As we enter the coming months as survivors of a year-long pandemic, you may find yourself having mixed emotions.
For many, including myself, the COVID vaccine means a chance to return to a more normal life. Our lives, though, will never be normal in the sense of returning to the pre-pandemic past. We were all forced to change by an invisible virus that took the lives of many of our friends and family. We were forced to change our work habits, life patterns, ability to socialize, and the chance to celebrate holidays and special occasions in traditional ways. This was a dramatic change that no one planned for.
At some point, hopefully, in 2021, we will be able to re-establish some of those previous patterns and resume visiting family, socializing in larger groups, and singing, dancing, and hugging those we love. However, it will never be "normal" in the sense of the normalcy of the past. We all have experienced some level of trauma, even if it was a disruption of our daily routines. Others have experienced more significant trauma with losing a job, family members' death, loss of a home, or ongoing health issues caused by COVID or made more challenging to manage because of COVID.
Even as communities and activities open up, you may find yourself struggling with intense or different emotions, including sadness and anxiety. Why would these emotions present at a time when things are improving? One answer is that you are finally letting yourself feel emotions that you have had for some time. Typically, in times of disaster or crisis (of which this past year has been for many reasons), we instinctively focus on dealing with the present problems. We need to do this to make sure we are physically and emotionally safe. There may not have been a time in the day to take an inventory of your feelings, nor the emotional support to feel them. Finally, when the chaos seems to lessen, you subconsciously allow yourself to begin feeling again. This often starts as reflecting on the last several months, how you survived, and how you plan to move ahead again, with even more changes. We tend to gravitate towards feeling comfortable, and although isolation from others was certainly not comfortable to begin with, you likely have adapted. Eventually, moving to more socialization (when the time is safe to do so) may actually feel overwhelming because it again presents another change in your life. The reality is that how we socialize in the future will probably be different than it ever was in the past, at least to some degree.
With these reflections, we may also experience intense grief. Even if you do not directly know of someone who died of COVID, you probably know someone who had a family member or friend that did. We are also grieving the loss of our previous way of life and time spent away from family members and friends. You may question if your grief is "warranted" because you may know others that have experienced worse, but grief is grief regardless of the extent.
Having an awareness of the stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, may help you recognize where you are in the grieving process and allow you opportunities to heal and move on in a healthy way.
You may also be grieving over lost opportunities, perhaps you had goals that you could not accomplish because of various circumstances, or you had to put plans and dreams on hold. When critically analyzing your situation, an important consideration is to add the phrase, "…in the midst of a pandemic," to your self-comments. It is not an excuse but a reminder that day to day life was more difficult because of the pandemic.
Remember, it is never too late to "begin" changes you may have wanted to make. Instead of analyzing what you "should or should not" have done during this past pandemic year, consider asking yourself, "Now that I am at this point, what do I want to happen from here?" Give yourself credit for surviving a year, the likes of which have not been experienced in over 100 years.
I share a personal story that has helped me to navigate through this past year. My grandfather survived the 1918 influenza pandemic while in France in WWI. He was a country farmer with only an 8th-grade education. He lived into his 80's with a family and multiple grandchildren.
Many people might have asked what his contribution was to the world. My answer would be, "He survived." He survived in a time when many his age died. He then survived through the Great Depression and another world war. His life was not easy, but he continued to live life to the best of his ability. Given what we have experienced in this past year, I have a new appreciation for what it took for my grandfather to survive.
We can take the wisdom of those that came before us and use it as fuel to continue our journey. Each day offers us an opportunity to keep moving ahead, even if it seems like small steps. Consider taking a personal inventory of how you have survived the last year and feel the feelings that come up. Talk to a supportive friend or family member, or therapist if the feelings are overwhelming.
There is healing to be done but give yourself credit for surviving this year. You are worth the investment.
©2021 Peggi White Behavioral Health