By Karly Stilling
Photo taken by the author at the Olafur Eliasson ‘In Real Life’ exhibit at the Tate Modern
These days are wild. Make sure you take care of yourself.
Like much of the world, I’m currently self-isolating in my flat with my partner, working from home and going out only for exercise and essentials. Sometimes it feels weird and terrifying, and sometimes it feels normal.
When I checked in with Jo and Hannah to see how they’re is doing with the crazy end times we’re living in, I realised we’re all in the same boat.
“I keep swinging between severe anxiety and enjoying being quiet,” Hannah wrote.
“Yeah it’s been a weird one,” Jo wrote back. “I freaked out on my brother today and now I’m chilling eating cookies.”
Mostly life is normal, but sometimes there are moments of panic that stop me in my tracks. Moments when I remember what is happening (A FREAKING PANDEMIC) and how uncertain everything is.
The experience is a familiar one. The circumstances might be different, but I recognise this as part of living with grief. I lost my father in 2013 after three years of cancer, and there is a lot from those days that comes back to me now.
In an interview published this week in the Harvard Business Review, David Kessler (co-author of On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross) spoke about the different layers of grief many people are struggling to cope with during this global pandemic.
“We’re feeling a number of different griefs,” he told reporter Scott Berinato. “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realise things will be different.”
On top of our grief at how things have changed, Kessler says we’re also experiencing anticipatory grief; that’s the feeling we get when we face a future full of uncertainty. We don’t know what will happen, but we anticipate that it will be bad.
Anyone who has experienced a serious illness, or seen a loved one go through one, will be as familiar with this kind of grief as I am. It’s what stops me in my tracks. It’s the grief that wells up and creates moments of panic before the normalcy of life and routine kick back in.
Not everyone has experienced this kind of grief before, so it can be helpful to name it. Recognising it gives us permission to feel it, and as Kessler points out, allowing ourselves to feel our grief is the best way to move past it.
So for anyone out there who is struggling to process the confusion and anxiety of life under a pandemic, here are a few tips for staying sane while staying safe.
Stick to a routine.
It’s important to get up, get dressed, act like you have somewhere to go even if you don’t. Otherwise life can start to lose its meaning.
Recognise that this is a difficult time and no one knows how to deal with it.
Let go of your expectations of yourself and others. Now is not the time for judgement. A lot of people are online talking about learning a new language, or finally tackling that project they’ve always wanted to do—and that’s great, but not everyone is going to feel like being productive during a time of such high stress.
As writer Hayley Nahman put it on Instagram, “you don’t have to ‘make the most’ of a global pandemic.” Do what feels good.
Pick your musical poison, blast it and LET LOOSE.
Take care of a pet. Or a plant.
Find something living that can share your newly home-bound existence.
Give in to gratitude.
I make it a point to focus on three things I’m grateful for every night. This is something I started doing before the pandemic and it’s made a huge difference in how I feel every day. Allow yourself space to feel grateful for the big stuff, and also for the small stuff. The other day I was grateful for farts.
I’m serious—I farted in bed and I was grateful for it. That’s the power of gratitude, it can take a stinky fart and turn it into something that reminds you how incredible your body is and how lucky you are to have it. That’s powerful stuff.
Take in the good along with the bad.
Sure, there’s a lot to be terrified about, but there are also amazing displays of humanity being shared around the world. Entire cities sharing songs, neighbourhoods making noise for healthcare workers, community groups springing up to help people. It’s strange, but I feel more a part of a community now that I’m being forced to stay inside than I ever did before out in the wide world.
My sister, my partner and I came up with Self-Isolation Bingo (which I won yesterday, yessss). Earlier this week, my partner’s friends held a pub quiz on Zoom with 10 teams taking part. This weekend, I’m having a Netflix watchparty/mani-pedi date with my sister. Find ways to keep yourself connected with your friends and family and have fun doing it.
Look for meaning.
In On Grief and Grieving, David Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outline the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance.
But Kessler also thinks there is a sixth stage—meaning—and he believes we will find meaning in this strange new reality.
“I had talked to Elisabeth quite a bit about what came after acceptance,” he told the Harvard Business Review. “I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times.”
“Even now people are realising they can connect through technology. They are not as remote as they thought. They are realising they can use their phones for long conversations. They’re appreciating walks. I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.”
If we need a bright spot, maybe that’s it. Maybe this pandemic is our chance to learn how to find meaning in the simpler acts.
In the meantime, stay safe and look after yourself.