And I’m safer to stay at home until all this passes.
– I feel so powerless in this pandemic. But, I’ve found that if I help my neighbors out (by taking out their trash bin, picking up litter), I feel much better because I can actually do something helpful.
I hope that this review of the 5 stages of grief has been in helping in normalizing and validating what you and your support circle are going through. I have found that even just understanding my feelings about the pandemic are related to LOSS has helped me be more gentle and compassionate with myself.
We manage losses all the time. Think about the common, regularly occurring losses we manage to get through without even knowing it. Like losing summer to fall? Like losing the daylight to the dark? Like losing a week of health to the common cold. Or losing our favorite t.v. series when it was discontinued (miss you Hawaii 5-0, again 🙁 ). Take a moment to recall other things or people you have lost in the past. Have you lost a friend when they moved to another province? a pet? a favorite glove (that happened to me and I was devastated!)? You had the strength and capacity to get through these losses when they happened, and you have the strength and capacity to get through this too! It’s not always easy, but it is possible. You might want to write a list of all the strategies and resources you have used in the past to get through loss. Social, practical, spiritual, & mental supports. What strengths and resources could you utilize at this time? In the next day or two, identify one small step you could take to keep moving forward through your losses as the pandemic continues. And stay gentle with yourself even as you move from one emotion of grief to the next, and back again. You will get through this. Keep calm and carry on.
1. The Atlas of emotions, supported by the Dalai Lama, is an interactive online tool that builds the vocabulary of emotions and illuminates the emotional world. It’s amazing and fun! Check it out at http://atlasofemotions.org/#introduction/
2. Free mindfulness worksheets available on a variety of mindfulness topics (acknowledging emotions, belly breathing, stress detox, loving kindness) at https://mindfulnessexercises.com/free-mindfulness-worksheets/
3.Wellness Together Canada is an online collection of free online resources, tools, apps and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals for Canadians managing their physical and mental well-being through the pandemic. https://ca.portal.gs/
4. Check out the CASS you tube video series on mental health and COVID-19: