My Covid-19 Journey and the 5 Stages of Grief

My Covid-19 Journey and the 5 Stages of Grief by Elmira Family Chiropractic

As I write this, our office has been closed for 6 weeks and we are about to start into our 7th week. 

To say the last 2 months have been a roller coaster is the understatement of a lifetime. I have been progressing through some incredible highs, where I am full of gratitude for spending so much time with my family, down to some incredible lows where I find myself in a pile of tears feeling a depression I have not experienced in years. 

A mentor of mine pointed out that this feeling is grief.

When I think of grief, I initially think of death. And thankfully, I have not had a person in my life die due to COVID-19. 

But grief is really about loss…Grief is defined as, the response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that had died, to which a bond or affection was formed.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler wrote the classic book On Grief and Grieving, which introduced the stages of grief. They recognized that people moved through similar transformative stages and I believe it is important to recognize the feelings we are having. Personally, I have been working through all of them in these past 7 weeks. I recognize them in other people and believe it would be helpful to educate you on them as well. 

Stage 1 of Grief: Denial 

Denial is an overwhelming emotion and a common response where the individual pretends it didn’t happen. This is when you hear sayings like, “it’s not possible” or “there is no way…”. 

Personally, when I first got wind from a Facebook group that I was going to have to close my office because of a global pandemic, I initially thought, ‘THERE IS NO WAY!’ Anyone else? Enter stage 2. 

Stage 2: Anger 

Where denial may be considered more of a coping mechanism, anger has more of a masking effect. Anger hides many of the emotions and pain that you carry. It may be redirected at other people or inanimate objects. You may feel bitterness or resentment. It may not be clear-cut fury or rage. 

For some people, they will not experience this stage, where as some people will linger here. As the anger subsides, you may begin to think more rationally about what’s happening and feel the emotions you’ve been pushing aside. 

I must admit, that when I found out this global shut down was real and we were going to have to close the office, I was straight up angry… “How could the government not understand how important it is for us to help our patients? And for possibly 3-6 months? Don’t they understand that people need us and now we can’t help them? We have been teaching them for years the importance of a properly functioning nervous system to help them deal with the stressors in their life and now, at an EXPECPETIONALLY stressful time, we can’t do the one thing we do best?”

If you are feeling stuck here, check out a past article Dr Thom wrote related to anger here.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Grief brings a lot of vulnerability and helplessness. When you are feeling these intense emotions, it is common to look for ways to regain control to feel like you can affect the outcome. This is when, “what if” or “if only”, statements start popping. Or we starting making promises to God or a higher power like, “If you do this, then I will do this”. Overall, this stage acts to postpone the sadness, confusion or hurt. 

Honestly, I didn’t really hang out in this stage. I just went straight to the next stage, depression. 

Stage 4: Depression

This stage may be full of sadness. 

However, at this point in the journey, you may be able to embrace and work through your emotions. It is more of a quiet stage of grief (unlike anger and bargaining), where you are much more active in your mind (and maybe your words). 

But by no means is it an easy stage. It can be difficult, messy and overwhelming. You may feel foggy, heavy, confused, lack motivation, helpless, joyless and stuck. This stage, and any of these stages for that matter, constitute a great time to reach out to a mental health specialist (psychologist, social worker, etc.). A professional has specific training and can be a great unbiased person to listen and guide you. It is also important to surround yourself with those you love to help you work through your feelings, but it is important not to rely solely on family or friends because they can’t meet all of your emotional needs.  

Please remember there is NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU if you feel depressed. Depression is a normal part of life that we will all walk through. Please try to not get stuck here for a long period though. Reach out for help.

For me, I have felt more depressed than I have for years. As someone who has moved through periods of intense depression, I’m no stranger to the feeling. I rationally can move myself through it fairly quickly by looking for gratitude or my “happy list” (a.k.a. list of things to do when I want to find joy again). Despite this, I have had days in the past two months, where I sit on the couch staring out the window not be able to find joy in anything, even my two beautiful, happy kids. It has been really hard and anyone who has been there understands it. Mind you, remember that it looks different for everyone. 

Stage 5: Acceptance

It is important to know that acceptance, is not necessarily a happy or uplifting stage of grief. It doesn’t mean you have moved past the grief or loss. However, it does mean that you have come to understand your grief better and what it means in your life now. 

For us, it was the understanding and knowing, that we are doing our part for our patients whom we care deeply about. No matter how hard it is, we will always choose to do what is best for our people, our profession and our community. So, we made our decision and have followed through to the best our ability in these challenging circumstances. 

Also know, that you don’t land at acceptance and then the grieving process is all over. You can bounce around between the stages as you are processing your feelings.

I have found myself going back to the other stages, learning something else about myself and then moving back to acceptance again.

Acceptance is not some box you tick and then your good forever. Trauma and pain will resurface, from time to time as healing is a part of life. Each time it resurfaces, it is like peeling another layer back off an onion. 

Stage 6: Meaning (but I thought there were 5 stages?)

I was listening to one of Brene Brown’s podcasts with David Kessler, who co-authored the classic book, On Grief and Grieving, which introduced the 5 stages of grief. As Kessler reflected back on his own hard-earned personal experiences, he introduced a 6th stage, Meaning. 

Following grief, many people look for closure after the loss. But Kessler would argue that it’s finding meaning beyond the stages of grief, that can transform grief into a more peaceful and hopeful experience. 

His book, Finding Meaning, can help give us a roadmap to finding meaning from our grief. 

At this time, I think I am still working on that. As we move through this pandemic as a collective culture, things will change. Personally,

I hope that our government chooses to give more attention to people in long term care or nursing homes, as well as the workers who care for seniors and people with special needs. 

I hope we all learn to find more kindness for people who are struggling. 

Also, I hope we all choose to judge less because we don’t know what other people are going through. 

I hope we support local, as much as we possibly can and invest in local businesses so our economy can prosper. 

I hope we discover that Mother Nature and our environment badly needed a break to heal and that we can do better when it comes to how we leave our footprint on this earth.

Lastly, I pray that together we find peace, prosperity, happiness, health and abundance every day, in every way.

Of course, these are my own thoughts and I do not expect everyone to have the same opinion. I also realize some things I write may trigger emotions and I honour your own opinion that is different from mine. 

I truly hope that we move through this situation to a place where we can all grow, do better, serve more and love deeper than ever before. 

Yours in health and here for you 100%, 
Dr Sarah

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