In the wee hours of the night when sleep escapes me, I start to pray and listen and think about how I can survive wherever this process takes us. Like everyone I know I feel powerless, full of emotion, fearful and broken in turn. Feelings come out of nowhere. They can stack up quickly becoming a logjam of emotions.
As I lay awake, the first thing that came to me was my need for ritual. From my work as a funeral celebrant, what I know for sure is when there are no words, ritual or ceremony is needed. I began to think about the rituals I sometimes use. I thought of how comforting candles are. I thought about lighting a candle in my office during my “work” day. And, when I’m done working, lighting candles in my kitchen and living areas to signify moving my own energies to other things.
I practice two rituals nearly every day. One is reading – scripture, poetry, words of encouragement written by others. Poetry is a very particular comfort, especially when I can’t sleep. To expand this effort, I’ve sifted through the books I’ve not read but own and gathered them together with the intention of going to them when I need refreshment. The second ritual I practice most days is writing in my journal. I know that I need the safety of the pages I write for myself as well as the creativity this practice sparks for all the other things I do.
I know too that I need art making. While I’ve been thinking for some time about getting my sewing machine out, it is time to commit. I’ve wanted to paint an old table to repurpose it for my sewing space. So, I purchased paint before we went into lock down mode. And I need to get my art making supplies out and ready for use. I love working with color in the forms of paints, pencils and fabrics. I need to build a time for art into every day.
That brought me to routine. Before COVID-19 social distancing, I went to the gym nearly every weekday. So, even though I can’t go to the gym, I can work out every day during my usual gym timeframe. I need to have that kind of structure. I need to move in order to clear my mind and reopen my lungs and my heart. Going to the gym now can look like taking a long walk with the dog, working in the yard and yoga in my sunny front room.
Music is a source of comfort. I need to turn music on every day rather than just being with the silence I so often practice. I also need to choose music over news and social media. Even though I feel as a responsible citizen I need to follow the news, I also know I don’t need ALL the news. Too much of the news cycle or the intensity of social media is not supportive of my own sense of wellbeing.
I need connection with those I love. I need to reach out and talk on the phone. I also need to use technology to see people. And I need to visit daily with my sister – this morning we ended up talking about our “to-do” list of things we can fill our nonworking time with. We made a tentative schedule – all things that will get us moving and help us each feel connected to our interests and our pets and our people.
I have noticed, that all that is happening feels a lot like grief. In fact, this time we are in feels vulnerable, really vulnerable, and loaded with grief. Grief about the deaths that are occurring. Grief about the struggle of others. Grief combined with fear and uncertainty about the future. Worry about our individual health and the health of those we love. Grief that things may never be the same. Grief that we are in the midst of significant losses – loss of innocence about our world, loss of surety in our health, loss of safety and security on many different levels. Grief feels like its brewing all around us.
Finally, it struck me that my list of strategies is among those I teach others who are mourning. Along with healthy eating, rest, exercise – these are the same things I would encourage someone who is mourning to do. For now, I focus on remembering these things, encouraging myself and when I have an opportunity, encouraging others. Being encouraging of each other seems like an essential strategy for this time. Encouraging one another whenever we can.
I’m curious, what practices are you putting into your routine as coping strategies during this challenging time?