Navigating the COVID-19 Loss of Lifestyle and Grief
Recently, my writing has focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications on myself and the wider community. I’ve shared personal thoughts, feelings and rants to an audience I may never meet in person. My hope is for readers to identify and connect with my experience in dealing with the pandemic, while trying to keep a relentless ED at bay. If sharing my experience helps one person to not feel so alone, then this blog is more than worthwhile. The process of releasing thoughts and feelings onto the page, is a process that has been therapeutic for me. If you have not tried this already, perhaps in the form of a diary or journal, I encourage you do so. Writing is a great tool for unloading unhelpful internal thoughts and feelings from a mind that is overly crowded at the best of times. That is all I’m really doing here, plus taking photographs at any chance I get.
Everything has Changed
We are experiencing unthinkable times. My focus is no longer motivated towards doing everything possible to make my ED squirm and scurry off. Eating meals, experiencing new places, seeing friends and developing my photography, are in a state of havoc. COVID-19 has meant that my focus has needed to shift, from heading closer towards the light at the end of the tunnel and further away from ED, to pure survival, getting through each day without too much internal damage. The journey to recovery is suddenly more challenging. We now must find our way through terrifying uncertainty and fear without allowing ourselves to fall back too far, because ED loves uncertainty and fear, he thrives on it. It’s essential we don’t allow him to drag us back into his messed up eating disordered world.
You are not Alone
Many of my stories have described my inner hopes and intentions to encourage myself and others to make the best of a bad situation. Reflecting on my work however, I see that my blogs may have painted a picture of someone who is doing considerably well in the current face of hardship. Maybe it seems I’m maintaining a positive state of recovery from my ED, despite the adversity that surrounds me. If that’s so, I’d like to set the records straight. I’d hate for anyone to read my stories and wonder why I’m doing so well? If you find yourself breaking down in tears most days, I’m here to assure you that you are not alone. I’m in the struggle of my life, thanks largely to a virus that has nothing to do with my own actions or wrong doings. If I am guilty of anything, it is of finally bringing myself out of my self-induced world of isolation and fear of my surroundings and now struggling to force myself to go back to that very place I once craved so much.
Considering where the world currently finds itself, would a linear, nicely progressing experience of recovery be a reasonable expectation for anybody (without superhuman powers) experiencing a debilitating illness such as an ED? I’d say, not. My time in isolation has in no way been blue skies, rainbows (although we have drawn a few!) and eating on schedule! Nor has it given me time to do what I wish I could; that is, work on my photography, online courses and work to get The Picture Healer out there as a recognised entity. On the contrary, since being in isolation, I’ve struggled physically and mentally with the demands of two young children at home 24/7, being partially responsible for their education, whilst at the same time, feeling concerned and partially responsible for this lack of education that my children are currently receiving. I’m unable to get out and walk whenever I feel like it (a major stress release and feel good activity), nor can I drop everything and go to the shops or a drive to somewhere distracting with camera in hand, without a strong and distinct fear of getting in trouble (Madam, what is your reason for being away from your home?) or doing the wrong thing by my children.
A World of Uncertainty
I know others are in a similar position right now, stuck in a world of constant distress and uncertainty. Each day I’m firmly trying to guard my own sanity because ED is finding his way back into my world. If you are in a similar struggle, recognise it for what it is and understand that this does not mean we are failing (I know, hard!). Our world is in crisis and those of us with this additional struggle, need to hold on tight. This tough time will end, life may not be the same, but we do have something to live for, something that I hope will be a positive kind of different.
Throughout my journey to find an enhanced quality of life, I’ve learnt many new lessons, lessons by which I should strive to live. These lessons are not optional but rather a set of instructions I should follow to the word. Likening it to a puzzle, just one piece of the puzzle missing can throw the whole process of recovery off track. For myself, my puzzle pieces require setting aside crucial time for myself, time to attend to my personal needs and passions without feeling guilty. Maybe it’s the same for you, maybe it’s another element of recovery, it really doesn’t matter. We’re all likely to have days when we are missing a vital piece of our recovery puzzle. For me this vital piece is my new passion of photography. This piece of my puzzle has been deemed to be hazardous and must be avoided. This missing piece is an alarming loss when reflecting on how different and happy my life was just a few short months ago before the pandemic hit. I was beginning to flourish and find the life I’d been searching for. Today however, the thought of getting out of bed is a struggle because I know what lies ahead; much of the same, nothing much to look forward to.
Mental Health cannot go ‘On Hold’
I’m not alone. Many others are in this same position. With our own doctors’ orders having gone out the window, our mental well-being has been put on hold whilst the world gets a grip on the pandemic, but how long will this take?
Nobody knows. Therein lies another problem — mental health problems don’t go on hold while the world finds its way out. At the heart of this, my psychologist has helped me to identify another layer of feelings sitting on an already crowded shelf; it makes perfect sense: loss. What does this mean? To sum it up, I’m juggling the COVID-19 concerns and restrictions, my ED that is trying incredibly hard to pull me down, and to top it off, I’m experiencing a deep sense of loss. An underlying and intense sense of sadness for a newly rediscovered part of myself that I’ve lost. My sense of freedom and ability to do what I know is good for my well-being, gone. Pure, raw grief. It makes sense that a significant part of what I’m experiencing can come down to grief. You may think this is odd, after all, grief is usually linked to the loss of a person or pet and is usually a deeply personal experience.
Loss and Grief and Beyond
The situation in 2020, in which the entire world finds itself, is unprecedented. Suddenly we may be experiencing the same sense of loss and grief; ALL AT THE SAME TIME. We’ve lost our freedom, autonomy, we’ve lost access to the activities that bring a sense of happiness to our lives, we can’t see our families or friends and we cannot travel for the conceivable future. But it doesn’t end there, for me and perhaps you as well, I grieve for my children, the time they have lost, the experience of being a prep for my youngest, the experience of being on student council for my eldest. We’ve all lost a lot in a short amount of time and it hurts.
This kind of grief and loss isn’t regarded in the same light as losing a loved one, we aren’t coming together to acknowledge it. There is little support or recognition because we’re doing what we are obligated to do for the greater good of civilisation. Grief, disbelief, irritability and frustration are reasonable feelings to be having, but are not necessarily being recognised. Life as we know it has gone, along with the many lives that have succumbed. We face a life that will look different, feel different. We find ourselves wondering, what kind of different?
My personal ways to get through each day:
- Maintaining health related appointments – In order to abide by social distancing laws, most one-on-one appointments have been changed to an online platform. It would be easy to say this is too hard, technologically and timewise (I am guilty here). With countless zoom meetings for my kids’ schooling, I literally feel I am a machine, made to run around all day, setting up for one zoom meeting after another. It would be easy to cancel my appointments; my ED has certainly encouraged it. Life would be less chaotic and noisy! Yet, I have committed to persisting with my mentor and psychological meetings on a weekly basis; it’s not the same as face to face but it’s something. If I need more assistance, I can always contact my mentor June straight away. Although nobody else can solve my difficulties, talking about them with someone I trust, and who understands, can be helpful and comforting.
- Exercise – I am not talking excessive, eating disorder dictated exercise, but rather, something I enjoy and gets me out of the home. A walk, a bike ride, anything that gets the feel-good hormones pumping around the body are good options. My walk might be one big walk or broken up in smaller ones throughout the day. It does not really matter, I know for myself, the combination of movement and fresh air always helps to improve my perspective.
- Accepting help – This is tough for me, I am the kind of person (or my ED is the kind of monster) who would prefer to run myself into the ground rather than admit I need help and burdening other people. Yet, I have been forced to push these feelings aside (not easy) and accept help from key support people. Admitting that I can’t do everything; can’t solve everybody’s issues, play educator (to the highest level possible) to two children, complete every single school activity, write blogs, be a gourmet home chef everyday (I could go on but I think you get the picture!) has been essential. Receiving even a little more help will enable me to keep up with essential health appointments and also allow some quality time to work on my blogs and my beloved photography, to which I feel I’m entitled because this work strengthens healthy-me. With this, I also need to let go of the guilt that arises when asking for help.
- Take the pressure off myself – Repeat after me, Sam: “I am not a teacher, I cannot provide the same level of education as a teacher, nor should I expect myself to do so.” It is unrealistic and creates unnecessary pressure. My best is always enough.
- Try and look at the bigger picture as much as possible – Prior to Covid-19, I felt like a mother who had returned to work after a prolonged spell, only to lose the job rather swiftly; upon recovering sufficiently from my long-term ED, I had found healthy-life purpose with my camera. Then, bang. COVID-19 caused a shutdown. I am currently grieving this loss and that’s okay. I am reminding myself that this is a temporary situation in which I am not alone; many people have had their jobs and lives put on hold. Life will be different, but I will be able to resume my photography work. Like many people, my hours have been temporarily reduced but I haven’t lost my camera, nor my website. Choosing a positive perspective is helpful.
- Give it a bit of time – “Be more patient, Sam!” I will do my part to help our world control this pandemic, and soon enough we will be able to leave our homes, and drive to where we want to go. I am visualising getting into my car, equipped with a camera bag full of lenses, to explore somewhere new and amazing. It’s a beautiful thought and I am hugging it.