For the last ten years I have kept a massive Word document on which I keep track of article ideas and a sort of editorial calendar. On it are dates and their assigned posts that seem to stretch on to infinity. I reopened that document for the first time in months recently and felt a twinge of sadness as I read through it. While it’s just a boring set of dates and titles, it belies something for which we all yearn right now – normalcy. It’s also telling that the last series of dates on the calendar were in mid-March, when time seemed to suddenly and very abruptly stop. 2020 has changed everyone and it’s not finished with us yet. As I am prone to fits of melancholy even in the best of times, it’s been very difficult to shake the black dog of depression throughout this ordeal, and it’s a challenge I face daily. But today I want to do something I haven’t done in a very long time, write something meaningful, share some of the processes I’m going through as I try to reconcile the year that has forever altered the course of my life and how I’m attempting to respond in as productive a manner as possible.
Mourn your losses
Even if you are still employed and your family happy and healthy, there is no doubt that 2020 has left even you with something to mourn – and that’s ok! Grief is one of the foundational elements of the human experience and rituals that aid in this process are amongst the most ancient of our civilization. We need these rituals; we need processes that allow us to express our natural feelings of despair because without these mental safety valves, we bury our emotions. Hiding such a strong emotion will only lead to further mental anguish, as humans have realized for millennia. But what happens when the loss isn’t as tangible as another human being; when that loss is somewhat amorphous?
There are no funerals for losing a job, divorce or for being stuck in your house for six months; there is no recognizable way to mourn the loss of human contact and basic necessities like family BBQs or birthdays. That doesn’t mean the pain associated with the loss isn’t just as powerful as losing a loved one; many times it can be even more intense. But without an emotional safety valve to mourn these important losses, they remain unrecognized in our psyche and we rest uneasily in a permanent state of angst or depression. This in turn leads to problems in every other part of our lives whether we realize it or not. That’s why in 2020 it’s more important than ever to acknowledge these so-called disenfranchised losses and to find ways to dutifully mourn them.
Even though our grief may be for a job or a relationship instead of losing a loved one, the process is still the same. Humans are human after all and we all experience the same cycle of emotions. If we don’t go through these stages then we’ll never be able to move on and after this year, that will be more important than ever. Grief starts with emotional shutdown, followed by a yearning for what was lost, then anger or despair but after these stages we find emotional levels that are more positive. After life disruption we go through a sort of mental reorganization, a way of accepting the loss and moving on. This hopefully (and thankfully) is then followed by the final state, which is a sort of emotional or spiritual growth – a renewed commitment to living our best lives. These stages do not happen though in a predicted order and they don’t follow a calendar. They just are, and even if you feel as if you’ve moved on you may still find yourself falling into the trap of anger or despair. And that too is natural and expected. But at some point if you don’t move on to the more positive stages, then you will be stuck. I know I’ve been stuck for months, as have millions of others. So, barring something exceptionally good falling into my lap (it hasn’t) how have I tried to move on?
What I lost and how I’ve tried to add positive elements into my life
For the last decade I followed my true passions in life as I made travel not just something I love, but my career. 2020 has either put it on hold for the foreseeable future or ended it altogether – it’s too early to tell. But, the interim effects have been the same. A loss of one’s job coupled with financial concerns and yes, even boredom, aren’t just a bad mix they’re a dangerous one. I have struggled mightily this year and I know I haven’t turned the corner yet, but I’m trying. Early on, almost without realizing it, I adopted some positive practices that I think will prove to have saved me when all is said and done.
In April I did something a little out of character, I signed up for a series of virtual 5Ks through runDisney. In addition to everything else Disney does, they also host a series of marathons and other races in Walt Disney World as well as Virtual, do at home events. As I am now obsessed with all things Disney I of course signed up but since I hate running I wasn’t sure what to do next. I knew that I would have to work up to the 5K, since I don’t run unless chased, and so I mapped out the appropriate distance in my neighborhood and started a tradition that has meant more to me than I would ever have imagined – daily walks. The idea was to work up to running, but that never happened. That’s ok, because instead the walks have become the one event of the day that I look forward to most. Although I have lived in my house for more than a decade, I never realized that my neighborhood has a fairly substantial series of walking trails not only through the subdivision itself, but through the adjacent woods as well. Every day I strapped on my shoes, but on my headphones to listen to podcasts and immediately left behind the worries of the day. As I traipsed through the forests, I mentally traveled, leaving the quotidian and transporting myself into a positive headspace. Through the changing of the seasons I never missed a single day and even now, as we sort of normalize again, it’s a daily event that I wouldn’t miss for the world. Not only has it helped me remain in decent shape, it’s been an hour of happiness that sometimes has been hard to find. It’s also introduced me to my neighborhood and my neighbors, people I never really paid attention to before the pandemic. It created a sense of community and as it turns out, I needed that much more than I realized. I didn’t just take an hour-long walk every day, I also practiced yoga with almost the same level of consistency. As soon as lock down was put into place, my studio went entirely online and those daily sessions weren’t just important for me as I tried to maintain balance, it was just good to see and talk to other people, even if it was just via an iPad. Along with this I added a modality to my yoga practice that was the second helpful action I took in my grieving process – Reiki.
If you know me at all, then you will be shocked – shocked – that I started taking the Reiki classes offered through my yoga studio. While I love yoga, I do not consider myself a hippy-dippy new age type of person at all. I am staid, conservative in nature and deeply skeptical of almost everything. But I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose and, frankly, I was curious. Almost immediately I was drawn to the practice because of the fundamental philosophy behind it – that maintaining balance in life is key. It’s an ancient concept that we see reflected in every world religion and I think is also foundational to the human experience. Reiki seeks to achieve that balance and to help others get back to a certain stasis. That’s the second aspect that I think attracted me to Reiki, the ability to help others. With everything else in my life taken from me it was my opportunity to give something back, to be productive again and to help others. That’s really all I want in life and during this trying time, Reiki has given me that. I saw it through too and just recently became a certified Reiki Master, able to help others for the rest of my life.
Dogs have been a very important part of my entire adult life. With three dogs living in my house for almost 16 years, they weren’t just important, they were my family members. Two years ago I had to say goodbye to Cody, then last year it was Moya and midway through the quarantine I had to say goodbye to my baby and the light of my life, Preston. They all lived very long and very happy lives I know, but the process has been exceptionally difficult and to lose Preston in 2020 just seemed an unkind gesture by the Fates. The idea was to go a while without dogs, to enjoy some of the freedom that being dogless allows, but after a month or so of that I’d had enough. The entire energy of the house was shallow and depressing; I missed having pups around. So, like thousands of others during this pandemic, I rescued not one but two dogs in need. First was Juneau, a two-year old Husky mix who is as sweet as can be. Then, just a week later, came Teddy, a very rambunctious 10-week old mix (not sure of what just yet) who, while a lot of work, has been a joy to have around. Almost immediately the tenor of the house shifted back to its natural equilibrium, order was restored and I felt as if a part of me was brought back to life.
None of us knows what 2020 and 2021 hold in store. Some will be good, some bad but we will all need to find ways to get through it with our sanity intact. Western civilization does a very poor job of addressing mental health. We’re quick to fix a broken bone, but when our injuries are unseen we tend to ignore them. We can’t do that now. We can’t just power through the pain, we have to address it, deal with it and move on. If we don’t, then millions of us will suffer even more than we have so far. We must treat 2020 as an opportunity instead of a disaster, we must find the positive in all of this and channel that into ways in which we can improve. I refuse to believe that all of this did not happen for a reason, we just have to figure out what that means for us individually and do the best we can to write the next chapter of our lives.