I feel it and so do you. Although I turned the television off a month ago, I am still reading the medical journals. I have decided not to even watch the news reports of fascist organizations taking over cities –but even the scientific news is not encouraging. The picture that is emerging of the “post COVID” world looks more like cancer as a chronic disease. We may have to live with COVID-19 as the backdrop of our lives — forever.
I am putting up a good front, but I think the best way to describe what I feel is grief. I am not clinically depressed, but I know that I am in mourning. The big losses are so big it’s hard to fathom them (e.g. death, economic collapse, etc.). So, I realize that I am grieving over the trivial things that my brain can comprehend like food samples in the grocery store, shaking hands, brunch with friends, hugging my patients, and going into work every day. Yes, I miss going into work. Most of all, I grieve the ability to see people’s faces — to read their emotions or simply to recognize people. When I think about the fact I used to complain about busy airports and traveling for work, I realize that I didn’t appreciate the life I had before COVID. And that makes me grieve the fact that for all its limitations, this may be “the good life,” because the situation could get worse. Yes, we could look back on the life we have NOW and think, “We were lucky then.”
My life has been so blessed that I have not done very much grieving, but I recognize the symptoms. For more than 4 months I have not been able to think of anything I want to eat. In fact, eating is a chore. Also, I find I awaken early in the morning before my alarm goes off. I ought to have experienced these symptoms when my husband died. However, his battle with Alzheimer’s was so grim that I was happy for him (and relieved for me) when it was over. In fact, I transitioned quite smoothly into widowhood. When I sold the big house that had once been full of children and moved alone into a quiet townhouse, I felt a sense of peace instead of loss. However, I have not transitioned smoothly into my “COVID-widowhood,” which has felt like a series of losses.
A few weeks ago, an old friend, Roy Farmer, called to check on me. He’s one of those saintly people who makes you feel better for just having spoken to him on the phone. He is the motive force behind one of the most successful “between jobs” programs in the country. He told me the secret formula that has helped thousands of people re-start their lives after a major loss. He has identified 8 steps but here are the first two:
- Rejoice and be glad in today because the day is full of opportunities, and…
- Every morning, write down 10 things for which you are grateful. If you find that difficult, you are out of practice in the gratitude department. It will get easier if you practice. In other words, start every day with an attitude of gratitude.
Roy also told me about an exclusive club I could join. It’s always been a virtual club, so that makes it very COVID friendly. It’s free, and there are no meetings so that makes it convenient. However, it’s not an easy organization to belong to because the main requirement is a tough one. The group is called the “Fear Not-ers” and in order to join, you must commit not to worry or be fearful of the future, regardless of whether it’s the next 24 hours or the next 24 years.
I have been grieving the loss of the lives we had, and I have been worried (perhaps even fearful) of what our lives will be like in the future. But I decided to join the Fear Not-ers club, so I have committed to being unafraid. One result was remarkable. When I went to the grocery store today, the food looked delicious! But realistically, you can’t just decide to stop being afraid. Instead, you have to decide to be courageous. To do that you need the final part of Roy’s recipe. It may not resonate with everyone — but it’s working for me. I am focused on my belief in this verse:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
When Winston Churchill said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” even he knew that wasn’t true. There was the real possibility of a Nazi invasion of Britain. When he said, “We shall fight on the beaches,” (1) he wasn’t speaking euphemistically. Common people – grandparents and children — might literally have been in hand to hand combat within days of his public message. In hindsight, it is a miracle that they weren’t.
We have real things to be afraid of – like devastating illness, death and economic collapse. But being afraid doesn’t help us cope with them. And being afraid implies that we are at the mercy of unpredictable circumstances. I’d rather believe that we are here for a purpose, chosen for this time in history, uniquely prepared for the challenges we face, and that the outcome — no matter what it is — is part of the plan for our individual lives. You may think that is self-deceptive thinking — but all battles are won or lost FIRST in the mind. If you win the battle over your fear, you can win the battle. Churchill understood that and so must we. As the COVID-19 pandemic grips Texas and my city, and as I look to a future that may be lived in the shadow of COVID-19 for years to come, that’s my mindset — NO FEAR. BE COURAGEOUS.