It's Okay to Admit This Sucks
Though it’s quite clear that people all over the world are suffering terribly during COVID-19, many of my friends and the majority of my online therapy clients are fortunate enough to be relatively okay. We are still employed. We live in houses with yards and sometimes pools. Our lives are dramatically better than those of many others. And we know this. And it’s extremely healthy and appropriate for us to acknowledge this. We should be thankful and appreciative. And, of course, we should do whatever we can to help those who are suffering.
So, yes, we are grateful. We do realize that we are blessed. We get it.
But as this drags on, it’s harder and harder to not acknowledge something else: that this still really sucks. Even though we are healthy and financially stable – at least for now - our lives are a dark, closed-down version of what they once were. We desperately miss how our lives used to be. We are in a constant, though subtle, state of grief. And we don’t know how long this will continue. If we are honest with ourselves, we know we are a long, long way from life being how it used to be. Maybe life will never be how it used to be. This stinks.
Where I see some of us struggling is this: we know we should be grateful, but we still don’t like this. But we don’t want to acknowledge how unpleasant this is. We want to be positive and we want to be grateful. We don’t want to be insensitive to the fact that many are much worse off than we are. But not acknowledging all of our feelings, including the negative ones, causes more emotional suffering.
It’s very natural to try to avoid negative feelings. We all do this to some extent. And, although this allows us to avoid yucky feelings in the short term, it ultimately creates more problems over time. If we don’t acknowledge the full range of our feelings, the ones we avoid or suppress will eventually come out somehow, but when they do it is more likely to be in some dysfunctional or indirect way. If we consistently avoid feeling and expressing the general sense of sadness, frustration, and anxiety we are all feeling during this pandemic, those feelings will express themselves somehow. It might be that they come out in anger or frustration expressed when something relatively smaller and less significant triggers us.
We are All Feeling Some Amount of Guilt
The majority of my online therapy clients also acknowledge the following: along with feelings around our relative blessings related to COVID-19 there’s an added element of guilt. We can’t help but feel guilty that we aren’t suffering as much as others. And allowing ourselves to feel and express our negative feelings about all this causes us to feel guilty. And guilt is one of those feelings most of us tend to avoid wanting to feel.
The solution to this particular piece of our challenging new reality is to simply acknowledge and verbalize the full range of our feelings. No, we don’t want to focus solely on the negative or spend too much time verbalizing the negative, but we need to give it some time. We shouldn’t ignore or fail to acknowledge the sadness, anxiety, fear, loneliness, grief, and uncertainty. We can acknowledge how fortunate we are in the big picture and still occasionally admit how much we miss our old lives. We can understand how relatively blessed we are and still profoundly miss going to restaurants, going to movies, getting together with friends and family, going on vacations, etc. We can miss having something to look forward to. We can miss the parties, graduations, and weddings we’d be going to if the world were normal. I deeply miss those things.
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