Right now, it is easy to look at social media and feel it is rife with over achievers. With people who have spent their first two weeks of lockdown learning 4 different languages, taking up a new instrument, or teaching their family the harmonised vocals to every Andrew Lloyd Webber musical under the sun. With YouTube fitness classes, cookery clubs, home schools and online choirs spreading faster than the coronavirus itself, I’ve started to feel like I’m perhaps not coping with this lockdown as well as everyone else.
Slowly, however, from the quieter corners of the internet, I’ve started to stumble across more comforting reads. And it’s made me realise that what we are all dealing with here is a collective grief.
We are all grieving, in our own way, for how things were just a month or so ago. We’re grieving over the speed at which normality was taken away from us. We are all angry, sad, and frightened. We are all heading into an unknown. We’ve all had to relinquish control. And we all react differently to this.
Some people use productiveness as a coping mechanism. Last week I felt like the people who were learning 4 languages were just boasting. But now I realise that this is their way of taking back some control over their situation. And that is fine. But for anyone whose main achievement today has been to have a shower, and wait til 5.30pm to open a bottle of wine, that is fine too.
I want to share some things I have learned about grief, which may be helpful to people who are struggling to cope at the moment.
1) Pain is relative
I keep hearing people say things like “I know I shouldn’t complain, lots of people are far worse off than me”. Whilst it’s good to remember this, it’s also really important to acknowledge how you are feeling, and not just shrug it off because someone has it worse than you do. Pain is relative. Everyone has something going on in their lives, but it’s OK to feel how you’re feeling. It’s fine to feel angry. It’s fine to feel sad, or fearful. It’s even fine to feel happy. Emotions aren’t binary. You can feel sad at the state of the world, but happy for something going on in your own life at the same time.
2) Don’t peak too soon – we’re in this for the long haul!
It’s great to find a coping mechanism. But it’s important to know the difference between distraction and denial. This will be over one day, but the world as we knew it has changed for the foreseeable, and this is a huge realisation to come to terms with, and accept. You will be gradually starting to get used to the changes in your every day life (whether you want to or not), but the key is to make these changes bearable. The freedom to pop over and see a friend or family member has been taken away from you, so how can you gain a sense of acceptance, and regain a sense of control, over this?
3) Take baby steps
Right now, it’s anybody’s guess how long this could go on for. In the words of Baz Luhrmann, trying to predict the long term “is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum”. Make short term plans; have regular video calls with your favourite people. Do your food shop on the same day each week. Plan the different walks or bike rides you’ll do this week. Plan to watch a film one night. Humans like routine. It helps them feel in control, and that is what we all need right now!
4) “When everything is uncertain, everything that matters becomes clear”
I have no reference for this quote, other than “stranger on Instagram”, but it certainly resonated with me. I now understand more than ever the things that are important to me: my family, my close friends, animals, nature, laughter. These are the things I need to be happy. And these are the things I will focus on as we move through the next few months, and out the other side of this crisis.
I’ve realised how much I love getting out in the forest for a walk, and even just watching the birds in my garden, who give zero fucks about the lockdown. I’ve registered with every dog rehoming centre I can find, I’m on the waiting list for some baby bunnies, Dave’s buying a bee hive, and we’re in conversations about the practicalities of keeping some chickens in our garden.
We watched a re-run of a standup comedian the other day, and I realised it had been such a long time since I’d laughed til my sides hurt.
When you read this quote, you’ll know what’s important to you.
5) Life is always uncertain
We never know what’s around the next corner. We actually never have control over anything. The difference here is, we’ve all been made acutely aware of that. That’s why we’re scared.
6) You may feel like you’re all on your own, but you definitely, definitely aren’t
You know all those screenshots you see of people chatting to their mates on Zoom? I bet 50% of the people behind those little boxes have had a little cry over the last few weeks. Reach out.
7) Now is NOT the time for beating yourself up
So you watched the Joe Wicks workout from the sofa and stress ate a packet of hot cross buns? That’s OK! Can you hear me at the back? THIS IS A REALLY SHIT TIME AND NORMAL RULES DO NOT APPLY.
I think that’s all I have for now. I hope everyone whose got this far will now say to themselves “whatever I’ve done or haven’t done today – that is fine”. We’re all in this together. Much love xxx