I honestly never imagined that, two months after my last blog post, we would all still need to be social distancing. What a strange liminal world we are now living in. Still so much uncertainty, so many different roles many of us are playing from inside our own homes - which can be overwhelming! I believe many of us are also feeling trapped and lonely - since we are, in fact, mostly trapped inside our homes, and alone or exclusively with the members of our household. Virtual connection is an amazing resource but just isn't the same. As well, most of us cannot access many of the ways that we cope "behaviourally" - as in - the things we do and the places we go to feel better. Think: the gym, coffee shops, others' homes, places of worship. Many of us are also adapting in extraordinarily creative and resilient ways. Home offices in closets, Zoom everything. Also, Spring helps, eh?
Admist all of this, many of us have a low-level sense of sadness and grief that we may not be aware of - grief for all of the things we have lost during this time. I'm not just thinking about death, illness, and lost jobs - I am also thinking about loss of the seemingly little things: the ability to take our kids to the park, to go to the pool for a swim, to meet a friend for a cup of coffee. Missed opportunities to gather for any number of holidays, celebrations, funerals even. The loss of the ability to touch another human being - or the loss of the ability to get some space when we are "touched out."
From an emotion theory perspective, allowing and feeling our feelings lets us work through them. If we let ourselves feel our grief during this time, we have more space to be present for the things that we do have, to feel gratitude for the ways that this time has offered unexpected gifts - perhaps a slower pace of life, extra time for hobbies, or daytime family meals.
Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned to block our feelings, to criticize ourselves for having hard feelings like sadness or loneliness. These are "meta-critic" voices that have evolved to prevent us from getting overwhelmed by feeling, that have learned that feelings can be scary or troublesome. That try so hard to "fix it" so that we don't have to feel the hard thing. Paradoxically, when we can be compassionately present with our feelings, we don't drown in them, we move through them.
For those of us who are "helper types" or have histories of compulsive helping behaviours, one meta-critic voice that you may be experiencing right now is the following one: "How could you possibly let yourself feel your loss of your swimming pool, child-care, daily routine, [insert "small" loss here] when other people have it so much worse?" Please don't confuse this critic voice - and its resulting emotional impact of shame - with true compassion for others. Rather, it functions to block our own feelings of grief for what we have lost.
If we block our grief over these very real (and hopefully temporary) losses that we are all experiencing via the virus and social distancing, we waste energy fighting our internal experiences. It's harder to be present for our more primary feelings of compassion, empathy, and sadness for all who are suffering right now. And we lose the capacity to be grateful for what we do have. If we fight our feelings, we typically fight them all - the more "desirable" ones with the harder ones.
If you do have a part of you that comes up when you have a feeling - and has a feeling ABOUT that feeling - try to notice and name that part! For example, you start feeling sad that you can't go hang out with friends or family. You then notice a part of you that gets annoyed or scared that you feel that way - or says - others have it so much worse! Try simply naming that part, that "meta-critic voice". This can help make space for the underlying feelings of sadness and grief.
And if you can allow yourself to arrive at your sadness or grief, try saying Hello to it (as Ann Weiser Cornell teaches). Then try validating it - "Of course you are feeling this way - you have real - even if small - loses to be sad about!" Finally, see if you can get curious about what it feels like in your body.
For me, this can look like sometimes allowing myself to pass by parks that have been taped up - rather than avoiding them. This evokes my sadness that my little one can't play in them right now. At times, when I feel like I have the internal capacity, I allow myself to dip into the sadness, to experience the subtle frown of my mouth and sinking feeling in my core. This lets me move through my feelings - rather than getting stuck in them or wasting energy trying to avoid them. It also frees me up to also be present and grateful for the the ways my baby can still play.