Feeling lost? Angry? Frustrated? Not at all like yourself?
Me too. It’s called grief.
Our world is in grief right now. Covid-19 (Coronavirus) came along and took everything we knew and knocked it on its @ss.
You might be thinking the term grief seems a little extreme, but hear me out…
Have you heard about the five stages of grief? The stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. A brilliant woman named Elisabeth Kübler Ross (Google her – she did amazing work!) theorized the stages in trying to help people understand preparing for death. The stages have since been adapted to help us understand the adjustment we go through when someone we love dies and our world falls apart.
Well, here is the interesting thing - the five stages of grief are actually a reaction to change.
If the change is something you chose for yourself, or is something positive, you might experience the five stages only briefly. But if the change is big, not your choice, or traumatic… get your seat belt securely fastened because the ride is going to get bumpy!
Isolation. Job loss. Home schooling. The fear that standing too close to the guy in the grocery store could make you sick, or could kill you. We are going through some big, scary, traumatic changes right now!
So, what can we do about how lousy we feel while living what seems like a really bad movie?
We can try to understand the grief roller coaster.
We can accept that all the crazy twists and sudden drops in our moods and our feelings are natural, human responses to big, traumatic change. We can realize that its okay to feel angry or depressed, and to work through those emotions, only to have them come back for another round. We can communicate how we are feeling with those we love so that we don’t unintentionally hurt them, and can also get their support when we need it.
Grief hurts. It’s messy. It can get ugly, and nobody wants grief to last any longer than necessary. You can try to skip one of the stages (I personally struggle with anger because I feel it’s a waste of time), but it doesn’t work that way. We do not adjust to what comes next until we have lived and felt all five stages.
And… you don’t always go through the stages in order either. Your feelings will bounce all over the place, touching on the different stages again and again, until you’ve spent enough time collectively feeling all the crazy emotions.
Here’s what the different stages might look like in your life right now:
Denial – This isn’t really happening. I won’t get sick. This is all just a plot to take away our freedom. I'm going to live my life and do want I want to do.
Anger – I don’t deserve this! I should have been able to graduate/get married/see my family at Easter/ (fill in the blank)! My (spouse/family member/friend) said/did (behaviour) and makes me so mad!
Bargaining – If I wear a mask while I go to the grocery store, its not really a big deal if I go every day. As long as I stay 6 feet away from my friends, I can visit them.
Depression – I don’t even want to get out of bed. I am too tired to shower or clean the house. When is this going to end? When do I get my life back?
Acceptance – This is how it is for now. I feel frustrated and frightened at times, but I am grateful for my health, my home and what I do have. I cannot change the virus. Staying home and taking things one day at a time is the best I can do.
The stages are different for everyone. They can also look like eating or drinking too much, being tired all the time, feeling unable to focus, and arguing with your friends/family/spouse over unimportant things or more than usual.
I won’t tell you that simply knowing about the five stages of grief will make everything easier. It’s still scary, it’s still going to be hard, and the reality is – we do not know how or when this is going to end.
But, when your emotions feel out of control or you are acting in a way that isn’t yourself, stop for a moment and ask if you are angry or bargaining or depressed. When your loved ones or friends do things that don’t feel right or are hurtful, ask if their actions are actually aimed at you, or if you are simply an outlet for their hard, messy emotions.
Then - treat yourself, and those around you, with compassion.
The true power of being in it together is weathering the storms within us, as much as we weather the virus around us. Love, empathy and understanding is how WE WILL get through this.