You’re not crazy. You’re living in crazy times.
We’re all figuring out how to function in a slightly cuckoo world
Scrolling through the photos on my phone, I noticed a real flower trend: magnolias down the road, daisies in the park, tulips. Where there used to be hikes, group dinners, a birthday, there are petals and leaves.
That doesn’t seem crazy. In fact, it seems healthy to acknowledge the blossoming beauty of spring. But what if flowers are my new friends? Since they’re the only ones I see every day now.
Insert psycho emoji. But aren’t we all going a bit off the wall? If you’re not feeling even a teensy bit of edginess or anxiety or melancholy… good for you, I guess? For everyone else, there are some ideas I found helpful.
1. “We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” (Brené Brown)
I miss group dinners and seeing friends in real life and hugging them. I miss hanging out in someone’s living room and hearing friends laugh (not over FaceTime or house party but in real life).
I also feel like I’m being self-indulgent thinking those things, when people are dying in hospital. But those deaths are part of that general sadness.
I miss the world before all of this happened. One where I woke up, went to work, had a thousand tiny interactions without wondering if someone had washed their hands or checked their temperature.
I used to feel silly for missing all the things I’m missing, but then I realised what (I think) Brené Brown meant: you can’t love something without being sad when you lose it.
By missing something, you’re acknowledging its value. If you’re shrugging off the void as if the absence means nothing, you’re implying the presence doesn’t matter either. Because if you can so easily live without that thing, did it really mean that much in the first place?
If you’re missing the life that took place outside your apartment, you’re acknowledging that you enjoyed that life. So of course you miss it. And as Brené Brown recently said about navigating anxiety during the coronavirus:
“We’re going to have to find a way to settle into this rhythm. The only way I can think about it is we have to grieve the loss of normal. At the exact same time, we’re trying to find our footing in a new normal.”
We are in the middle of the transition and we know we’re on volatile ground. Everyone has opinions and predictions and projections but nobody knows for sure how this will all land once the dust settles.
Meanwhile, it’s okay to miss the world before all of this happened, and to grieve for the loss. We’re wired to connect, to belong, to be in each others’ lives. To touch each other beyond a screen, and to celebrate and to work out and to eat together.
Mourning the new absences — whether it’s as tiny as the smell of a favourite cafe or as significant as the loss of a colleague — doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re human, designed for a richer collective existence than the one we’re currently in.
2. “Ambiguous loss… prevents resolution of the loss, and freezes the grief process.” (Dr Pauline Boss)
There were things I was really looking forward to before life got cancelled: seeing my family over Easter, a trip to the Alps, a potential hike in Scotland with one of my best friends. These days, I miss being able to make plans, especially without wondering if they’re futile.
Sometimes you lose things that are difficult to notice or define. Ambiguous loss is one that occurs without closure or clear understanding, goes a concept pioneered by Dr Pauline Boss:
“Ambiguous loss is an unclear loss that continues without resolution or closure. It is a relational rupture that can be physical or psychological.”
While she coined the term in her interdisciplinary study of family stress, it could also apply here. There was the world before coronavirus, and there will be a different world afterwards. There is a gap between the two.
And in that gap is ambiguous loss, which can result in frozen grief, a.k.a. ‘grief on hold, partial grief, suppressed grief’. When I googled ‘how to thaw frozen grief’ I came across this:
“The first step of thawing grief is to tell the story of your loss to safe and empathic people you trust. Sorrow needs to speak.” (Mary Anne Cohen)
Somewhere in the future, there will be holidays and hikes again. Someday, we’ll place our order with a waiter, say good morning to our colleagues, sing happy birthday, gather in person; but for now, we can only acknowledge that we miss those things and wait for this all to pass.
3. “Denial is the first of the five stages of grief™️. It helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial.” (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler)
Grief itself is a process, with five stages: “denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework”, according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler.
Right now, we’re all just figuring out how to function in a surreal world. Some people use productivity and positivity to cope, others just want to feel what they’re feeling in peace. I veer between the two realms, often in the space of a single hour.
For every home workout I’ve seen, I’ve also seen a quote about how it’s okay to be still right now. For every post preaching how to learn French/finish that screenplay/take up knitting; there’s a meme on how okay it is that we’re all going to emerge from this dumber/drunker.
I wish I grieved in a more graceful way: through dance, prayer, letter-writing, and so on. But instead I eat my body weight in Ben & Jerry’s while binging the entire sixth season of Sex and the City. Maybe that’s my way of moving through denial?
For now, what I took away from the ideas is this: we’re not crazy. We’ve living in crazy times.
Maybe the thing we’re trying to run away from — the fact that we’re in this totally insane situation — is a logical reason for feeling insane. Perhaps what’s causing us to feel off-kilter is the ambiguous loss of things that matter to us, which we need to let ourselves grieve in order to move on.