“I have to remind myself that this is happening when I wake up in the morning,” a parent said to me during our tutoring progress update phone call. A routine call, but nothing routine about the circumstances of today.
But doesn’t this feel familiar somehow? The mornings, when you first wake up peacefully unencumbered by thoughts but then smacked in the face with reality–these mornings are not new, right? We’ve felt it before. It’s the same feeling the morning after a loved one dies, after a breakup, after some life-altering news. It’s when the weight of the world comes crashing down onto your chest, pinning you to the middle of your bed like a tack. Yep, welcome back, grief.
Grief and I are familiar friends. He comes to visit every so often, and he never forgets. I am no stranger to things being cancelled and having to stay home. When I have a reaction or my symptoms flare, I can’t do the things I want to do. I have to rest and take care of my body. And those feelings of denial, anger, and sadness for my situation is grief, my friends. And it happens over and over for me, because my illness is, in fact, chronic.
It’s weird to see the world now experiencing the same sort of grief I regularly experience. Now the world is in a collective experience. While I was just alone in my grieving (or alone with other chronically ill people), this is something everyone is experiencing at the same time. And so with collective experiences, there is support in our collective struggle–a special kind of camaraderie that comes with going through hard times together. Remember that.
And while this is new to everyone else, this is nothing new to me or other chronically ill people. While we tend to have a disadvantage in the regular world, we actually have an advantage in this new one: coping skills. We can use the resilience we’ve built and strength we’ve learnt from our struggles to get through these next months, because there are, no doubt, hard times ahead.
But ableds, I am not discounting your experience right now. And neither I am saying this is a walk in the park for me or any other chronically ill person. There are many more layers in this situation.
I do remember how hard it was to rest and stay home/in bed when I first started getting sick though (and how hard it is to do the same when I have a flare up after a period of good health now). Most of my identity and worth before I got sick came from my productivity. So who was I if I could not be productive? What a slippery thing to base my worth and identity off of. I needed to reassess my beliefs and craft my identity around less precarious factors than productivity and work. So I came up with this: I have worth inherently because I am a being, no matter my contributions. I am me because of what I like and love. (Notice “doing” is not part of any these statements.)
This is not to say basing worth off of just being is easy. In fact, it’s very hard. And most of the time, I forget this truth. Our entire society is based off of working and being productive. We learn at a young age that doing and achieving is the goal. And just being is seen as lazy. But why? Do we even know why?
So during this time, we don’t need to be super productive. We don’t need to use the extra time we have to work extra hours or do extra housework. We can just be. That is enough.
And when we’re just being and sitting in this stillness, we can actually feel our emotions. We feel the loss of those cancelled plans, our normal routine, our loved ones we cannot see in person. We feel the sadness and anger seep into our souls.
And we could shun these feelings and go back to working or cleaning or any other form of busying ourselves away from the pain. But pain doesn’t go away just because we don’t want to feel it. In fact, the harder we try to avoid our feelings, the bigger those feelings become. They just build up inside of us.
So what’s the solution? Feeling it all. Feeling the bad, the hard, the sad. We have to sit in that silence and stillness and let those feelings come. We need to cry, punch a pillow, and scream into the air. And that sounds horrible, right? Yeah, and it will be. It’s not fun. But, by feeling all those feelings, we free up our inner space. We empty ourselves of anger and sadness, so there are openings for happiness and joy.
This is a living loss. A loss that keeps going, without a known end. And it sucks, but it will be okay. There were so many of us already living this before the pandemic, and now there will be many more joining our ranks. Just like anything that is new, it will be hard at first. But with patience, living through these losses will get easier (and you will get stronger).
The world needs to grieve, and grieve, and grieve some more. We need to feel, even though it’s hard. And it will be a cycle.
Just like it always is//