The recent month has brought a lot of uncertainty to our lives.
There have been dates given and then those dates pass and we are left with nothing.
I think the hardest part is the uncertainty of it all. If we had dates that everything would be opening and life would start to feel manageable again, I believe we would feel differently. Sometimes I feel like a puppet on a string being told to not wear masks, now wear masks, social distance but stay in your house, be prepared but don’t hoard, support local but don’t go to the stores if you don’t need to.
Remember my “emotional whiplash” from a few articles ago? Do you feel it? I know I do. Not being in control and feeling that things are very uncertain leads to many negative feelings. It’s important to talk about these feelings and not bottle it up.
I would define what I have been feeling as grief. We generally associate grief with death or loss. This entire month of experiencing COVID-19 has been a loss to everyone. People have postponed weddings, have not celebrated milestone birthdays or have in very untraditional ways and sports, school and businesses have been shut down. These are significant, out of the blue, unprepared losses to the people experiencing them. The stages of grief are shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression and acceptance or hope.
Sound familiar? I have experienced every one of these stages since March 13th. It’s weird to compare what is happening with COVID-19 to the someone’s emotions over the loss of someone they love. Really, though, what I have been experiencing sure is grief. Sometimes it helps to put a name to it. Sometimes it helps to define what it is your feeling and sometimes it helps to talk about it.
When COVID-19 started I really was in disbelief. I thought this was a total over-reaction to what was happening. I was shocked that the schools were on hold, I was shocked that sports were delayed in starting, I was shocked that businesses were closed and that all of sudden we had labels for people and businesses as “essential”. I believe I was in denial and just told myself to not pay attention to the news and it will just go away as a big prank and over-reaction that I labeled it as to begin with. I just relied on the dates the government kept pushing things until to be when life would restart again. It didn’t go away. In fact, it just got worse. The word “indefinite” became common place. Schools cancelled for the year. Spring sports were done before they really began. Businesses were closed “indefinitely”. I actually found myself saying out loud, “I will pack everyone’s lunches for the rest of the year if we can have school back in session”. That would be bargaining. If you know me, packing lunches was the thing I really hated the most. Guess what? I would give anything to be able to pack Drew’s lunch again, as the last time I packed it on March 13th I didn’t know it was the last time, since he is going to college in the fall. I didn’t get to write my little note to him in his lunch that I knew I would be writing. Then came that dreaded guilt. I would scold myself for my self-pity when people are dying, families are truly mourning and people are in financial hardships. I would tell myself I have my job and my family has their health. I have absolutely no reason for feeling the way I am feeling. I got angry. I became angry with myself for being upset about all of this. I was angry that my first born was going to be robbed of all the things seniors get to do such as prom, skip day, making memories with his friends, going to his friend’s baseball games, graduation parties and graduation. I was angry that all his hard work may just result in a diploma arriving in the mail (I can be a little dramatic when I get angry, shocking to some, I know). I was angry that I wouldn’t get to experience all these things with him and through him. I was angry that I couldn’t see my friends. I am so used to seeing them whenever I wanted to and so used to our regular dinner gatherings. I was angry that I was angry and I was angry that I was being selfish. What a whirlwind of emotions since March 13th. Can you relate? I found myself crying, I found myself sleeping more and I found myself being irritable and touchy (or crispy, as I like to refer to myself when in this state). I denied it was depression but it was and is. Then I’ve been stuck. I was stuck because these stages just kept repeating themselves in different patterns. The one thing that has been missing from the equation was acceptance and hope. How am I going to accept something that currently doesn’t have an end in sight? How am I going to accept something that has completely changed and will continue to change my world? Can I have hope when everything feels on hold?
There are two things that have always helped me get “unstuck”. These are my faith and closure. I spoke a little about my faith in one of my last articles. I am so thankful for my faith. It is something that has been instilled in me at a very young age and is something that is with me no matter the situation and cannot be taken away because of a quarantine. It is something that continues to grow and help me daily. For me I “let go and let God”, that is what helps me to know that there are better days coming.
Closure for me has always been important, however, in this COVID-19 situation I don’t feel that closure is what I need. I am not in need of closing a chapter in my life to start something else. I am not in need of closing a piece of myself to help myself bloom into something else. I am not in need of proper goodbyes to not have regret, bitterness or anger later. However, our seniors are. They are in a delicate place in their lives where they are leaving their home base. They are leaving family. They are leaving friends. They are leaving their school. They are leaving the comfort they have had for 12 years in the education system. Closure for seniors comes from good-byes written in yearbooks, enjoying that last prom, getting those senior sports recognitions, taking the field for the last time and feeling the emotions at that moment, saying good-bye to teachers that have rooted for your success, taking that last walk around the hallways and reminiscing, leaving the school for the last time and experiencing the feelings at that moment, putting on that cap and gown and getting pictures with friends that have been in your life for what feels like forever, getting scholarships and awards that propel you forward to your dreams, walking across the stage in front of people that have cheered for you and have seen you work so hard for what you are reaching for and grasping, that high school diploma. Just for a moment, think back to your senior year and take away all the things I just mentioned and what is the feeling? My wish is that the seniors will get some closure from high school prior to going to college…goodbyes are important when moving on.
I have come to allow myself to feel what I’m feeling when I’m feeling it and to give myself a break. I check in with both my boys often to make sure they’re processing things okay (it’s not easy having a mom that’s a therapist) and they seem to be. I connect with my friends daily in our own unique ways. I keep my sense of humor in check and try to do things for others that will make my heart happy. I pray; a lot. I look for hope. I find blessings where I can such as the blessing of having this undivided time with my kids that I will never have again. I try to make the most of the situation given me.
My hope for you is that you find ways to lessen the impact this is having on you and your families. Please remember it is okay to not be okay and if your functioning starts to be impaired (not getting out of bed, crying more days than not, increase in substances, not eating, thoughts of self-harm) please reach out and talk to someone. Getting real with yourself in what you are feeling is so important. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Please be observant of and check in on your friends and family and if you feel they are struggling please be a support for them or get them help. It is a tough time for everyone and we need to be supportive and not judgmental on what others are struggling with. We are a community and the support I have witnessed during all of this makes me proud to live in Warren. Stay safe, I hope to see you soon and I will forewarn you, hugs will be a-coming!!
Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.