I, like many of you around the globe, have taken to using more digital forms of meeting up with friends and family in the absence of being able to socialise face to face. It occurred to me that the scene of screens of faces will be commonplace across the world, all talking about the current pandemic, how we can help each other, when it will end, and what happens afterwards.
I was chatting to a friend yesterday and they mentioned that they were struggling to deal with a raft of changing emotions, and they couldn’t place why they felt this way. It occurred to me that perhaps they were experiencing grief.
Whilst we have all become familiar with grief being associated with the death of loved ones, grief can also follow unexpected and traumatic life changes. I was first made aware of this when I was diagnosed with MS and I grieved things I could no longer do, and my ‘old life’ that I epitomised.
Personally, if I can find a reason why I am feeling in a certain manner, or the ‘condition’ I am experiencing has a name, I believe (most probably wrongly so) it legitimises it, and I can begin to manage it. I have previously written a couple of other blogs about Grief and so I decided to share my thoughts of grief through this pandemic.
It is important for anyone reading this to note that I am not an expert in psychology or in grief. We all need to look after our mental health at this challenging time, so please reach out to your healthcare team (wherever you are) for support if you need it.
The thoughts and opinions expressed below are my own and are not intended as medical advice.
What is grief?
Essentially the experiences of grief and loss are independent of background or culture. Mourning occurs as a response to the loss of a family member, a friend or an animal, the change in personal circumstance or deterioration of a relationship. First proposed in a book called ‘On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss’ two authors, David Kessler and Elisabeth Kubler Ross co-defined the five stages we all go through.
People will go through these at their own pace, and the stages do not occur in any particular order. Sometimes people will revisit each stage more than once – that is also ok.
Grief and COVID-19
I was thinking about the experiences we are all facing (changes and losses), and the types of emotions that they might conjure up: denial, anger, fear and sadness/depression. Indeed there are many different things to grieve for – the world around us has dramatically changed in such a short period of time. Although it is seemingly temporary, there is no tangible end in sight. It is understood by everyone that when the peak of the pandemic has passed over, things may never be the same again. That uncertainty of what the world will be like (an unimaginable future) can be a terrifying prospect. For those who have lost family, friends, and are perhaps facing employment and financial burden, it is understandable that at times this can seem insurmountable.
We usually experience our individual grief alone, or with a limited number of people within a close network or community. However, this presents an unusual situation where there is global grieving. I am unsure of a time when we have ever been able to do that before, as modern technology has now allowed us to connect with people from all corners of the world. Whilst this allows us to support one another through an unprecedented time, I also worry that if we are not mindful of our own mental health, this may create a second pandemic of a very different kind.
Is there anything I can do to manage this?
Well I am definitely no expert but taking stock of your own emotions (and identifying what you are feeling and why – are you feeling one of the stages of grief?), taking time to process things and practicing mindfulness are all things that would be high on my list of tips.
I can only give you my experience from early on to show you how I responded to the outbreak. I need to add to this that I am someone of a scientific background and even I went through a stage of denial!
- Denial: “Ah, it won’t get that bad, let’s just try and carry on as normal”
- Anger: “You’re taking away my independence, and that’s one of my biggest fears”
- Bargaining: “Ok, so this social distancing isn’t so bad and it is only for a few weeks. Everything will be back to normal soon”
- Sadness: “The world is will never be the same again… this will never end…” [I will not put my spiral into the black pit of doom into here as it isn’t helpful to anyone]
- Acceptance: “Life will go on, and there are lots of positives from this [these are… and …] I cannot control what is happening, but I can control how I respond to it. Let’s work out how to pick myself back up and get on.
I am not entirely sure that I have fully accepted the corona virus situation (as with my MS) but I feel more empowered than I did before. I believe a lot of the feelings are centred around the loss of control, and the fear of an uncertain future. As someone who lives with an incredibly changeable health condition, I have had to learn learn to let go of the things that I cannot control.
Remembering this and applying it to the current situation has allowed me to keep my mind stronger – I remember that I wash my hands, I use sanitiser, I stay a safe distance from people and only go out if absolutely necessary etc and this is the best I can do for me.
I realise that this blog has been especially long, and sorry for that. Before I head off, one final thought. Please can we all remember that everyone deals will be dealing with this situation in a different way – some people may even be still in the denial stage. Let’s try and be kind to one another.