By Laurie Stone, L.Ac.
We tend to label many of our recent feelings during the covid-19 pandemic as worry, fear, stress, anxiety, and disappointment. But have you recognized the feelings of grief as well?
I have a wonderful colleague here in town – Kathy Cherven, RN, LCPC who specializes in grief counseling. And I just love her business name – griefrollercoaster.com. That seems to sum it up pretty well.
Some moments I feel like I’m on a roller coaster with highs and lows, and other days I feel like I’m in a pinball machine, just bouncing all over the place.
In the beginning of the school & business closings and the shelter-in-place order, I was on a very fast roller coaster in terms of hours – going along just fine for a few hours, then dipping down the next few hours, then back up again and doing okay, then back down again. Sometimes it all levels out a bit and I’ll have a day or two of calm before dipping into a low again.
I didn’t recognize it at first as grief. But then I remembered Kathy talking about how grief is loss of all kinds, not just loss of life. For many, grief can also surface as loss of health, loss of job, loss of expectations of what life should look like, loss of milestones.
That got me thinking about the five stages of grief and how it applies in this worldwide pandemic and in my own little world.
If examples help you, I’ll share with you some common reactions below.
Now, I’m not saying you should, or do feel any of these. A lot of people I’ve talked to are doing just fine right now. And that’s okay, great even.
Many others are having a hard time as they process what’s going on in their lives. If you’re struggling, see if looking at the perspective of grief helps you in any way.
You might also notice that you’re in one stage on a worldwide level regarding the pandemic, and a different stage regarding ways that your own personal life is being affected.
Stages of Grief
The most important thing to note is that these stages don’t line up in a neat, orderly line – like the pinball machine you’ll bounce around hitting different stages at different times and often revisiting a stage.
Basically thinking [this] couldn’t possibly happen. Can also be avoidance, confusion, elation, shock, or fear, such as:
~Oh isn’t it terrible what’s going on way over there in China!
~What’s everyone getting so worked up about?
~Did Italy seriously just shut down the whole country? Is that really happening?
~I’ll be fine, I’m sure I’m immune to this bug.
~Thank goodness it won’t affect us.
Can also be frustration, irritation, or anxiety, such as:
~We shouldn’t have to do this.
~This is going to ruin the economy.
~Well, what am I supposed to do now?
~Who can I blame for this?
~They can’t shut everything down. I have plans!
~Why won’t people just listen and stay home!
Can also be struggling to find meaning or reaching out to others, such as:
~Why is this happening?
~Maybe if we just do [this], it’ll be over soon/I won’t get sick.
~When I get through this, I’m really going to turn my life around.
~If only we had planned better, this would all be okay.
Can also be overwhelm or helplessness, such as:
~I don’t feel like doing anything.
~Everything good is cancelled.
~It’s not fair, this wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
~I don’t know what to do and no one has any answers.
~What if I get sick? What if someone I love dies?
Can also be exploring options, creating a new plan, or moving on, such as:
~Okay, okay, we can get through this.
~Maybe if we……
~It’s not so bad, we can do these other things right now.
~Let’s stay home.
Some grief models also show two additional stages:
The Upward Turn: depression lifts a little and you start feeling calmer.
Reconstruction/Working Through: starting to work on practical solutions while coming to terms with the fact that life looks different now.
Personal Examples of Some of My Stages
For me, I definitely had some denial of the virus itself in the beginning. As the virus started spreading to other countries, that denial left me pretty quickly. But I’ve also been in a couple of phases of denial regarding my acupuncture clinic.
At first, when the restaurants were told to close to dine-in customers, I never fathomed that I would also need to close my doors for awhile.
I bargained with myself about how long to close which I felt good about at first (acceptance). But that caused me to then go through another round of denial, then bargaining and acceptance again when deciding that I still couldn’t reopen yet and needed to stay closed for awhile longer.
I had a whole mix of anger, sadness, and acceptance when cancelling our upcoming anniversary weekend, and then our vacation in May.
I bargained again with all sorts of ideas of how I’m going to use my time at home wisely and be so productive.
Acceptance when I realized that sometimes I need to not be productive and just rest because getting jolts of adrenaline stress reactions too frequently is physically exhausting.
Feeling sadness because I have two nieces and a nephew who are all graduating this year and it looks like there won’t be ceremonies at this point.
One day last week I thought I was feeling fine, and then I snapped at my husband out of the blue for something he said (anger), and then I burst into tears (overwhelm), then an hour later, feeling fine again.
Not all of this is bad. My husband gets to work from home right now instead of commuting to Chicago, so he has four more hours to every day, and we’ve started going for a walk together after work. (joyful acceptance)
Feeling depressed and helpless when I watch the news. (by the way, helpful tip: I never leave the news on running in the background. I check in once or twice a day at most and then leave it.)
I decided to stay closed longer and after I announced it to my team, I sat on the couch staring into space for a good 45 minutes. (numb, overwhelm). Then I went outside and spent an hour cleaning up old plants in the garden and felt refreshed. (calm acceptance)
My husband and I sat down several different times to come up with plans for the short-term and medium-term – both personally and professionally. (acceptance, reconstruction)
See the pinball machine effect? I’m absolutely all over the place. And that is perfectly normal. Have you been bouncing around too?
Where to go from here?
All the examples above are just that. Examples. Yours might be, and most likely are, completely different. Maybe milder, maybe more extreme.
We don’t have kids, so the roller coaster is going to look a little different for parents and their kids. And I am not on the front line, so I have no doubt these stages will be even deeper and more intense roller coasters for those who are directly meeting the trauma.
But it helped me a lot to understand my own personal roller coaster. And most importantly, to NOT judge myself for being on the roller coaster.
There is nothing wrong with me going through all these emotions at a time like this. It’s okay to feel all this and move through it to get to a better feeling.
I’m okay that I’m not happy-happy-joy-joy every minute of the day.
It’s a fact that intense emotions WILL pass. They’re like waves hitting the shore – the wave will always recede again.
If you are overwhelmed by any of these stages, please reach out to your network and seek support.
Acupuncture is a wonderful treatment for emotional roller coasters and I can work with you soon. If you are not getting my newsletter yet, click here and fill out your email address so you’ll get notice when I’m scheduling appointments again.
Also, I highly recommend Kathy (griefrollercoaster.com) and I’ve had nothing but good feedback from my current patients who have seen her. This is a pretty intense time in the world right now, and it’s okay to get a little extra support.
In the meantime, three podcasts have really helped me while at home. Follow what feels right to you.
Some days I just can’t take in any more helpful advice or use of technology. And then other days, one of these podcasts will hit home and be the perfect remedy in that moment. Follow your own flow with it.
P.s. grief has no set expiration date and affects each of us differently. It’s perfectly normal if you experience variations of these stages even months and years down the road. Keep moving through the emotions as they come up for you. 💗