In all my 10+ years of running, I had never taken to beach running until 2020. I had first started with running on the famous gravel track around the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, enjoying the sound of the forgiving crunch under my feet. In Sydney …
Every day I wake up and feel like a failure. Today I decided that has to stop. I’ve somehow only just realized that these beliefs about myself are, in the balance of things, really not helpful. That’s an understatement, to be fair. It’s …
Once again it is RUOK day, and I can bet you that if you asked anyone who is alive right now, the chances of a “No” answer would be pretty high.
We all know the reasons for that.
Today I want to talk about grief.
Grief is “a strong emotion that appears when we face loss” from something that we have formed a strong emotional connection to. There are a few different types of grief, including anticipatory grief (when we anticipate losing something or someone), and disenfranchised grief (when society does not recognize your loss as being “worthy” of grieving over). We don’t just grieve when we lose someone – we may be grieving a loss of identity, sense of safety, autonomy, or dreams and expectations.
Six months after the pandemic was announced, and after the adrenaline has worn off, after all the sourdough has been baked, we are all dealing with some kind of grief. For some of us, the grief is substantial, all encompassing, it has taken over our world and swallowed us up completely and we cannot see the way out, especially in the harsh reality of Lockdown 2.0. We are drowning in our grief. For others, the grief is partial and compartmentalized and pops up at unexpected times.
The experience of grief is a very humbling one, that reminds me, in a very raw way, of what it is truly like to be human. Usually, grief is experienced in relative isolation. Other people aren’t involved in our grief or if they are, they experience it differently. Now, we are all grieving together, though we might be grieving different things.
Many of us are grieving the fact that we cannot continue on with the rituals and habits that we were used to. Family dinners, family holidays, birthdays, catching up with friends. Being able to be face to face with someone we love. We also grieve the lost opportunities in the future. Not being able to celebrate a special birthday. Religious festivals. Weddings and funerals, graduations. All the glue that bonds us together as a family, a community, a society. For those of us with family who live in other states or countries, there is the grief of not being able to see our loved ones, and not knowing when it will be safe to travel again.
Heck, I couldn’t even post a photo of two hands holding each other, because that’s not appropriate in the time of COVID.
Even in the relative freedoms of where I live (Sydney) there are reminders of how life has changed. We count heads carefully before organising a get together. We check the weather because it’s safer for us to meet outdoors. Choir and wind instruments are banned at school. Awards at assemblies appear without us being able to have the satisfaction of seeing our child walk up and receive it from the Principal. We haven’t attended a birthday party for months. This year’s Book Week Parade will not be seen by any parents, unless on Zoom. And while I complain about it every year, there is something wistful about seeing one’s child parade around the school oval dressed as a little witch, a Pokemon Trainer, or (this year’s attempt) – Moby Dick. It’s a fragment of life that we put away in our treasure chest of memories of “when you were little”.
But these are all very small things compared to the businesses that are closing, dropping like flies, across our country especially in Melbourne, where they must remain closed due to the ongoing high community transmission. And the grief that holds me down the most is that I am separated from my parents and family and friends in other States and countries, and I do not know if I will see my parents again because they are elderly and time is not on our side.
The grief of COVID is different for everyone. Noone’s grief is more or less valid than someone else’s. For some of us, there is the grief of losing someone dear due to COVID. Losing the ability to make a living – the disappearance of an entire industry with all its trappings. This has many consequences – loss of identity, a lifestyle, a purpose, friendships at work, maybe even a home. Loss of our habits and our routine. Loss of somewhere to go every day. Loss of hopes and dreams.
We have lost the ability to collectively celebrate and collectively mourn. Gone are the weddings where dancing and toasting, hugging and kissing were the norm. Gone is the ability to mourn together, instead there is the counting of heads and the Zoom links to a wake.
So today, after you ask someone else “RUOK?” I’d like you to also ask “What have you lost and how does that make you feel?”
Here are some ideas.
- Just listen. Don’t suggest or advise.
- Ask how you can help in a practical way.
- Don’t highlight the positive in their situation – but if they can see the positives, encourage them to keep doing this if they can.
- Be patient.
- Encourage self help and support.
- Just be there.
And as for yourself?
- Allow yourself to mourn.
- Allow yourself to express your grief.
- Seek help – from your friends and family, from health professionals. Remember there are additional psychological sessions available for people in Victoria under the Better Outcomes in Mental Health scheme. (See below for some useful resources).
- Be patient and kind with yourself.
- Keep looking after yourself. Eat well and exercise. Don’t forget the simple things – a walk in the sun, a laugh over the phone or Zoom, an activity that you love.
- Watch the alcohol intake. You don’t want to numb your pain. Enjoy a glass of wine if you must, but if you’re using it to numb grief, put it away.
And for us, as a community?
Let’s come together to collectively grieve and mourn, and support each other. Be kind on social media. Be patient with every human you have an interaction with. This will take time. Allow it to happen. Keep on sheltering in place, if it’s not safe to be outdoors. You are saving lives, as much as it hurts to do so. I’m so sorry.
Some day we’ll look back together and feel a lot stronger. In the meantime, keep asking RUOK (not just today) and be prepared to sit by someone’s side (figuratively) while they tell you about what they’ve lost.
If you need immediate help please contact your GP, your nearest hospital, or Lifeline on 131114
Well, hello there! I feel very guilty for not following up with Part 2 of this series in a timely manner. Thank you for reading and commenting, and sharing amongst your fellow PhD mothers (and dads). The response to my first post on how to …
When you came along, I thought you would be different. I thought you would be a halo of peaceful luminescence, interspersed with cute yet amusing events such as laughing at how little sleep I had had. I thought my baby would look at me and …
Today marks 28 days since I started working from home and 21 days since my children have been home from school. To sum up the ups and downs of the past week, it’s been something like this:
Week 1: Checking the news about 4 hours a day, lots of meetings about managing the pandemic, dealing with PPE and COVID swabs at the clinic, lots of anxiety, going into a bit of a rage every time there is a press conference and schools STILL aren’t closed.
Week 2: School is finally closed. Reading the news 3 hours a day, rest of the day seems to be spent figuring out the school schedule, checking second grade maths and English, and wondering why teachers prescribe activities that require scissors, or “play this fun game with an adult”.
Week 3: Everything is changing, every single day. Overwhelmed. Checking news 2.5 hours each day. School schedule is a little easier but still feel like head is about to explode for at least 8 hours each day.
Week 4: Checking news 1.5 hrs a day. School holidays finally begin on Friday. Head begins to clear. Finally! Spend the weekend sitting in the sun, reading, drinking tea, and napping.
The Easter weekend has been a lifesaver and has given me enough space to think beyond the next 24 hours. I hope it has been the same for you. This break has got me thinking to a very important time: the end of lockdown, whenever that might be. Is it 3 or 6 months? or 12 months? Whenever it is, I’m now ready for the marathon of being at home. And I’m finally ready to go beyond survival mode. (If you’re not ready yet, don’t panic. You will emerge once your basic needs are met and you feel safe.)
This week I am thinking about the person that emerges at the end of lockdown. What will she have learned? What’s her health like? Her mind? Is she at peace? Has she made changes? Will she go back to where she was before?
I call this person Future Me. (Or maybe Post Lockdown Me). I care about this person very much. She’s counting on me right now.
I don’t think Future Me wants to go back to Previous Me life. Previous Me was always very stressed, juggling too many balls, taking work phone calls while driving children from birthday parties to swimming classes, sending emails at pickup time, always tired. Previous Me had staff who said “I wish you would take more time for yourself” and “I wish you wouldn’t take on so much“. Previous Me outsourced like a boss, but the end result of all this carefully orchestrated planning creates an illusion that Previous Me could do anything. Previous Me got to Wednesday and felt like she had nothing left to give.
I want Future Me to be happy, healthy, and to feel like she has the capacity to give to others without suffering some kind of minor collapse. Future Me’s cup needs to be filled. I’m starting with staying physically healthy. Being in lockdown means that our exercise habits have to change to adapt, and yet, I am finding that not commuting buys me more time. I’m focussing on strength training because that can be done indoors, for free, with my existing kettlebells. (I love kettlebells!) My go-to Youtube channel for kettlebell and other workouts is Bodyfit By Amy. I am sure you have your favourites, but if you don’t, give Amy’s a go!
Fun fact: did you know that strength training is recommended twice a week in our national physical activity guidelines, and builds muscle (therefore boosting your metabolism)?
Future Me also needs Present Me to eat well and to not succumb to too much stress baking. Baking has been a coping mechanism of mine ever since I was in high school. Sadly, I cannot bring the leftovers to work now, and so to keep Future Me happy, I’ll have to keep an eye on how many funfetti cakes I end up making with the children. I also did the CSIRO Healthy Diet score to see what I needed to change in my diet. I’ve been recommended to have more low-fat dairy and fruit, and so I’m focussing on these for Future Me. I know Future Me will be thankful, particularly with reducing the risk of nasty things like osteoporosis.
So when you’re ready to come out of survival, take some time to think about Future You. Not only does it orient us beyond Netflix and donuts (which only benefit Present You), it gives us hope, and extends our vision beyond what we need to get through the next day, or week. Of course, if you can’t do this yet, it means that the very thing you should be doing is just getting through today. That’s absolutely ok. I’m not experiencing the intense stresses that many are facing. I still have a job, I have company at home, everyone is well.
But if you can, just picture the Future You in your mind, and do what it takes to look after him or her. I have a hunch you won’t regret it. For me, I’ll continue to enjoy the stress relieving benefits of baking, but only on special occasions.
As some of you might know, as well as being a GP, I am a postdoctoral researcher trying desperately to balance work and life, and learn a little bit about this thing called “resilience”. For the past two years I have been researching Polycystic Ovary …
My family know that I am in no way a gardener; instead of having a green thumb, I seem to not be able to keep the least demanding plants alive. Until now.
A few months ago, a good friend told me that I could plant cherry tomatoes with half a bought tomato from the supermarket. My six year old adores cherry tomatoes and they are expensive little things (the tomatoes that is, and perhaps my six year old too!) so I thought, what the hey, let’s cut one up and plant it.
We buried two cherry tomato halves in soil and waited patiently. I obediently watered our tomatoes whenever the soil looked dry. Every day we examined the soil for any sign of greenery. Nothing happened for a few weeks. I thought my fate as a non-gardener was sealed. But I kept watering, and hoping, and thinking of those tiny little seeds lying buried in that dark soil.
I planted Thomas and Thomasina at a time when I, too, was ready to thrive. The last four years, on top of what seems like a whole adult life of anxiety, neuroses, hangups, and a complete inability to be kind to myself, were intense. Intensely dark at times, with incredible stresses I had never imagined. I felt, at many times, what those little seeds must have experienced – the oppression, the terror, the overwhelming panic of being buried. But like my little seeds, I eventually learned (with help) to relax into where I was and start caring for myself. I tamed that awful voice in my head that gave a running commentary of how I was stuffing up, again, in all areas of my life. I made space for the person I had forgotten I used to be. I asked myself, during challenging times, what I needed at that moment. I learned how to take proper breaks. I stopped working at nights and weekends. I gave myself little pep talks whenever my knees felt shaky. I let my loved ones care for me. I spent time with my beautiful family. I learned to breathe slowly and deeply through every waking moment. I put myself first because I realised if I didn’t, I had nothing left to give. And when all else failed, I phoned a friend and had a laugh.
Like Thomas and Thomasina, I was buried but reached for the sun and stars. I’ve learned so many things about how to care for myself so that I can be my best self and help others. And I hope you’ll come along with me on this journey so we can learn from one another and stand tall together. Just like Thomas and Thomasina.
When I see those blessed red tomatoes now I imagine they are whispering to their seeds,
Today, on World Mental Health Day, I am hoping everyone checks in on how they’re travelling. Are you waking up feeling energised and enthusiastic about the day ahead? Are you finding joy in the small things? Or do you wake in a panic, already drowning …