I don’t know about you, but these past few weeks have been really hard. Although both of us have been working from home for several years, this FEELS completely different. As I write, we’re encouraged to go for a daily walk & can shop; otherwise, we’re at home.
I started off well; I made a list of things I was absolutely going to achieve, books I was going to read, classes I would do many of which had been on the back burner for a long time. I promised myself that I was going to end this time physically & emotionally healthier than when I started (yes I know …).
Then I fell apart. Partly the reality of this being an ultra-marathon hit me & I was also laid low with a head cold & blocked sinus which are taking their time to clear. As we know, the mind body link is very strong so I felt low both emotionally & physically.
Other than writing in my journal & reading fiction I didn’t want to do anything much, I resisted every attempt at attending online yoga classes &, as for crossing things off my list, absolutely not.
The voice in my head was beating me up, telling me to pull myself together & lots of other phrases starting with ‘should’ or ‘must.’
Then I realised.
As this quote says, I’m missing many things that I love. I’m grieving meeting friends, going to my regular Yoga, Qigong & Nordic Walking Classes, even (& I can’t believe I’m writing this) wandering round the local Supermarket. I’m grieving the loss of my normal life & I feel like a boat which has come loose from its moorings.
We’re all grieving
Of course if I’m grieving, so are you, the whole world’s grieving.
Once I could name what I was feeling I felt better. I’ve been through grief before so I asked myself what I learned, what helped me then & what might help me now.
I reminded myself that there are many models of grief, the most famous of which is the 5 stage theory (denial, anger, bargaining, depression & acceptance) developed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. And that the stages aren’t linear, you will circle round & round so this morning you could be in acceptance & this afternoon in anger.
One way to look at grief
I remembered that, in my book Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness, (Chapter 6 ‘To Grieve, Or Not to Grieve? You Know the Answer), I wrote about a different model &, having reminded myself of it, realized that it resonates more closely with where I am at the moment.
It’s from Rising Strong by Brené Brown & she describes three elements of grief that emerged from her research. They were loss, longing, and feeling lost. In Finding Joy I gave examples of how these could apply to childlessness & I’ve re-written this section so it’s more applicable to the present.
In addition to death & separation she writes about losses which are more difficult to describe such as the loss of normality, the loss of what could be & the loss of what you thought you knew about something or someone.
Longing is an involuntary yearning for wholeness, for meaning, for the opportunity to regain or touch what you’ve lost & she illustrates this by telling a story about longing to see her grandmother each time she drives past the turning to her house. I really empathise with this, each time I sit on my yoga mat, I long to be back in class.
This is the need to reorient yourself to every part of your physical, emotional & social worlds & is described in terms such as feeling frozen or losing your bearings.
Do these resonate with you?
To say that we’re struggling with the loss of normality, longing for things we used to do & having to reorient ourselves is possibly the understatement of the day!
One thing you can do to help
Brené writes that; ‘the more difficult it is for us to articulate our experiences of loss, longing & feeling lost to the people around us, the more disconnected & alone we feel’. And ‘of the coping strategies my research participants have shared with me, writing down experiences of heartbreak & grief have emerged as the most helpful in making it clear to themselves what they were feeling so they could articulate it to others.’
Over the years writing freely in my journal has been a great help to me & intuitively these past couple of weeks I’ve been writing more regularly & for longer. Also sharing how I feel with close friends has made all of us feel less alone as we realise that we’re each feeling loss, longing & lost.
In a way that works for you I encourage you to examine your feelings about loss, longing, & feeling lost & how they show up in your life.
If writing works for you, then that’s the best place to start, if not then perhaps have a conversation with a trusted friend. To get you started, examples of loss could be going to work, meeting friends & family, traveling, going on the holiday you planned, the exercise classes you attend, dining in that special restaurant, picking up a coffee on your way to work, missing the training course you booked, time on your own, magazines you can’t get hold of, browsing the bookshop at lunchtime. I’m sure you can think of more.
When I explore longing it mainly manifests in a yearning for face to face connection, hugging friends & ad hoc conversations with people I meet in my yoga & Nordic walking classes. And loss feels as though every aspect of my physical, emotional & social worlds are out of sync.
I’ve written everything down, now what?
Now for the 2nd disappointing news of the day.
You must go through it.
For grief to pass, it has to work through you, so you need to give yourself the time & space for this to happen. I’m not going to write in detail about this here because this post is long enough already, so all I will say is find a space where you can process your feelings, somewhere you can be completely honest and vulnerable. In ‘normal’ times this might be with a therapist but at the moment this could be an online group or a group of friends, by writing, meditation, walking or yoga.
The most important things to note are that,
Your heart will show you the way if you make time and space to listen to it.
And above all, be kind to yourself. Kindness is the way in.
And a word of caution
If you’ve been avoiding digging into the grief of childlessness, or have any other unresolved losses, you may find that answering these questions & pausing to dig into your grief brings up these losses. It may not, but I mention this just in case it does.
If exploring is too much, please do these 3 things instead
Exploring these 3 areas really helped me to articulate what I’m feeling & going through & I hope it’s the same for you (if so please share any insights below). I recognise that for some readers this may be too hard at the moment. If that’s you, that’s ok, please take your time.
However, wherever you are in life, please do these 3 things;
Understand & acknowledge that you’re grieving
Recognise that, in grief there is no normal way to be. Anything & everything is normal.
And most important, be kind to yourself, treat yourself in the same way you’d treat someone you love.
I’ve been writing to these prompts each day for a few days now & giving myself time to just be with whatever comes up. I feel that I’ve turned a corner & now feel more positive & ready to face whatever the next weeks & months throw at me. I hope this will be the same for you.