The last few months have easily been the most bizarre of my life. Nothing feels real and time doesn’t seem to move the way I expect it to. I’ve been silent in an effort to take care of my own brain which needs tending to (hint: being a therapist doesn’t mean we don’t continue to do hard work with our own “stuff”- there is no pinnacle of mental health in which you never have to practice good maintenance- which can sometimes mean slowing down to take good care of ourselves). Most of us have been struggling in one way or another and I think many people in our country feel themselves ready to climb the walls. We are grieving so many things. Along with this, many of us are not used to being still for this long.
If you’ve practiced meditation, you likely know what I mean. You start off sitting semi-peacefully, working hard to focus on your breath, and eventually your mind strays. And sometimes your mind gets so busy that panic of needing to move sets in. You are twitchy and irritable and angry that you’re supposed to be sitting and can’t and who decided meditating was a good idea anyway?!
There is grief work in that. I think I’ve shared before that when I experience grief, I often mobilize. At a recent funeral, I asked my husband for the 8th time in an hour if I could get him anything and if he was OK. He quietly said, “I think you’re asking me that a lot because you’re not OK”. Oops. Open the floodgates. Moving can help distract us from the internal work that has to be done but is a lot of work. Sitting still is work. It forces us to face all that haunts us at night when we’re ready to go to bed and our mind races.
If you’ve been doing the hard work of being still and seeing what comes up, I see you.
Grief can cause us to act in so many different ways. We can feel powerless. We can blame others. We can want to see the destruction that matches the hurt in our own hearts. We can shut down and feel nothing. We can feel everything so powerful that we cry at (what seems like) everything. We can want to empty our lives of everything or we can be driven to add more and more until we’re bursting at the seams.
Whatever your response to the pandemic has been, it’s human and it’s valid. Grief is an emotion that connects us to raw power maybe better than most others. It’s not meant to be pretty. If you want a show that helps demonstrate this wonderfully, check out Six Feet Under. It’s rated “R” and definitely has some shock value swearing and nudity but it shows grief more realistically than any other popular media I’ve encountered. Think about all the ways you’re grieving- vacations lost, a sense of safety gone, having to work when others don’t have to, or vice-versa, being stuck at home when you’d rather be working, the loss of financial security, the loss of privacy as everyone is home more often…there’s a lot of grief right now.
I have talked about the pandemic as an introduction to how grief can make us react in different ways and to validate your experience, but now we need to talk about grief following the death of George Floyd. I don’t want to be silent in the face of such continued violence against the black community.
People of Color (POC) have been treated differently since this nation was created and it’s something that strongly contributes to mental and physical health issues. The concept of “microaggressions” are critical to introduce here. They’re not intentional and they’re not overt. If I am walking down the street and pass a black man who sees me being nervous about his color, gender, and size, that’s a microaggression. When a black team member gets talked over inadvertently, but because their opinion isn’t as important as a white person’s, that’s a microaggression.
This is a lot to deal with and causes a great deal of grief. And when grief is chronic and unchanging, a few things happen. We either learn helplessness or we rely on anger as a tool to help stop the pain. When I first met my husband, he listened to much harder (heavy rock) music than I did. When I asked why he said, “it’s easier to be pissed off than it is to be sad”. Pretty emotionally honest stuff, folks. So POC are already on edge because they experience microaggressions all the time. Anger is the response that allows people to mobilize because either you get angry, or you go into shut down. And shut down isn’t an option if we ever hope to stop racial discrimination, profiling, and murder.
I write this with the hope that you’ll hold the grief of others under the same compassionate light that you hold your own. If I can treat myself kindly for taking care of others and ignoring my emotions when loss is too painful, I can do the same for protesters. Many people feel that peaceful protests haven’t worked. And I have to tell you, in visceral grief (the kind that makes your body shake and makes you nauseous), I’ve definitely gotten louder when someone wasn’t hearing me. I get that this is bigger than me yelling at someone the night before a funeral because they weren’t respecting a loved one’s memory, but we’re talking about murder and we’re talking about violence towards a group of people. Do your part to listen to POC on why these riots are happening and think about how you’d feel and react in the same situation. Stretch your empathy muscle. And if you’re angry, maybe consider that there’s some grief about the current situation in you, too.
Connect with Perspectives Therapy Services if you want to discuss your grief.
Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.