(Stages of grief as described at Recover from Grief: 7 Stages Of Grief – Going Through the Process and Back to Life at https://www.recover-from-grief.com/7-stages-of-grief.html
So here’s the usual ‘oh I haven’t written anything in my blog for ages’ disclaimer: I haven’t written anything in my blog for ages! I just checked and it was May this year, and during that time I’ve felt about as creative as a brick wall (apologies to brick walls if they’re offended). My mind has largely been blank, even when I’ve been doing things, and heavy, so heavy, overstuffed with the constant feeling that most of us are probably experiencing: that we’re in the midst of a life-changing human crisis event. Note that I don’t say ‘middle’ because middle implies it’s halfway through and who the hell knows how long there is to go before this is under real control, if it ever will be?
The past months – MONTHS! – have been spent in a kind of haze of unreality, almost surreal in its quality. When I left the university building for home-working in March, I didn’t imagine that we’d still be here in August. If I’d known I’d have brought back all my books with me from the office – although it would have taken numerous trips because I don’t drive and couldn’t stick them all in the back of my non-existent car. If I’d known, I might have been able to prepare myself mentally for what this all might mean, for the reality that I wouldn’t see my daughter until June, that I still haven’t seen my son almost five months later. If I’d known, I might have been able to prepare myself for the fact that I would feel trapped in a town I still don’t think of as home after over thirty five years of living here, that my life would be reduced so much. All of us would done things differently, I guess, if they’d really known. I mean, there were obviously signs that things weren’t going well. Increasing case numbers all over. Lockdowns in other countries. But I guess it just didn’t seem real. And then it was, and now it is.
Every single person in the world has had to deal with this. It’s life changing, in far too many cases life-ruining. Life-taking. We all, by now, know someone who has had Covid. Too many of us know someone who has been seriously ill, or almost died from Covid, in my case one of my dearest friends. Far too many people know people who have died from Covid. I talked in one of my previous posts (April 11th) about how one response to this situation is a kind of grief. I’ll talk about it again now. Has it changed, for me, at least, since then? I appreciate that others will feel differently. Experience it differently. It’s something I’ll probably revisit from time to time, to track progress. Or not. We’ll see.
Stage 1: Disbelief/denial. I STILL can’t believe this is happening. I STILL can’t believe that that this thing, this novel virus, has swept around the world, a tsunami of death and destruction. I STILL can’t believe how badly our government has handled this. I REFUSE to believe that this couldn’t have been handled so much better, that so many people have become ill, and died, because it wasn’t. And that our most vulnerable have been hung out to dry. That it’s been made abundantly clear that they don’t (seem to) matter.
Stage 2: Pain/guilt. That these months have been horribly painful is no surprise, and I don’t deny it has been and still is. Sometimes it’s like a physical pain, like something tangling my guts into knots so I feel sick with it. It’s a sickness in my mind, and I’ve been vomiting it out in words like this, and still am, and I don’t know how to stop it, or even if I should, now I’ve started again. Self help books would tell you to let it all out, that it’s healthy to let it go. But the thing is, I don’t think there are any self help books for surviving in a pandemic. And that’s where guilt comes in. Because I am (so far) surviving it, although a huge part of me still expects not to. I shouldn’t feel guilty for being alive but sometimes I do. And I feel guilty for feeling guilty, for feeling all this pain and fear when I’m alive and physically if not mentally healthy. I even feel a bit guilty for writing this.
Stage 3: Anger/bargaining. I am SO ANGRY much of the time. This is kind of a new thing for me, which may be a sign I’m evolving into a new Lesley life form that I don’t like very much (and which I’m pretty sure is very unhealthy and unhelpful). I’m pretty indiscriminate in my anger, directing it at anything I deem to be even slightly irritating. I’m angry with people who won’t social distance or get out of the way. I’m angry with people who won’t wear masks (obviously not those who are exempt). I’m angry with people who gather in large groups and risk spread. Yes I was angry with the BLM protesters, even though I know their cause was and is hugely, vitally important. I’m still angry with the institution I work at because there’s pretty much been no support or care for us, and I don’t think there will be in the autumn when we’re supposed to go back. I’m angry that I might have to go back at all. It’s anger which is disproportionate, inflated by a sense of powerlessness, of feeling like I don’t have control of my life. Except I know that I can control how I feel about this, and how I respond, and yet I’m choosing this. And that makes me angry with myself. This is maybe the hardest thing so far. I guess that a good thing is that I can get myself out of it with a good walk, with watching the nature around me – surprisingly there’s a lot of natural spaces around my local area that I didn’t even know about, which is a bit shameful really. But it helps the balance of my mind.
Stage 4: Depression, reflection, loneliness. Well, I’ve been depressed before. I will be again. It’s intrinsic to me, I’ve learned, and I accept it. There have been times during this so-called ‘lockdown period, which has never been a true lockdown (anger creeping in there!) when I’ve despaired and thought there could never be anything like any kind of normality again, when I believed I would die before ever seeing my children again. Sometimes I still believe some of those things. That so-called normality is gone forever, replaced by that bloody awful, and dreaded term, the ‘new normal’ (I could cheerfully murder the person who invented that saying!), the conditions of which are still being written and rewritten as this situation goes on. I reflect a lot – who doesn’t? – on my life and what I’ve done with it, and know that I’ve wasted so much time and energy on doing things I don’t want to do, squandered my creativity and talent (and I have enough self-worth to acknowledge that yes, I have a talent for writing) on things that haven’t been good for me. I’ve reflected on these things and know I have to change, and that I have to believe they will. I’ve made some decisions recently – at the age of 63, I have to take control. It’s well overdue. Because all this reflection has helped to me realise that no one will do it for me. As for loneliness, well, again I guess everyone has felt this from time to time during this time, some more than others. A pandemic is a lonely place to be. It removes you from friends and family, makes you more insular. That’s horribly sad. I am worried about the casualties of that, about the mental health fallout. It could be worse than the disease we’re isolating ourselves from.
Stage 5: The Upward Turn. I’m treating the stages of grief like they’re linear, but anyone who’s ever suffered a profound loss will know that the stages can happen in no particular order, and/or all together. That’s why I can say that this stage is real progress for me, even while I’m still experiencing the others. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve seen my daughter Kat, and that was a precious experience. I’ve kind of accepted that I won’t see my son Andy and his fiancé Emma until the end of this month, and that if things change, and there are more restrictions imposed because of the slowly upward (re)rise of infection rates, I might not see them then. It’ll break my heart, but I think I can deal with it. I’m enjoying going out and, as I say, learning about my local area, learning its nature and how it has changed through the turning of the seasons. I’m starting to feel more motivated to write, to create, although much of that is still nascent, still in my head, a tiny spot of light in the fog that smothers it. I’ve started to feel grateful for small things, like a glass of wine outside in a pub garden (although I feel guilty I’m doing that too, and afraid I’ll be infected/cause infection if I’m asymptomatic). Grateful for birds and butterflies and growing things. For my children and their love and help and support (but maybe a bit guilty for not helping and supporting them enough), and likewise for my partner who is more patient with me than maybe I deserve. For the fact that I can afford to eat well, even though I’m abusing my body with sometimes not very good food and (probably) too much alcohol. For the books and writers who’ve unknowingly helped me to escape into other people’s heads and spaces. For everything good that I have. As you can see, they’re all tinged with the other stages. But they’re there, and I’m grateful for that too.
Stage 6: Reconstruction and working through. Yes, I’m attempting this. Starting to feel ready for it. Understanding that even if this pandemic wasn’t a reality, there have to be changes in my life. That Life Before wasn’t the best life, and Life After won’t be either, unless I change my attitude. Maybe this is the hardest stage, rather than the anger stage, because it requires action, and I’ve never been good at that. My self-esteem and confidence have always been low. Some days now, it’s better. Some days I even believe I’m good at some things. But I’m not good at self-realisation, or growing myself. Self self self. All those words prefaced by ‘self’. It seems so indulgent, but is caring for yourself (self) indulgence or survival? I think this stage will be the longest, and like I said, the hardest of all.
Stage 7: Acceptance and hope. I haven’t arrived in Acceptance Land, yet, not by a long way. But I might have arrived in Hopeville. I’ve accepted this situation, even though it’s still weird and surreal and I hate it. But I know it’s ongoing, that it’s not disappearing any time soon, that maybe it’s here to stay. But I hope there’ll be a vaccine. I hope there’ll be therapeutics that can help with severe illness. I hope (accepting that there’s no real chance of it happening) that this joke of a government will be held to account for their terrible handling of this. I hope for a lot things. But most of all I hope we’ll all learn from this. That we’re fragile and flawed and selfish and all those things that make us human. I hope we can be better. I hope for hope.