I seem to need naps most days. And sometimes I find myself crying in bits and snatches. I can work for about two hours, and then my attention span is gone. Thank goodness, I’m healthy and NOT suffering from COVID-19 physically, but then again, that’s exactly what I think I am suffering from. My friend, Marta, put a handle on it for me when she said that what we are all doing right now is managing our losses.
That was such an interesting term, I Googled it. In doing so, I found an article from the American Psychological Association which defined the situation clearly. Here are some points it helped me articulate:
- The losses we are experiencing are “ambiguous” losses.
- There is no clear point to mourn and move on from like we would have after a death.
- We are actually experiencing a series of losses – the sense of safety, social connections, personal freedoms, job and financial security, etc.
- Worse still, these are “living” losses. They keep going and going.
- And then, of course, there is also the fear of experiencing new losses we can’t yet predict.
The article goes on to tell me it helps to “name and claim my grief.” This statement took me to a higher understanding of the situation. It takes me from the rational and dispassionate management of my many losses to the emotional aspect, giving me permission to grieve. The naps, the crying spells, the lack of attention, they are all ok for now because I am in mourning. Indeed, I am suffering from COVID-19 – emotionally.
It is said that grief looks different for everyone. According to Psychology Today, it can include both emotional and physical symptoms. The emotional aspects are many including sadness, depression, anger, resentment, fear, and panic. Indeed, it is common to feel like we are on an emotional roller coaster.
Physically, there are 12 systems in the human body and all of them are susceptible to the effects of grief. Here are the most common physical complaints:
- From the immune system: We are rundown and less able to fight off illness.
- From the cardiovascular system: Increased blood pressure, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and heart attacks are reported.
- From the digestive system: Changes in appetite and every gastrointestinal complaint from constipation to diarrhea can occur.
- From the nervous systems: Our brains can feel like they have turned to mush. Thinking can be confused. Concentration and attention are limited. We feel like we are in a fog.
Now that we have named and claimed our losses and now that we are grieving them in our own unique way, what comes next?
When I started to write this story, I had an answer to this question. I was going to quote from Carolyn Hax, the Washington Post advice columnist. A reader wrote in to say that she was just on the cusp of leaving her husband when the pandemic hit. While the woman is not in an abusive relationship and is safe, she feels like a trapped animal. How should she navigate this time?
In response, Hax gives her the bad news that she has no choice but to wait things out. But there is good news too: We humans are very experienced at “finding a livable balance between where we are and what we’re waiting for.” She reminds us that life has always been a waiting game. When we had a cold, we had to wait to breathe freely again. When we were in college, we had to wait to conquer the course that seemed so incomprehensible. When we welcomed a new baby, we had to wait to sleep through a night again. She closes her remarks with these simple and true words, “Trust that time will pass, new prospects will start to take shape, the door will open again.”
Usually, this sort of rah-rah stuff is all I need to carry on. But somehow, by the time I reached this portion of writing my blog, I had also reached some variety of depression that was rah-rah resistant.
Before taking a nosedive into an emotional abyss, though, I remember all my loved ones for whom I need to be an example. I think of my grandkids in particular. At ages 3-14, how are they managing the pandemic? Do they even have the vocabulary to know what ails them – to name it, claim it, and grieve it? Probably not. So, I need to be there for them to listen to their concerns and to tell them these things –
- These are tough times.
- It’s hard for everyone.
- But you’re doing a great job!
- Keep going,
- Keep going.
- I’m proud of you!
They are all good kids, so I think they will listen. I hope I will too.
Here are the articles I mentioned in case you want to read more:
- American Psychological Association, “Grief and COVID-19: Mourning our bygone lives” by Kirsten Weir: https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2020/04/grief-covid-19
- Psychology Today, “When Grief Gets Physical,” by Marilyn A. Mendoza Ph.D.: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-grief/201909/when-grief-gets-physical
- The Washington Post, Carolyn Hax’s column, June 6, 2020: https://wapo.st/3iorMCL
- And just in case you want to see how I managed loss in the past, please consider my book, Love, Loss, and Moving On.