Unprocessed grief and fear can lead us to not only hurt ourselves, but everyone around us. That’s especially true right now as the whole world is experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic itself is deadly enough, but a close second is how we are all handling fear. We’re not just afraid of the Coronavirus and all of the new, confusing symptoms of Covid19. We’re afraid of each other. The ironic things is that we’re hurling insults at each other about fear.
One person says wearing a mask means you’re afraid, and you shouldn’t be afraid!
Another person says carrying a gun means you’re afraid, and you shouldn’t be afraid!
I think a great place to start when it comes to getting a handle on all of this is to acknowledge that we are all afraid, just not of the same things. It was true before, and it’s an urgent truth to wrap our heads around now.
Let’s Not Work Out Our S#%t Out on Each Other
For those of us not working feverishly on a vaccine, there is a way we can help. It’s not easy, but it’s important. It might just save your life in the long run. (Have I made this enough of a dramatic reveal?)
The thing we can all do right now to change our world is to face our emotions and to work through them instead of taking them out on others.
You might be thinking, “what could my emotions possibly have to do with anything that’s happening in the world right now?” Well, a lot of things. If you’ve been on social media lately, you might notice the widening cultural divides, the name calling, spiteful rhetoric, videos of people fighting over mask rules – so many things. You might not be out there doing those things, but hear me out.
I’m a huge fan of Brené Brown. One thing she says all the time punches me in the gut every time I hear it. She says, “When you don’t acknowledge your vulnerability, you work your shit out on other people.”
We’ve all been guilty of it at one point or another. Do you ever have a bad day, then come home and blow up at your spouse over nothing? It sounds like a common, seemingly small thing, but those kinds of behaviors can blow up relationships and ruin lives. What it comes down to is that when we don’t have the courage to be vulnerable with ourselves and courageously work through the things that are bothering us, we’ll blow up even more of our lives, and the lives of others.
We’ve All Lost Something
Everyone has a different version of the Coronavirus story happening to them right now. Some of us are frontline workers. Some have had Covid-19 and are on the long road to recovery. Some are lying in an ICU on a ventilator right now. Some have lost a close friend or family member. Some are stuck at home with their own thoughts for the first time, and everything that’s brought meaning to their lives is out there somewhere with no guarantee it will return.
We’re all afraid. We’re afraid to be out of work too long, afraid to go back to work, afraid of going grocery shopping, afraid if we ask someone to keep their distance they’ll punch us in the face. It’s a real thing. It’s insane, and it’s the world we currently live in.
All of us – whatever your politics, your culture, whatever. This is happening to us all. Yes, I’m talking to you too. And before you say, “well, I’m very fortunate because I haven’t had to deal with…” STOP that. It’s very beautiful and noble of you to want to go there. But be careful.
The Danger of Minimizing Your Pain
On 9/11 I lived in New York City. When friends or people from home would call to ask if I was ok, of course I said “absolutely yes.” Thousands of people were dead. Families lost loved ones. Witnesses on the streets would be scarred for life. Me? Feel bad? No way! What did I have to feel bad about? Other people were entitled to their feelings, but I couldn’t even acknowledge mine without feeling strangely guilty.
Fast forward to 2006. back in California, I attended a 9/11 remembrance at my church. Something finally snapped. In the middle of the service, I felt it come on like a tidal wave of grief. I had to run out of the service and cry – I mean really cry – for the first time in five years. I have very little memory of those five years. They play back in my mind now in blurry black and white.
My mom came out to find me and asked me to tell her what I lost on 9/11. I blubbered back my usual “nothing… nothing compared to…” and she stopped me. She asked me what I lost – me – What did I lose? Well, there were a lot of things that happened as a result of 9/11 that directly affected me, but I stuffed them all.
Let Your Emotions Take Up Space
I believe that in the beginning, I meant well. I didn’t want to take up space or ask for help when so many others were hurting so much. So, during those five years I lived as a shadow person – a shadow of myself. Those stuffed emotions surfaced occasionally as anger. I was hurting myself and I certainly wasn’t easy to live with, which hurt my family and friends.
When I see all of the anger and videos of people brawling on the floor of a Target over the mask rule, it reminds me of Brené Brown’s words. “When we don’t acknowledge our vulnerability, we work our shit out on other people.”
Just imagine, instead of a city full of people directly affected by a tragedy, like after 9/11, the whole world is going through a trauma. And your part is no smaller than anyone else’s. And if the whole world is filled with pent up emotions, well, it’s not going to help matters at all. So we start small – start with ourselves and our families and friends. We start by being there for ourselves and each other.
Just imagine, instead of a city full of people directly affected by a tragedy, like after 9/11, the whole world is going through a trauma. And your part is no smaller than anyone else’s.
Emotional Hygiene For Our Really Scary Time
Sometimes it’s harder to be there for ourselves than it is for other people. It’s going to take a lot more courage and vulnerability to face the future today than it did a few months ago. But here are five things you can do today to help yourself and ultimately help the people around you as well.
1. Talk to someone you love. That person might be the person you’re most likely to snap at. Sit down, whether it’s over Zoom or someone you’re locked down with and ask each other what you’ve lost – what you’re grieving – what you miss the most about the time before the lockdown and what you’re most afraid of. It’s a conversation that will help deepen your relationship at a time when you might otherwise struggle.
2. Talk to yourself through journaling. If you can’t or don’t want to talk about your feelings with others, journal it. Just get it out somehow. Even this takes courage. You might cry while you’re writing. You might get angry. Whatever happens, one valuable resource that can help you deal with your emotions is Meditation with RAIN from Tara Brach. On TaraBrach.com/rain there are resources to help you begin to recognize and identify your emotions, learn to accept them, investigate where they’re coming from and learn to have compassion on yourself as you work through them.
3. Get therapy. If you’re really struggling, seek out a professional. If your insurance doesn’t cover it or you can’t afford it, I’ve heard great things about Better Help, the app. For a monthly fee that’s about the same as one therapy appointment, you get weekly sessions and the ability to text your therapist. It might still seem like a lot of money at a time like this, but if you’re really struggling, remember you’re doing this so you don’t blow up your relationships, yourself, your future. It’s worth it. I wish I’d done that before 2006 to work through my experience after 9/11. (By the way, PlayGrounding has no affiliation with Better Help or anything else mentioned on this page. I just think they’re great.)
4. Watch Brene Brown’s Netflix Special, The Call to Courage. It’s so worth it. Trust me.
5. Write to me. I’m in this boat too. I’m not a therapist, but we can be quarantine buddies. You can reach me at kara (at) playgrounding.com. I’ll write you back.
Taking these kinds of steps will help you be a part of the solution in this broken, angry time. When you’re out in the world or scrolling through social media and someone says something that makes your blood boil, remember, that person is scared too – just like you. They’re probably scared of different things than you are, but to them, those things are just as frightening as your fears are to you. So let’s do the work that will help us be the kind of people who respond with grace in the face of fear. It’s worth a shot.