What you grieve for is not the loss of a grand vision, but rather the loss of common things, events, and gestures. Ordinariness is the most precious thing you struggle for. –Irena Kelpfisz
In the wake of the COVID pandemic, people everywhere are being forced to reckon with a new way of living. “Unprecedented times” is a phrase that has been used ad nauseum to describe this state of affairs. With no blueprint to reference, people often struggle with how they “should” or “shouldn’t be” feeling. If you find yourself in a similar struggle, consider the following lessons to be your guide.
Accept (and embrace) the fact that things don’t feel normal
There is an instinctual desire to cling to normalcy during periods of major transition. You might fear that your sense of identity is slipping away and that this change might be permanent. This is understandably difficult. Nobody relishes feeling unnerved and uncertain.
Remember that facing new circumstances and challenges is an inherent part of life, and sometimes it means you are not who you were before. A teenage client once offhandedly remarked that: “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”. This puts things into perspective in regard to how you grow as an individual. Right now you are experiencing this uncomfortable process of growth and your needs might also be changing. Honor the feeling that things are off-balance and that your evolving needs will not go away just because you ignore or neglect them.
Don’t compare your struggle to anyone else’s.
People have been affected by the pandemic in varying degrees. Many people have suffered major losses, from jobs to loved ones. Others who have much fortunate circumstances might feel like they have to suck it up and push through hard days because they’re “lucky.”
The thing is, you are still allowed to have hard days dealing with your current life circumstances even if someone else’s are far more tragic. Dealing with a variety of fears still requires compassion. The quote by Irena Kelpfisz serves as a reminder of how you do not need to suffer a tragic loss in order to for your grief to be valid: “What you grieve for is not the loss of a grand vision, but rather the loss of common things, events, and gestures. Ordinariness is the most precious thing you struggle for”.
Don’t expect yourself to do what you could do before.
If you struggle with how you “should be” feeling, chances are you are engaged in a similar battle with what you “should be” accomplishing. Everyone has been forced to scale back on their usual routine to some extent. You might feel pressured to use our extra time more productively, or are frustrated with yourself for not being able to focus on the day-to-day tasks you used to accomplish with relative ease. Perhaps you think that you “should be” (there’s those words again) able to do more. This maybe because you may compare yourself to others who are in similar—or worse—situations that seem to be doing more. Or you have high expectations of ourselves and subconsciously tie your self-worth to your achievements. What ensues is a cycle of feeling like a failure, belittling yourself, trying to push through exhaustion, not being productive, and again feeling like a failure. Spoiler: this is not the formula for triumph.
Put simply: if you are tired, you need rest. If you are overwhelmed and burnout, you need a break. And if you are slipping into a spiral of self-criticism, you need self-compassion. Remember what was mentioned earlier about your evolving needs—nothing will improve until you can give yourself whatever it is you need to overcome this trial. Utilize your time and energy wisely by focusing only on the immediate priorities for each day.
Know this: wherever you are going through right now, and whatever you are feeling, is a key part of your life experience. Honor your emotions and your struggle because these challenges often lead to new chapters. Spend energy on whatever it is that will allow you to take good care of yourself through the lows so you are able rise back up to meet the highs with renewed growth.
– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC