“May you live in interesting times.” –ancient Chinese curse (likely apocryphal)
Honestly, I didn’t really want to write about COVID-19 today. It’s hard enough being bombarded with constant news articles and opinion pieces and press releases and tweets (however humorous). But the more outlandish blog post ideas I tossed around in my head the more it seemed the inevitable was probably going to happen. I was going to talk about coronavirus.
But I don’t want to talk about staying home or flattening the curve or how our leadership has botched their response to this crisis, although these are all important things (and I encourage you to read about them if you haven’t already). I want to talk about you. And I want to tell you that it’s okay if you’re not okay. Because I’m pretty sure most of us aren’t.
I was reading about a woman who was diagnosed with the virus and was strongly advised to self-quarantine by officials. Instead, she went to a local bookstore, where she complained to the staff about her diagnosis while browsing books. The staff understandably asked her to leave immediately. She grew enraged, intentionally touching as many books as possible before being dragged out by security. The entire bookstore staff had to be quarantined because of this woman’s selfish actions.
Obviously, this woman’s behavior is reprehensible. But the more I thought about her actions, the more they seemed familiar. First, she reacted to her diagnosis with denial: “I don’t feel sick and I won’t stay home.” Then, those feelings transformed into anger: “If you’re going to treat me like I’m sick then you’ll be sorry!” If you’ve ever taken Psych 101 or dealt with a loss you may be familiar with these terms. Denial and anger are the first two stages of grief, followed by bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.
Not many people I personally know have been diagnosed with coronavirus yet. Hopefully, if we band together as a community and look out for each other, that will remain the case. But I think the fact of the matter is, we’re all grieving on some level as we move deeper into this global pandemic. While our responses are hopefully less negative than Bookstore Lady, I think we should all be giving ourselves time and space to explore these feelings instead of pushing them away or letting them fester. Grief isn’t a straightforward thing, and navigating novel feelings about a novel virus might not be straightforward either.
Personally, I’ve been grieving in small ways for many things. Grief for the little old lady at the grocery store who couldn’t buy toilet paper. Grief for the people who felt so overwhelmed by this situation the only way they knew how to cope was to hoard toilet paper. Grief for the high school students whose proms and graduations have been cancelled. Grief for the victims of domestic abuse for whom quarantine is a new nightmare. Grief for all those who will die from this disease. And ultimately, grief for a world that cannot help but be irrevocably changed by all this.
(If you aren’t feeling grief or aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be grieving, that’s okay too.)
So if you’re not okay, give yourself space to not be okay. My husband has been throwing himself into work. Personally, I’ve been finding it difficult to focus enough to work much. A friend confessed she’s rented two or three movies in the past week only to let the rental periods lapse without finishing the movies. Meanwhile I’ve actually been making a dent in my long-standing “movies-to-watch-someday” list because it’s one of the few things I can concentrate on.
Baking. Working out. Staring at the wall. Reading. Cleaning. Complaining online. Facetiming loved ones. Whatever makes you feel more okay, do that. Whatever makes you feel less okay? Skip it.
Obviously a lot of us still have responsibilities during this difficult time. Jobs, kids, pets, bills–the world is still turning. But in case you needed someone to tell you that being not okay is okay? Consider yourself told.
This will pass. We’ll be okay again. But until that happens, I hope you’ll give yourself the space to grieve what was while we try to make space for what is, and what someday will be. Stay strong out there!