Not that I am counting, but I arrived back in the USA post vacation cruise on 7/9/22. I tested positive for COVID that evening, and I have been sick ever since. If counting was in play, I’d say I have been sick for nearly seven weeks. But counting doesn’t help me feel better.
If you are on any type of spiritual journey seeking calm, understanding and peace, you may have noticed that life has a way of testing our theories, and our skills. The results of how well we have trained ourselves become quite clear when we actually try to apply what we think we have learned.
Operationalizing our wisdom is truly where the rubber meets the road and seems the hardest thing to do (besides sit still) when we are sick or grieving. But we must realize, that without practical application, we are simply librarians of the mind. We can put as much information into our memory as we wish. But without the means to call on it when needed, it is simply a collection of data. It does little to nothing for us if we can’t apply it.
And this is where I find COVID to have so much in common with grief. We have little to no control over either. We can try to protect ourselves through wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing, but that does not prevent us from getting sick. Just like being grateful for our Blessings doesn’t shield them from being decimated, keep our kids from dying, or keep our hearts from breaking open.
Another shared trait between COVID and grief? They are both stubborn. They are patient, determined, and literally go nowhere unless and until they are ready. They play the long game and do not wear out, wear down or give up. When experiencing COVID symptoms and/or grief we find the relentless nature of their existence to be annoying as hell.
We go to bed at night, wishing we weren’t sick or grieving only to wake up the next day and find, after a few short seconds that the illness and/or the pain is still here. Like a huge rock that is tied to our waist, no matter where we go, or what we do, the weight of both situations holds us down, holds us back and keeps us stuck repeating the same cycle of behaviors that we know are not life-giving.
You may be hoping this post ends with a solution to the “challenges” of COVID and grief, but actually I don’t have any. There is no one way to heal from COVID or from grief. But the good news is that there are as many unique paths to be built, as there are people in the world. The goal is to figure out what works in our idiosyncratic world, given the constraints of our own reality.
So how DO we build our healing path? That is the million-dollar question. And I am still on a journey of discovery about healing from grief, and from COVID. But there are some internal gauges we can count on along the way. They come from our gut. They come from our heartstrings. They come from trying things that aren’t comforting and sometimes stumbling on things that are.
The best litmus test I can offer, and although sheerly anecdotal, is this: We know we are building our path, or destroying it, based on how we feel when we act.
If we are awake and paying attention (away from ameliorative distractions) the best indication of whether some action contributes to, or drains away from our healing, is the way we feel when we do it, and the way we feel afterwards. If we are not numbing with TV, booze, food, shopping, sex, gambling, gossip and working all the time, the classification of an action as meritorious or destructive can be discovered by looking within. But we must be awake in order to reveal what’s underneath. Once we become available to let ourselves feel, we can then decide what best action, in support of our own well-being, is indicated. Lastly, we have to be bold enough to try changing our habits based on what we find and feel.
Here’s a personal example: We have dear friends that celebrate a certain day of the year, annually, and it’s quite the gala. The friendship and family circles of our friends reach far and wide. And when we get together for this one day, we see not only our friends, but our friends’ friends who have been gathering the same time once a year for decades. For many years there was not a question as to whether we would attend this annual event. It was assumed that we would, and we did.
But over the years, I noticed I didn’t feel so hot after attending this annual gathering. I love our friends, but this particular event never sat well with me. I have shown up year after year, with Zach and worked to keep the peace with him for the duration of the event. It was work, a lot of work, and I never exactly felt “fed” after participating.
What I felt was zapped of my energy. I also felt some type of hovering resentment, not toward our friends, or our friends’ friends. It was more like resenting the situation, which I can only describe as a relentless, heavy yearning to have a home and a family with kids that ate, were healthy and thriving. I didn’t realize how much energy, especially emotional effort it was taking from me to attend this annual party. And I never told anyone, least of all, myself,
But one year, I allowed myself to show up, for myself. I got curious about my decision to continue to participate in something that left me feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and somewhat envious. The last one, “envy” is not something I feel very often. Despite our challenges and losses I mostly continue to feel so grateful for my life, my children, even though only one of them remains living. I rarely feel that someone else has something I want and can’t have.
But when I finally invited my feelings to reveal themselves, questions began to surface such as:
- Does this feed my soul or hurt it?
- If I feel badly doing something, why do I continue to do it?
- Why am I ignoring my feelings?
- Why am I unable to honor my own needs?
- How can I look at this differently?
- Is there another choice I can make that is more compassionate towards myself?
It has taken several years to let all of this marinate and actually start answering my own gnawing questions. And ultimately, one year I just opted out of the big event. It was liberating! And it was ok, all at the same time. The world didn’t stop spinning and I wasn’t letting anyone down. By listening to myself, I stopped doing something that felt “bad” to me, and in doing so, began to expand this inquiry across the board: to my home, profession, spirituality, friendships and even my health.
I also through exploration and experimentation, discovered that these particular friends are soulful and loving and I enjoy them very much, but only in a small setting where true connection is possible. And that intimacy, unlike the big party, does feed me. So I have allowed these friendships to evolve into something more special, and continue to feel grateful that we are in each other’s lives.
So how do we start building a healing path? There is no exact formula. But I’ve learned it has something to do with allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, and then honoring those feelings by making choices in support of our own well-being, rather than repeatedly forcing our round hearts into square social and work environments. It’s not as simple is “do what feels good” and “don’t do what feels bad.” There is more nuance to it than that. Our brains are smart, sly, and well-trained. They have been perfecting the principles of “Race toward pleasure! Escape from pain!” for as long as we can remember.
But it literally is quite simple if we are listening. Which, when we are in grief (or sick with COVID) we are not practiced at doing. We have habitually colored our own reality with rose colored glasses in the hopes that the “ick-ness” we may feel in certain situations gets easier. At least with enough margaritas (or insert favorite numbing agent here: ______) we will get through “it” whatever “it” entails that day.
Our brains and emotions are comfortable sleeping on the job and they are practiced at being dormant. They may tell us how much fun we are having, and this is what we always do and it’s “fine.” And THAT is the definition of being asleep. “Fine” is not a worthy target. Fulfilled. Joyful. Grateful. Present. These are worthy goals. When dealing with stubborn old habits whether we are sick with COVID or sick with grief, we need to muster up the courage to run a self-scan inquiry to see how we feel.
If we enjoy something and we feel “better” or “richer” or an increased sense of calm abiding after participating, we can conclude that this activity is a nurturing one, and should be a regular part of building our healing path. Alternatively, we can let things keep being “fine” and over time we realize that we haven’t started building the path at all, that we are stuck, paralyzed even, from illness or pain. Numbing doesn’t stop anything. It just dresses it up pretty and waits with devious patience until it can surface. I tried for over two decades to prove this theory wrong, but here I am writing about what I knew during that time and tried to persistently drown out.
Bottom line? Covid and grief can be debilitating and last for longer periods of time than we can imagine. But the time frame speeds up when we allow ourselves to feel, and then make decisions in our own best interest. In the example I provided, it was no problem for me to opt out of that big social event every year. No one was insulted or hurt, and even if they were, I am responsible for my well-being not everyone else’s.
We all have a little voice inside. It’s hard to hear when there is noise and chaos. And maybe that’s why so many people continue to run toward pleasure and away from pain. But that doesn’t make it any less genuine, or correct. Our job is to create an environment where we can learn to hear that voice, even invite it to hang out with us. When we do this consistently, we find that not only are we trustworthy and dependable, but that we have the inside track on what we most need. And making decisions based on meeting those needs is the way we build the path. One stepping stone by one, one little decision at a time, one courageous inquiry after the last, will build our path. We just need to turn the volume down and listen.
And the bad news? Covid usually goes away. Grief does not. And that is the thing they share least in common. We can live through a virus, but we cannot survive a broken heart if we aren’t intentional about letting it be part of our lives. We can numb it up pretty good. But the anesthesia always wears off. And that is the magical moment where we have the exquisite opportunity to call on our own agency and decide if we will do the thing that nurtures us, or do the the thing that becomes our barrier to moving along the path.
It’s not, but it really is, as simple as that.