I'm not religious...
But the other day I found myself praying and pouring my emotions out into the universe. You see, I grew up in a conservative home where religion was the centerpiece of our daily life. I won’t go into extensive detail, but as a gay man, let’s just say my experience was not fully positive. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t receive anything from my experience. Prayer was one of the rituals we practiced daily in my home and I still do it to this day. There is something therapeutic for me in accepting things I cannot control and placing hope in a higher power. Of course, everyone will have their own opinion, but it works for me. Why am I talking about prayer in an article about COVID-19? Well because we are all dealing with the current situation in a variety of different ways. Some healthy and some unhealthy. Regardless, we are all just trying to manage and cope.
For the most part, this past month and a half has been emotionally exhausting for me as I’m sure it has been for many of you reading. I’ve gone back and forth between grieving and gratitude. Some days feel short, while others feel like they will never end. As a mental health professional, I can say that I am blessed with a variety of tools in my toolbox that help me cope. Yet, at the same time, I am a human first and sometimes even my expansive set of tools are ineffective. This is alright though, I’ve learned as part of my work that it’s ok to not be ok sometimes. This has relieved me of so much pressure from the idea that I need to be ok. Currently, I am working with patient’s day by day and hour by hour. Over and over I hear the same worry, fear, and hope from my patients that I am feeling myself. At first, I thought this was a negative thing for the same reason I thought I had to be ok because I am a therapist. I quickly realized that what has been making my skills and work so effective in the last month and a half is that I am also going through the collective trauma we are all experiencing.
I worry about my health, my family, my partner, and the future…
Worry is nothing new to me either. As someone who is continuously healing from trauma and anxiety, I have learned to embrace my mental health challenges and accept them as part of myself. This isn’t always easy and there are days where I can’t stop thinking about how things will turn out. The truth of the matter is that no one knows. We are experiencing such a high level of unknowns that it can be difficult to feel grounded on some days. However, the beautiful thing about the current situation is that we may not have control over what is happening, but we do have control over other areas of our lives. These are the areas I have begun to place my focus on.
Repeat after me:
I have control over…
- My perspective
- My self-care
- My contact with family and/or loved ones
- My attitude
- My media consumption
- My limits and boundaries
- My beliefs
- My coping strategies
- My ability to practice gratitude (keeping a gratitude journal)
Grieving the loss
Loss and grief are two areas I struggle with. As I mentioned above, I am someone who experiences high anxiety and this can make situations where I don’t have control feel scarier than normal. Loss and grief are such complex, unique, and personal experiences that it can be hard for me to sit with my feelings. My first instinct when I am working with someone who is going through the process of grief and loss is to want to make them feel better. Yet, as an ever-evolving therapist/person I have learned to stop myself and instead honor the experience. Being a witness is an honor and a privilege I do not take lightly. My own experience with grief and loss is limited to losing some of my beloved pets. I have only experienced the loss of a single loved one so far and the initial feeling was so unbearable that I cry to this day when I sit and think about them. Losing someone, however, is not the only form of grief and many of us are experiencing it now. We are grieving the loss of plans, celebrations, experiences, amongst other things. Grieving regardless of the type is nonlinear and can take us from one emotional response to the next without any order. The world has changed and there is no denying that things will be different going forward for all of us. This loss of what used to be can feel daunting and heavy. The best thing we can do is honor the experience and allow ourselves to go through the process. There is a great article I read recently about grief that helped and you can find it by clicking here.
Holding on to hope
When I was in middle school one of my favorite classes had a whole segment on Greek and Roman mythology. One of my favorite stories was always Pandora’s Box. The idea that even though the box held so much pain and sadness it also contained hope. The idea of hope is not exclusive to a religion or even a particular philosophy. Instead, it is an innate experience we all possess. It’s this idea that even when we are surrounded by darkness, light is never far away. Yes, we can lose hope, but even the word “lose” means that it can be found again. I leave you all with one of my favorite quotes about hope to send you light and love.
“Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul And sings the tune without the words And never stops at all.”