Since quarantine began I have been praying and pondering, asking myself, how I can help to lift and bless those around me. With so many free things and activities already provided and more being added on a daily basis, I asked, what more could I do? But as I’ve prayed I felt a whisper that something we could all use is a little more sanity, little more insight into what each of us is going through emotionally and a focus on how to best grow where we have currently been planted.
Following my prompting, I called a good friend and therapist, Ashliegh Baldwin, LCSW and asked if she might be able to help me identify the most common hurdles being faced in quarantine and some tips or solutions to overcome them. While chatting with her I was so surprised to hear her observations. She related that for the most part, her regular clients are doing relatively well through all of the changes because they have past experience that has helped to equip them with the tools they need to process and work through the stressors confronting us. The ones really struggling, she said, are those who haven’t before experienced these kinds of stressors in such an overbearing situation.
Basically, she explained, though most of us haven’t recognized or put words to what we are going through, we are all passing through a state of grief. Some of us are soldiering on better than others and the feelings come in waves for all of us. No matter your individual circumstances, each of us have lost something in these global wide changes. Not one person has been left untouched by covid-19. Whether you have lost your livelihood, your plans for the future, your friends, a loved one, or simply your freedom to live your life. Each person, in a unique way, has had something, better yet many things taken from them. Ashliegh mused that never in her lifetime has she seen group mourning like this. Normally when someone experiences grief, their world stops while everyone else continues on. In contrast, the whole world has come to an abrupt halt and the fear and stress rages on darkening the way before us.
At first I thought she was being a little extreme, I mean I haven’t lost a family member or even an acquaintance at this point and looking at the big picture I still have so many blessings in my life. But she is right, things that are precious to me have been taken away. My moments of quiet and silence, that I desperately need have been so shortened. I no longer get any time to myself, by the time the clock hits 5 pm I am just so ready for everyone to be in bed so that I can breathe again. And most painful, my ability to connect with others and create through photography has been cancelled photoshoot after photoshoot. From day to night these things were taken, without me having any say or time to process. Furthermore, I worry about my dear 90 year old grandfather who was hospitalized last year with pneumonia and his sweet wife who are in the crosshairs of this virus. I worry for my babies, my family, my friends. I worry about our economy, the effects this social isolation will have on so many business that have had sweat and tears poured into them. I worry about my own little business that I spent the last year painstakingly building with so many hopes and dreams. I can’t help but wonder what will be left standing when the pandemic passes. I may have not recognized it until Ashliegh voiced it for me, but I am in mourning. And so are you.
Most of the coping strategies that many of us have normally relied on to overcome stress and anxiety, are now no longer available, whether it was going to the gym, playdates or our cherished social connections. Our resources have become very limited and it makes it hard to know how to help oneself find your footing let alone help those around you.
Ashliegh suggests that the first step in your grief process should be to slow down the fear that is constantly hurled your way and avoid the distractions so readily available (ahem Netflix and social media) in order to protect yourself and let yourself really feel. Let the waves of grief come over you so that you can identify those feelings and let them out. Constantly pushing them away by distracting yourself or avoiding them is not healthy, it can cause you to take out what you are feeling on your family members and those you love (yep, those poor people who are currently crammed into close quarters with you.) Writing, explained Ashliegh, can be a great way to help you identify and express those feelings, especially in a time where you don’t have a variety of people you can talk to. Don’t feel like you need to worry about anyone else reading them or add any pressure to yourself about what you are writing, there’s no need to save them in a journal or share them with anyone. Your are simply aiming to give yourself a safe space to work through and express the emotions you are currently experiencing.
Also, taking time to identify where you accumulate stress and eliminating some of that can be so helpful. For me, I have chosen to limit my use of social media, because the constant bombardment of news about the virus and people dying and food shortages and crazy memes about toilet paper was just too much. It is so easy for me to get overwhelmed by it all. Each night I check coronavirus.utah.gov to see what the numbers are at. This helps me still feel informed and creates a barrier so that I am getting an adequate amount of knowledge that doesn’t overburden me with stress.
Once you have addressed your feelings and created boundaries to protect yourself, a good way to move forward is to find a way to create. There is no right or wrong to creation, this is where you should find your voice and in your own way begin to heal your burdens. Right now there are so many free, readily accessible resources online. The world is literally your oyster. Pick up that hobby or project that you’ve always wanted to do, but never had time. Try cooking something new, learn how to play an instrument, practice brush lettering or start a garden. Provide opportunities for your kids to do the same. Let them choose something they want to learn and help them achieve their goals.
Ashliegh also cautioned that it is also important to find a good balance between mental and physical exhaustion. Take time to get fresh air and exercise your body. Since beginning quarantine I have started running again, something I haven’t done regularly since all my babies came. But it feels so good to just push myself and run to let out all of the pent up emotions that are inside of me. I also see a noticeable difference in my kids behavior when they get to burn their pent up emotions and energy as well.
Following these steps will create a good framework to help you regain some sanity. But the question that began my search still stands: What can I do to help those around me, how can I lift up the ones I love, while still staying within the guidelines of quarantine? When I asked Ashliegh this question she responded simply, the one thing that we all need is a listening ear. More than anything each of us wants, is to feel heard. So find ways to do that for the ones you love. Thankfully, listening is something we can do from afar. Taking the time to connect through text, notes, or FaceTime and letting others know that just because they are out of sight doesn’t mean they are out of mind will mean the world. This is where you can combine that new found creative skill and find ways to show up for the people in your life.
As I thought of how I personally could be a listening ear, I felt impressed to gather together and document real personal quarantine stories. I hope to make a safe place for each of us to relate and read each personal struggle, real grief and loss experienced while in isolation. And consequently, the triumphs and strengths that we discover as we move forward. Enabling each of us to see and share in the strides that we are taking towards the future. I hope that by sharing our stories we can each become a listening ear, to respect and recognize individual stories of loss caused by the worldwide grief we are all passing through, and gather together, in the strengths and blessings we are mustering at the same time.
I’m so grateful for each of you and the solidarity you bring to my life. Look forward for the next blog posts in this series, I feel confidant all will find strength and inspiration from each memoir shared.
So many thanks to Ashliegh for her insights and help, if you find you would like to learn more from a professional, you can contact Ashliegh through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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