Editor’s note: This is a guest column by Detroit life coach Monica Marie Jones. For more about Jones, read our profile on her, check out her website, and check out our Facebook Live Q&A with her from April 10.
Four days after moving into the home of my dreams with the partner of my dreams, I cried. Unfortunately, these weren’t tears of joy. Immediately, I began to judge myself. How dare I feel anything but gratitude for receiving what I’d always hoped for? Unsure about what to do with these unwelcome emotions, I sat still, alone in a dark corner of my closet that I’d repurposed into a peaceful place to think, write, and meditate. What was this foreign feeling that was penetrating my well-being?
It was grief.
I released the wave of heaviness that had crashed onto the shores of my soul by writing two simple sentences in my journal.
I am grieving the loss of my independence.
I am grieving the loss of being able to celebrate a major milestone in my life.
When we hear the word grief, we often associate it with extreme loss such as the death of a loved one. But loss is loss, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, and with loss, comes grief.
Think about all of the things you’ve lost in the last several weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. People have lost loved ones, income, and their health. Allowance for grief seems obvious and understandable in these instances. What we’ve failed to make space for is grieving all of the other losses that have occurred simultaneously. Being able to do the simple things that sustained our sanity have ceased. Many of us can no longer exercise or attend classes at our favorite gym, give or receive hugs, high fives and handshakes, or spend quality time with family and friends. We’ve been forced to carry on in the absence of routines, structure, school, child care, graduations, proms, weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations, and vacations.
When we aren’t aware of what we are feeling, challenging circumstances may cause the figurative formation of protective scar tissue around our hearts, which make us immune to certain emotions. But, if it hasn’t already, the impact of the collective global pain that we are all experiencing in the wake of this pandemic will crack our feeling-proof fortresses wide open. Suddenly, we will be left feeling everything, exposed to more intense emotions than we’ve ever felt before.
Many of the well-intentioned coping mechanisms that have been suggested on social media are challenging to try when fear and anxiety have deactivated our motivation to take action. With that in mind, here are some alternative strategies that might work for you.
Sing. Loss is a form of trauma. When we experience trauma, the brain reacts and we either fight, take flight, or freeze. Singing opens up your chest (heart and lungs), mouth, and throat. This stimulates the branches of the vagus nerve, which is the part of your brain that orchestrates relaxation and self-soothing. It sends a signal to our body and brain that the threat is over and it’s OK to return to calm.
Stop self-shame. After deeper internal exploration of my feelings about my new home with the love of my life, I realized that I was also experiencing guilt. How dare I feel joy during a time when so many others are experiencing pain? The truth is that your feelings are your feelings and they belong to you and you alone. It is perfectly OK to feel whatever you are feeling. Trying to suppress your feelings will only cause them to pop up somewhere else that may cause harm to yourself or others if not properly processed. Feel what you feel down to the last drop. While you’re at it, free yourself from feeling compelled to do all of the things you would do on a normal day. Life is not normal right now.
Savor your senses. We often take our senses for granted. Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 include losing your sense of smell and taste, so cherish these abilities if you still have them. Ground yourself in your favorite space in your home or yard and ask yourself the following questions:
What’s one thing I can see?
What do I smell?
What do I taste at this moment?
What is one thing I can touch or feel?
What is one thing I can hear right now?
Say goodbye. Create a closure ceremony for the things and people you never got to give a proper farewell. Write a note to express how much they meant to you. Say what you wish you could have said if you had the chance.
Give yourself grace for grief. Acknowledge it, allow it, and release self-imposed guilt or shame. Grant yourself permission, space and all of the time you need to feel your feelings. Offer gratitude for all that is not lost, including you. You are still here, and you are not alone.