That Feeling You've Had But Can't Name? It Could Be Grief
Published: April 29, 2020
I’ve been feeling a little off the past couple months. A strange feeling of loss snuck up on me, and it seems like there’s more and more to balance in my life. Things just don’t seem right.
It finally dawned on me that I’m experiencing grief.
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, people around the world are having deep feelings that may be new to them. They may find them confusing or challenging to work through. While these feelings may be disruptive, they’re normal. And for many people, there are effective ways to push back.
Grief is the process we go through after a loss. Usually we associate grief with the death of a loved one, but it really can be caused by any loss, large or small. A breakup, the loss of a job, moving away, not making the team, getting passed over for a promotion, forgetting how to make your grandma’s cookies – the list is endless.
We often experience one loss at a time. For example, when someone dies, you process that grief while the other parts of life continue or stay mostly stable (as much as they can when we lose someone we love). You pour a lot of energy into grieving, and as you begin to heal, you slowly turn attention back to the other parts of your life.
But what happens if another loss happens before you heal? Suppose a week later, you find out your employer is closing its doors. That’s a second loss that’s occurred before you’ve been able to process the first. This is known as compounded grief.
Perhaps a month later you fall and break your ankle. Your reduced mobility is another type of loss that potentially leads to more compounded grief.
Compounded grief complicates the grieving process, which can already be complicated.
Compounded grief is our new normal
You know that feeling when you can only juggle so much before it all comes crashing down? That’s how I’ve been feeling lately with the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day it seems there’s something else thrown our way, and we’re expected to find a way to carefully fit it into our lives.
Dealing with the resulting compounded grief is hard.
For example, I’ll seem to be OK and know I have enough experience with grief to work through it. Then, out of nowhere, a TV commercial or news report will make me cry, and I think, “What am I doing?” It could be compassion and empathy, both of which are healthy, normal responses – but nonetheless unexpected and confusing.
When you live your life feeling like you’re in control of it, it’s quite jarring to have it suddenly changed in so many ways. The sense of loss is profound. For me, it helps to acknowledge the losses I’ve had related to COVID-19. It helps to know it’s grief.
Why? Because grief I can understand. These feelings of craziness and unease I can’t.
Identifying grief, then acting
People who are grieving often experience the following:
- Change in appetite or sleep
- Feelings of emptiness, guilt, anxiety, anger or fear
- Lack of interest or initiative
- Slowed thinking
- Questioning the purpose of life
Once you’re able to acknowledge and name your feelings – your grief – focus on what you can do about it. Yes, there are things that you don’t have much control over. But in everything that’s happening, you do have control over some things.
What can I do about this situation? Where can I put my energy? What do I know to be true? What can I remind myself and reassure myself that I’ve already done about this? There’s always something (even a small something) you can control and put your energy behind. It may require a little creativity, time, and intentionality. But what do you have to lose?
Taking this first step will often lead to something else you have control over. Soon you’ll feel more empowered. You’ll begin to look for your life’s possibilities and opportunities more than its barriers and limits.
Examples of taking control
How does this look practically? Take, for example, your social life. While it may be turned upside down, you still have the opportunity to interact through phone, video chats and other technology. You can play games with others electronically. You can chat with your neighbors or friends from a distance. You can send cards, notes or letters to bring cheer to those you’re missing.
And you can look ahead. Write down ideas of what you’d like to do with others when social distancing guidelines are relaxed. Remind yourself that this is a temporary situation and you’re contributing to making the world safe for those you long to be with.
Here’s another example of this positive approach in action: I have a great-nephew who is a phenomenal baseball player. To say he’s disappointed that the baseball season hasn’t started is an understatement. Did he grieve when opening day came and went? Yes, and he should. It’s OK to be sad and wish for things to be different. But did he stay there? No. He put his focus on what he could do. When asked how he was doing without his usual activities, he said, “I’m still getting baseball in every day. It just looks different. I’m working on skills with my dad in the yard and looking at my form. I’m still loving baseball.”
Reframe your perspective
Finding ways to reframe your perspective on what’s happening around you can lead you out of your grief or at least offer you some respite from it.
Will you still have moments where you’re sad and withdrawn? Probably. Will you still have times where you don’t want to do anything but lay around? Possibly. Are there still frustrations with having limits and barriers that weren’t present before? Sure there are.
It’s OK. It’s all a part of grief, and it’s normal. But it’s also possible to experience grief without being consumed by it.