Recognising and managing grief during a pandemic
28th April 2020
A month and a half ago, everything came to an abrupt stop. Our lives changed and we had to adjust almost instantaneously to what is currently our ‘new normal’. Six weeks in and we are still adjusting. Feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, loneliness, a lack of control are all circulating within and around us. For many of us though, there is also something else bubbling under the surface – the feeling of grief.
What is grief?
Grief is a common reaction to the loss of loved ones, things and even dreams that brought comfort, joy and hope to our lives. This is why grief can be felt on a macro and micro level. Being creatures of habit, some of us may grieve the loss of our daily routines. They may not have been perfect, but they were familiar and bought us safety and security. Many within the Adia and wider TTC community are also grieving another loss too.
The pandemic brought with it the halt on tests, assisted fertility support and treatment for conditions like fibroids and endometriosis. The closure of IVF clinics is necessary but sometimes still hard to come to terms with personally. Many people are mourning the indefinite pause on treatments, unsure of when or even if they will be able to pick up where they left off. They mourn the babies they have lost. They mourn for their future, a world both personal and collective that they cannot currently shape or frame.
The Gynae Geek, Dr Anita Mitra wrote a wonderful post the other day sharing her thoughts on the flippant but well-meaning comment ‘You’re lucky to be child-free during lockdown’. The comments below her post reflect the messages we have received from Adia users since the beginning of this lockdown. There is a global pandemic but the pain and grief around your fertility journey are valid and need care and attention.
Grief is…heavy. Formless and yet uncomfortably tangible. Sometimes all-encompassing to the point of being debilitating. Other times it just ebbs and flows into our beings. Unwelcome and unscripted, at its worst it is crippling. It is the point beyond the tears or the wailing. It is silent, still and lonely. But, as Scott Berinato writes in his insightful interview with grief expert David Kessler ‘If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it.’
The stages of grief
Although everyone’s experience is personal, there are common 5 stages of grief. Understanding these can help mark out what is otherwise a completely all-encompassing state with no beginning, middle or end.
- Denial: When we first learn of the situation, we often feel numb, shocked or block out what is happening as a way for our brains to deal with the initial onslaught of emotions.
- Anger: Feelings of frustration and helplessness arrive as the reality of the situation set in. This may be directed at ourselves, others or even just the situation going on around us. During this stage, we are often driven by adrenaline and throw ourselves into harder, socialising or oscillating between moods.
- Bargaining: The ‘what if?’ stage where we question how the loss could have been prevented.
- Sadness: Sadness and often feelings of being overwhelmed arrive as the reality of the loss sets in. This stage can impact our appetite and sleeping patterns.
- Acceptance: Coming to a point of accepting the loss in our lives and moving forward is challenging. It usually comes with the help of support, processing and after an unspecified period of time.
It can help if we look at grief as a spiral rather than a linear process where you pass through each of these stages possibly multiple times until the intensity curtails and we come to some point of acceptance.
We’ve shared some wellbeing practices to help you stay grounded in these strange times, but here are some specific tips to help you navigate grief.
Recognise it. Name it. Acknowledge it.
It is sometimes hard to recognise grief especially at a time when so much else has changed. What may seem like irritability, sadness or lack of interest may in fact be grief in disguise. Also, at times when people are ill, you may feel that it is selfish to mourn your fertility journey. But pain is incomparable. We feel what we feel. Giving yourself the permission and the space to explore your feelings is the first step to finding some level of comfort.
We are often taught that the way through painful emotions is to get rid of them, to not feel them, to distract ourselves. This means we dissociate, ignore and hide from our emotions, but the only way out is through. To reduce feelings of overwhelm and practise staying present, we can incorporate the following practices:
- Listen to our mediations
- Journal about your feelings and your day.
- Practise mindfulness which is a mixture of observation and action. Observe how seemingly banal experiences make you feel like the water on your skin in the shower or the smell of essential oils. Also actively practise things that you know make you feel safe. Both can be effective in bringing you away from a flight, fight or freeze state (sympathetic nervous system) to a state of rest, restoration and calm (parasympathetic nervous system).
Be compassionate, kind and tender to yourself
Grieving is exhausting. One of my doula clients said to me recently, ‘It is what it is until it isn’t’. Getting to this ‘isn’t stage’ requires time so be gentle with yourself along the way and let others take care of you too. You can try the following:
- Burn oils or incense that bring you joy. Not only can they help lift your mood, but they can cleanse the energy around you so you feel at home in your body and your space.
- Put on your favourite album and move to the music. Incorporate self-touch, take up as much or as little space as you wish, sing along and feel the music vibe through your body and soul.
- Hugs are comforting especially from loved ones, but you can also hug yourself. We often do it in moments of despair without realising, when we hold our shoulders and curl up, but try making it part of a daily practice.
Sharing your journey with people who are experiencing something similar can help make the process easier, which is why we set up the Adia Community Group which we invite you to join.
If you feel unable to reach out to your nearest and dearest, speak to a counsellor or to one of our Adia experts. They can create a space where you feel free to share your emotions, from the vulnerability to the sadness and the anger. Plus they can give you the tools to comfort and care for yourself.
The emotions are still yours to feel and go through, but having even just one person who supports us through it makes all the difference.
Focus on your wellbeing
It may not feel like it, but this moment in time and your feelings are all temporary. Remembering this can help things stop feeling so final. Unfortunately, we don’t know when or in what capacity clinics/ treatments will restart, but for now focus on what is in your power like taking care of your health. Getting into a healthy routine can ensure that you eat well, get restful sleep and exercise when possible. These all support your general well-being which in turn can support a more resilient and restorative mental state.