Times Like These
5th Avenue, NYC - April 2020 - Photo by Paulo Silva on Unsplash
I know this is a time of great loss, grief, fear and anxiety in the world - and I’ve been beating myself up over the fact that I probably could help others - at least with the grief part. Instead I’ve been spiraling in my own anxiety and fear. Living in my Fight, Flight, Freeze response and reacting to everything externally - not in an embodied way.
Last week I cried at the drop of a hat, this week I want to offer guided meditation on safety, five weeks ago I was looking at face masks online before my husband (thankfully) pinpointed my panic buying and diverted me. At least once a week I break down in tears, and just feel like screaming.
None of this is helpful. None of it feels embodied. None of it feels grown up, adult, or the right way.
And the thing is - I know it’s because my body is in a stress response. I know my mind is trying to think my way out. I know there has been more adrenaline pumping through my system for the last 3 weeks - and I also know - I’m not a special snowflake. Most of us are experiencing the exact same thing to a lesser or greater extent the world over at the moment. I also know that I’m experiencing it in an extremely privileged way.
I can work entirely remotely for a company who has committed to supporting its workers for at least the year. I have money saved and am not at risk of not being able to pay my rent. My husband has a very secure job and is extremely unlikely to be at any employment risk. Most of my family do not work in frontline jobs, and also can work remote and be with their families. I’m lucky.
I wrote this 4 weeks ago - 3 weeks into our isolation in New York City. But it wasn’t until I was talking to a colleague recently that I really cemented some of my thoughts around the pandemic and the global experience.
It’s now been 8 weeks since I’ve been isolated in our apartment with my husband. Only leaving for essentials. Since writing the above, I have continue to oscillate wildly between days in tears - fearful, angry, lost, frustrated, guilty, helpless; and days of peace - contently cooking dinner, loving my man, dutifully working (thankfully), happily taking online classes to support dance friends, looking for online volunteering options etc.
These are all signs and red flags to me of something I’m deeply familiar with - and yet it really didn’t hit me until someone pointed it out. I didn’t recognize that there had been other times in my life when similar floods and waves of emotion had hit. In my anxiety, I forgot what I knew and started to focus on the hyper active, tiny little control I had over what was going on in the greater world.
In talking with a colleague it got me thinking - she felt she could sense the widespread sadness, fear, anger - feeling the global grief, but that she didn’t necessarily feel it personally, or understand what or why people were grieving.
For many people it’s possible this may be the first time they are facing these sensations. Coupling this with the compounding factor that everyone around them is also feeling them, it makes sense everyone’s responses are erratic, unexpected, misunderstood.
From my experience, many of us are not taught to deal with grief. Whether that’s loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a pet, an identity - we are taught to avoid uncomfortable emotions. In a huge generalization - if they can’t be ignored, pushed down, drowned out - we often default to anger and aggression, passive or otherwise, or silence. We’re not all like this, but even if it’s not those coping mechanisms specifically, many have other alternatives they will lean on that are just as detrimental or self destructive.
We’re seeing it play out in the world now. Domestic violence has increased (abc.net.au, news.un.org) people are lashing out at each other online and in the real world and in my experience, this aligns very closely with what I’ve seen in those living with fear of their own mortality or the mortality of others. But what the hell are we grieving?
For me, at different times of the 8 weeks, it’s been:
Normalcy of life
Anticipatory grief for loved ones who might get sick
Fear of dying
Fear of everyone I know dying
Fear of getting sick
For others it might be the same or others:
Anticipatory grief for loved one who are sick
Grief and mourning for loved ones who have passed
Fear of this situation never ending
Fear of dying
Fear of or actual loss of a job
Loss of identity from a job, career, community role
Fear/Anger/Frustration of working in an essential job
Loss of connection
These are just my personal thoughts on what it might be, and I am super privileged. I do not have the personal experience and emotions of those who are working on the front lines. Those who are working and putting their lives at risk because that is their job, or they can’t afford not to and/or their families depend on it.
For those of us who are open to understanding the grief, the loss, the fear we are experiencing right now - either at a global scale, or within your own little bubble - I have found the following to be helpful at allowing my emotions and keeping me sane and able to deal with the comparatively discomforts I’ve experienced:
When these small moments of anxiety, anger, frustration come up - try welcoming the emotions. Different therapists use different terminology such as sit with them, allow them, open to it. In my opinion - all the same thing. Supposedly sensations related to our thoughts and emotions will usually pass in about the 90 seconds *. I know from my experience giving them space usually allows them to move on.
If there is deeper loss, depression, sadness or sense of mourning/grief - please ask for help. Whether this is talking to a loved one you trust, an online community, or a help line. Australia: https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/get-help-home USA: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/
Forget productivity as a meme. For those in essential services and fighting for livelihoods, being told to be “more productive” during this time is obnoxious. For those of us “doing our bit at home” - demanding productivity is spiritual bypassing. You do you - this could include productivity - but shouldn’t have to.
Find something in your home, your external environment, that you relate to safety. Your locked door, food in the fridge, partner on the couch watching TV. Recognize that feeling of safety and recall it in times of anxiety, fear, sadness.
If you are finding the time alone challenging, or boring - maybe there are hobbies you can lean on, or something new you have been meaning to start. Considering everything right now, I think it’s perfectly okay to spend one day Netflixing and the other eating a whole block of chocolate - do whatever you need to do.
Obviously different approaches and self care practices help different people. These are not solutions, or preventative measures for this global pandemic. They’re also probably not unique to me, but they have given me some sense of grounding and safety at a time when this has been hard to come by.
Once I realized the correlations between grief and what I was feeling, I came back to my embodiment practices and daily meditation (as much as possible even if it’s 5 minutes). I’ve managed to find a somatic sense of safety in my body - which has grounded me. I’m no longer working from the perspective of heightened adrenaline pumping through my body. My nervous system has calmed and I can sense when I am building to anxiety and sometimes I can slow it.
I am offering free 30-40 minute meditation sessions focused on Somatic Safety - either individually or for small groups. If you think it might be helpful to you, or those you are confined with :) - please feel free to reach out below or schedule a time with me. There is absolutely nothing required in return - there is just very little else I can offer and I’d like to be of service where I can.
I’d like to thank all of those doing the hard work out there to keep the rest of us safe, protected and provided for. Thank you to all of those who are also helping everyone in every day in jobs that may have gone previously under-appreciated - healthcare workers, first responders, grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, postal employees, delivery drivers, sanitary workers, mothers, teachers, factory workers, mental health providers and so many more.
I hope you and your family remain safe at this time.
* 90 second rule: “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.
Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body it takes less than 90 seconds.
This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away.
After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.”
My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey (Jill Bolte Taylor).