Stages of Grief: Dealing With The Loss Of Normalcy During A Pandemic

When we first began down the road of this pandemic, most of us (me included) were convinced this wouldn’t be our life for as long as it has now been. There’s just no way we Americans, with all of our “smarts” and resources, would be taken down by a microscopic virus. Not now. Not with all the knowledge and we have about combating these exact epidemics.

But here we are.

It made me think of something I learned a while back… Have you ever heard of the stages of grief? It’s a process that everyone goes through when they are faced with loss. And this can be any kind of loss…people, pets, jobs, etc. In this case, it’s a lifestyle. The life we once knew is not the one we are currently living. Simple things like taking trips to the grocery store are now complicated experiences, filled with 6 feet of distancing, constant disinfecting, and repeated hand sanitizing.

There are five stages of grief and loss. But, before we get into that, it’s important for me to first stress that these steps aren’t linear, nor are they equal in intensity. You can go through these in practically any order and stay in each stage for any amount of time. There’s even a possibility of repeating stages. But, at any rate, I think we’re gliding through them all during this pandemic. I know I’ve been working my way through some.

Denial

So, how many of us thought this would be a week (maybe two at most) of interruption?

I was in complete denial of 1) how serious this was and 2) how unprepared we were for it. Some common expressions I had around the beginning of March was “This isn’t happening” and “This can’t be real”. I was really trying to process what was happening in the world around me and what it meant for me… and I just couldn’t get a grasp of it.

To be honest… I still sometimes have periods of just disbilief. Like the othere day when I decided I wanted to prtective style my hair and needed to gather up some things from the beauty supply store. I began to prepare to go. I got as far as brushed my teeth and found some comfy jeans and sweatshirt to wear before I remembered that all “non-essential” stores were closed…and this included my neighborhood beauty supply store.

Anger

That’s a perfect segway to this next stage. Anger is something I strive my damnedest to avoid. It’s just been my experience that nothing positive or productive comes from anger. And more importantly, there’s usually a different thing fueling the anger reaction such as disappointment, sadness, or pain. It’s typically best to figure out what the real reason is and address it before taking your anger to aggression.

After the first few weeks of social isolation and voluntary self quarantining, I began to feel a bit enraged. It was like a slow, low bubble of anger that presented itself in my mood and mental health. I realized that this tension was coming from the fact that I was being put in a situation that I had no control over. That feeling of no control in a regular situation is enough to cause distress, but pair it with the fear of unknowing that surrounded coronavirus… well, it became a mess of things.

Bargaining

It was somewhere towards the end of March that I noticed people were genuinely losing their minds. If not from isolation, from the lack of support we were getting from higher public officials. It was like no one knew what was going on or how to manage this type of crisis. So without personal support from family and friends (since we are social isolating) as well as public support from our government, things got chaotic.

This is where the bargaining began. In this stage, our helplessness forces us to start negotiating our situation in order to make things “better”. We say things like “If only we had been more prepared for the spread of a virus” or “If only we had taken action sooner” or even “If we had just elected officials who were better equipped we’d have better leadership during this time of uncertainty.”

Bargaining creates a false sense of control. We often focus on things we think could of been personally avoided when in reality, most of it is simply out of our individual (and sometimes collective) control. We have this assumption that if we made particular changes the events would have played out differently and better… and that’s not exactly true. We have no way of knowing what may have happened, all we know is what did.

Depression

Depression is the point when things start to get real. It presents itself in the form of sadness and regret and can be described as a phase of coping. What you can really benefit from during this time are reassurance and support.

I have been “quarantining” for about 6 weeks now. And, aside from my clinical depression (which has been taking so much energy to manage), my depression from this pandemic looks a lot like self-care Sunday every day and gathering relevant updates on the status of the virus in my city and state. It has become too overwhelming to hear how other countries are fairing or even how the entire United States is doing. It’s just too much. So, to combat that I’ve been doing a lot more grounding exercises (to help make me stay present) and practicing hella yoga.

Acceptance

When we’re done grieving there will be one thing, in particular, you will notice. We will have accepted the loss of our old normal and become at peace with the new one. And within our new normal we will be ready to adjust to living in a world that is significantly different, given our COVID-19 experiences.

Acceptance is not necessarily happiness.

To be at peace with something is when you no longer struggle with reality and stop trying to make a situation different. It’s when you move on with life in a way that supports the loss you’ve had. As it relates to COVID-19 and coronavirus, I see this as being a time of restructuring. Hopefully, when we’re on the other side of this crisis we’ll be able to reframe our thinking around staying healthy and safe.

We’re In This Together

Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience. No one can actually help you go through the process more easily or even understand all the emotions that you’re going through… but they can be there to offer support and comfort. The best thing we can do for ourselves in this unprecedented time is to feel all the feels. Get in there and be present with what’s going on within ourselves and work through it as best we can, when we can.

The one thing you can find comfort in is that we are all in this together. Sure, we’re all having unique reactions to the crisis, and we may even be facing different complications (work, food, mental health, etc.) but one thing remains certain… We’re all feeling it. So reach out and help others when you can and sit back and take care of your self when you need to.

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