This week marks my first full week of being at home. It’s been strange and surreal, to say the least. A great article has been floating around social media this week by the Harvard Business Review that talks about grief (and there have been many others published since addressing this topic).
I don’t think that I had consciously identified that feeling until I came across the article. But it was kind of a breakthrough in understanding myself and a lot of what is happening in society right now.
I also saw another great quote from an Instagrammer that I follow who said, “Emotions can coexist.” I’ve seen a lot of people grappling with this idea that you can be both disappointed and hopeful. You can be angry and sad, but still take pleasure in the slow-down of life. Those things are not mutually exclusive.
I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder as a teenager, which stems from a lack of control and includes deep-seated health anxiety, and I know that complicates things even further. This is definitely a situation I am not in control of in the grand scheme of things, and that heightens every emotion I would normally feel right now. The HBR article also mentioned the idea of anticipatory grief, meaning that the uncertainty of the future makes you feel as if something bad is right around the corner. It has been very jarring to see the rest of the world feeling collectively, for the first time, what I feel every single day from the time I wake up until I go to sleep. I am literally always anticipating the worst, assuming that plans will fall through for one reason or another or that things won’t work out the way I hope they will. I once described my brain as a Final Destination movie to a friend. His response was an incredulous “How do you even get up in the morning?” to which I responded, “Yeah, it’s not easy.”
I want people to understand that platitudes about being in the moment and letting go of things you can’t control don’t really work for people like me. We have to be allowed to be both sides of the coin. We have to be able to feel what we’re feeling in order to process it. (Ask my husband. I have the worst poker face when it comes to emotions, and I can’t let anything go until I’ve talked it to death.)
If those things do work for you, that’s wonderful. If you are able to be in the moment and let go, that is totally fine. But please don’t expect everyone else to do the same. For me, I need to examine those negative emotions. And sometimes it takes a while. And sometimes, even when I’m processing and analyzing, I can still be feeling positive emotions. Some would call this a tendency to dwell on things, and maybe that’s what it is. But given enough time, I can move past it. It’s when I feel that I’m being rushed through someone else’s timeline of feeling a certain emotion that I start to feel frustrated. I will let things go when I am ready, but until then, I just need like one person to fully listen. No advice, no judgment. Just listen. I find that letting myself live in those feelings gives me a greater understanding of myself, and in the long run, actually helps me find ways to cope with my anxiety because I understand where it’s coming from.
As an exercise here today, I’m going to list some of the things I’ve been grieving and also some of the things that are helping me cope. If this would help you process right now, I encourage you to do it too.
Things I’m Grieving the Loss Of
- Programs/Work – I’ve talked about this a lot, both here and with loved ones. My primary job is programming. I put my heart and soul into that work. Seeing it gone in a matter of days has been difficult.
- Daily interactions with people – I tend to identify as an introvert when asked, and my Meyers-Briggs type just barely puts me on the introvert side of the spectrum. But truly, I think I am more of an ambivert, and I do rely on my relationships with others to energize me. I love my coworkers and our patrons and have great relationships with them based on professional trust and a weird sense of humor. Losing those day-to-day interactions has left me feeling a little hollow.
- A feeling of purpose – Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always said that I just want to make a difference in the world. I feel like I am able to do that in my job. But that is a lot more difficult now that I’m stuck at home with limited resources.
- Structure – In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m a hyper organized person (I honestly think that I also have undiagnosed OCD which I can sometimes channel into productive energy). I love schedules and lists and calendars. Most of that has been rendered irrelevant now, and I find myself lacking the self-discipline I need to get things accomplished.
- Upcoming projects and social gatherings – Some friends and I were looking forward to starting a pop culture podcast together. Some other friends and I were hoping to get together to practice for Shakespeare in the Park auditions this year. My husband and I were hoping to host a game night soon. All of these things have been put on hold for the foreseeable future.
- Anticipatory grief – I’ll put these all under one bullet point, but I’ve been feeling this kind of grief about a lot of things. The most immediate thought is “What if I catch coronavirus?” Health anxiety makes this thought absolutely horrible since stories of the severity of the virus seem to be all over the place. I’ve been wondering about the status of upcoming events that I love, such as the Tennessee Renaissance Festival in May and our summer reading program. My heart breaks to think of taking a year off from these things or them being drastically altered to the point that they don’t resemble what I’ve always known and loved. I also worry daily about the availability of groceries over a prolonged period of social distancing and panic buying.
Things That Are Helping Me Cope
- I am looking into online alternatives for the programs I had already planned at the very least. If they are successful, who knows? Maybe I’ll do more!
- I am finding new ways to connect. We have been utilizing Zoom for work meetings and talking about using it for personal meetups as well. I’ve been interacting with friends on Animal Crossing: New Horizons almost every day. I sent a video message to our staff and one to my Librarians-in-Training to check in. Email, texting, and social media have become lifelines. There are still some people I’m missing, but the connections are there.
- Looking at alternative ways to provide access to resources during this time has made me feel a sense of purpose. I’m also thankful that I have this blog, as well as some other work-related side projects that can be worked on anywhere, anytime.
- As we are starting to navigate this new work-from-home environment, I actually have a few Zoom meetings written in my calendar and some daily to-do lists for projects that were either already in the works or have come up since closing. The structure is different, but it’s slowly taking shape.
- I’m already trying to figure out if friends have time to try Zoom or some other videoconferencing medium for fun projects. Hopefully, we will be able to talk about those things or find alternative ways to take part in them.
- I’ve been spending a lot of time outside to deal with the anticipatory grief. There’s not much else I can do for it. Those thoughts are always there. They are definitely louder at certain times, but I find that I worry less about those things when I am outside. I’ve been trying to go for a walk, work in the yard, or at least venture outside for just a few minutes to see what’s blooming every day.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for indulging me and for being a person who listens. These are weird and interesting times we are living in. I think there’s the potential for a lot of good to be accomplished because of it, but it doesn’t change the fact that things are uncertain and even, at times, frightening.
I know this post isn’t super library-related, but I want you to know that whatever you are feeling right now is valid. And if you need to reach out to someone, please do. We are all looking for human connection more than ever right now (except for some of those true introverts, maybe, like my husband). Feel what you need to feel and find a healthy outlet for it. Grieving looks different for every person, and maybe after all of this, we will truly understand that.