For some time now, our entire relational and physical world has shifted indoors — no longer can we enjoy the freedom of a simple visit to a café, walking around aimlessly, or visiting our friends. We have had to create citadels within our homes, a fortress that protects us from the fear and uncertainty of stepping outside.
Although we feel safe in the comfort our homes, we are simultaneously craving to retain some familiarity in our lives, searching for small doses of normalcy while surfing the high tides.
Social distancing, shelter at home, 6 feet apart have become defining features of our lives now. While this invisible threat of coronavirus lingers in the air and in the uncertainty of interactions at grocery stores and walks, and as hugs and kisses have become weaponized, I can’t help but wonder the havoc this presents for our mental health, too.
As most of us sit in our homes, safe from the physical world of interactions, we are now experiencing a plethora of unfamiliar emotions. There are periods of highs and lows, and various frequencies within those highs and lows. Some days I feel thankful for the chance that quarantine has provided me with: to reconnect with family, friends, expand my creative outlet, read, etc; but other days, the stream of doom and gloom resurfaces to the top, and I am left wondering what our adaptation to this new world means. Or, what the world will be like after this, and when that after arrives, will we be revert back to our carefree selves, celebrating the end of 6 feet apart, or will we indulge in small doses of freedom,whilst living our lives in shadows, fearful of the ball to drop again?
The boundaries we live within have never been more fluid, we are working where we are living, and living where are working. The couch isn’t just for our leisure anymore, it’s where we send those emails, zoom, and maybe even pass out from exhaustion.
For families with little children, they have to adapt on a whole new level, as the lines between parenting, learning, teaching, working, has all become encapsulated into one space. For people far away from loved ones, the physical distance can feel terrifying, as they now have to wonder what would happen if someone their loved one got sick, or if they got sick themselves. How will anyone reach the other, with borders closed? For those putting themselves on the front lines of the battle, the daily stress about catching the virus can soon turn into living under constant paranoia.
There are so many questions and concerns levitating all around us, specific to each individual, so it is no wonder we feel bogged down under the weight of it all.
Sometimes the weight of these emotions can feel confusing, you know you feel “off,” but you can’t just pinpoint it. In those times, I find it helpful to acknowledge what we feel.
There is a phrase that has accompanied me through a large part of my life, as an expatriate/third culture kid, you have to say a lot of goodbyes to people, places, and routines throughout your the early years of life. The phrase is called ambiguous loss. Ambiguous loss occurs when we have lost not just one identifiable thing, but when we have left behind so many familiar, intangible elements of the world that we knew. It could be a smell, sight, touch, sound, essentially any memento that became a part of your routine.
But right now, ambiguous loss isn’t confined to individuals, it is collective. The boundaries we live within have blended, and we are adapting our entire worlds in enclosed spaces. Through this process, we have lost the rhythm of normalcy. The normalcy looks different for everyone: someone may have lost the ability to spend a quiet cup of tea at home, without distractions from other people in the household, someone else may have miss talking to their coworker by their office coffee machine, and some of us may miss running errands outside on a Sunday afternoon. All seemingly normal things that contributed to a small part of our identity.
The collective grief we are facing from ambiguous loss means that each of our lives is being manipulated in circumstances that are out of anyone’s control. It also means we are in a rollercoaster ride of our own emotions from a day-to-day basis. Some days we are mourning the loss of normalcy, and others we are celebrating our adaptation to the new normal.
Perhaps another layer of stress that is creeping into the forts of our homes is anticipatory grief. This is also a feeling I have come across often in my life recently, months before when I lost my grandmother. It’s the feeling that you know something bad is eventually coming; it may not be there yet, but you can foresee it. It’s the feeling of impending loss. Right now, it’s the realization that our risk of losing loved ones is slightly higher than it would be otherwise. It’s a grim thought, but it is one that has crossed all our minds through this crisis.
The collective stress we are all facing together is similar to a wartime situation, when people were forced into hiding and and were restricted from leaving their homes. This time, the big brother is not the government or gestapos, but an invisible weapon that potentially anyone could be carrying.
So, in the face of these uncontrollable circumstances, what can we do to mitigate the burden of uncertainty? I am certainly no expert, but here’s what I have found to be somewhat helpful:
- Do something to treat yourself: whether it’s through food or entertainment, it’s important we attempt to cheer ourselves up.
- Remember that you don’t have to come out of this crisis with a new skill, rapid inner transformation, or anything like that. Focus on adapting to each day as it comes.
- We may be experiencing grief, fear, and irritation, but elevating ourselves with hope, gratitude, and some humor can lighten your day.
- Try to distract yourself from the news. It’s good to stay informed, especially about what’s happening in your local community, but it’s a slippery slope, so it’s helpful to limit it to once a day. We are what we give our attention to.
- Consider calling people, especially while doing mundane actives like cleaning and cooking. This can help add normalcy and connection to your life. Growing up, my family always gave each other company while we cleaned the kitchen, or cooked, and that made the seemingly mundane chores more fun. Recently, a good childhood friend of mine and I have been calling each other every day, and just the other day, doing the dishes felt a lot better while face-timing with her.
Above all, remember that these are unprecedented times for each of one us, and there is no hack to rise above this. Each day is different. You may be having a stable day today, but you could wake up tomorrow with heightened anxiety. Similarly, you could be having a difficult day, and wake up tomorrow feeling calm and hopeful.
If it is possible to collective grieve together, it is also possible to collectively rise together.