Today is World Mental Health Day (10/10), and it's no secret the pandemic has taken a toll on us in many ways, including our mental health.
It's hard to put into words exactly what we feel because we live in a culture where we rarely talk about our feelings, let alone FEEL them. Our society struggles with witnessing and supporting the authentic expression of raw emotions, and these are not in short supply amid the pandemic.
My dear readers, we are all living in one of the largest loss events anyone has ever experienced within our lifetime. And, we are FEELING its accompanying grief.
Since most of us didn't grow up openly discussing death, loss, or grief, we often don't recognize its symptoms.
The undercurrent of exhaustion, anxiety, stress, fear, disappointment, confusion, and sadness many among us are experiencing right now is GRIEF.
We may be unusually sensitive to change, easily annoyed, or short-tempered. These are also familiar expressions of GRIEF.
Are you struggling to complete even the simplest of tasks or finding it hard to focus or concentrate? This is likely your GRIEF.
Because we don't usually talk about it, we often automatically (and inaccurately) assume something is WRONG with us for feeling or experiencing the pandemic in this way. We may even ask ourselves questions garnished with a hint of self-blame, shame, or comparison like…
Why am I not handling this better?
Why is this so exhausting for me?
Why can't things be "normal" again?
Why am I struggling while everyone else seems to be fine?
Why do I lack the motivation to do anything?
Why does life feel so heavy for me right now?
Why…am I doing this wrong???
Most of us, at some point over the past seven months, have wondered if we are handling the pandemic "right." But, how can we expect ourselves (or anyone) to know exactly how to "do" the pandemic (and it's accompanying grief) when no one within our lifetime has ever before experienced it?
So…here's the deal…
IT'S OKAY, TO NOT BE OKAY.
There, I said it.
IT'S OKAY, TO NOT BE OKAY.
It's okay to feel sadness and sorrow.
It's okay to feel stress and fatigue.
It's okay to feel apathy, regret, frustration, and anger….
It's okay to feel all of these (and more) emotions at the same time.
It's okay to FEEL!
Life isn't all "happy." In fact, it can be downright hard.
As a grief counselor, I've shared space with many people who have experienced unthinkable tragedies. The dying and bereaved have taught me that life is a beautiful collection of lows and highs...sorrow and joy, despair and hope, loss and love.
But, collectively, these experiences (and their accompanying emotional journeys) are what make us whole…and human.
Our emotions are HUMAN responses to life…and love….and loss.
We no longer need to shame ourselves or others for experiencing that which is normal.
Instead of avoiding uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings, we need to learn healthy ways to ventilate and cope with the multitude of emotions we will experience during our lifetimes. But, we can't seek help for something that we have not yet acknowledged exists.
So, we must first recognize that our emotions are real. They are complex and changing. They are normal.
It's okay (and even healthy) to feel something other than just "happy" or "sad" each day.
I think I've been waiting for someone or something to make the change for us…to finally turn the tide on mental health in our culture. But, I'm starting to realize WE (all of us…including me) are responsible for making this change.
If we want to strengthen our collective mental health, we must first change our culture's narrative and challenge the existing stigmas. We can encourage more conversations where we appreciate, accept, and affirm the tapestry of emotions that reflect the struggles and the triumphs of this life.
This conversation will likely start in the small spaces of our lives...in our friendships, homes, families, classrooms, and workplaces.
We own this together.
My dear readers, I do not know your individual stories of loss amid the pandemic, but I imagine your lives are filled with a complexity of diverse experiences and emotions.
Today, I acknowledge your collective losses and see your collective grief. The resulting feelings you are experiencing are normal. They are what make you human.
This is real.
This is shared.
You are not alone.
We are not alone.