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How I'm grieving the loss of 'normal life' in a pandemic as a therapist

A pandemic is not a time to force yourself into productivity; it is a time to lean into the arms of healing.
Why is it so hard to find a Black Therapist
TODAY illustration / Getty Images

Over the last four months, my emotions have ebbed and flowed and crashed like waves. I have felt all the feels and had to grieve what I thought was a normal life.

When the pandemic hit, New York City had shut down the day I had planned on going out to celebrate my birthday. I told my friends I would postpone the plans and pushed them back two weeks, then another week, then another and four months later it is clear that celebrations are no longer what they used to be.

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I have learned over these last four months that while we are going through a pandemic, we are also going through global trauma. It's so important to name the experiences that we are going through so that we can have an understanding of the root cause of what’s altering our feelings.

There have been days when I’ve felt dejected, lonely from living alone and just exhausted from doing the same things and feeling like one day is just leaking into the next. I’ve learned that when these feelings rush over me I need to sit with them and examine them instead of trying to push them away. What messages are my feelings trying to tell me? What messages do I need to give back to them?

I am always learning how to be gentle and compassionate with myself, and the reality is none of us have ever experienced anything like this before. A pandemic is not a time to force yourself into productivity; it is a time to lean into the arms of healing.

The simple things have been filling the crevices of my life with joy. That includes cooking and baking as a mindfulness practice, reading books, watching movies with friends through FaceTime, going on walks and bike rides and being intentional with how I fill my time. I’ll be honest and say there are days when I reminisce about going to brunch, visiting a movie theater or even going to a concert. This is normal. What most folks don’t recognize is that the emotions we feel when we miss something so deeply is a form of grief. We all lost something, and some of us have even lost someone. Grief can bring up feelings of annoyance and frustration, wishing that things were the way they used to be and having a hard time accepting what is outside of one's window of control. I’ve felt grief during this pandemic deeply, and it will shape how I examine my time, my relationships and the world around me.

What most folks don’t recognize is that these emotions we feel when we miss something so deeply is a form of grief.

Right now, many folks are probably wondering what they can do to heal through this pandemic as they struggle to embrace such drastic changes to everyday living. I encourage everyone to practice being intentional daily. Discover what your body needs, what your spirit needs and what your soul needs. If you are struggling with loneliness, in what ways can you cultivate connection? If you are struggling with sadness, in what ways can you create joyful moments in your life? And most importantly, if your feelings of grief, sadness and loneliness are persistent, consider seeking a therapist to have someone who to talk to and guide you through your feelings.

Another practice that has been very helpful during this time is having boundaries. When it comes to work, family and friends, how can you erect boundaries in order to preserve your peace of mind? I am carrying a caseload of 15-20 clients weekly, and because I am still working — even through the pandemic — my boundaries around work are that I am not taking any personal calls from friends or swiftly answering text messages during my work hours. If you know someone who is highly relying on you to help them through their grief and feelings during this time, consider referring them to a therapist through websites like Psychology Today or Therapy for Black Girls where they can talk to a professional about their feelings.

Remember that what we’re facing collectively is global trauma, so be aware of trauma symptoms that show up physically, like headaches, muscle pains, chest tightness and more along with emotional changes like irritation and anger, sleep irregularities and constant mood dysregulation. Understanding this can help you recognize what your body needs and what your mind needs, which also centers back to how you can incorporate self-care practices to your daily schedule to nurture your well-being.

It is important to understand that we cannot be everything to everyone, and we most certainly cannot be available to everyone and their needs while trying to meet our own. We are more than just our professional titles right now, or even our personal ones. We are humans who are facing tragedy together. There is no right or wrong way to heal and there is no right or wrong way to feel during this time.

Be gentle with yourself, be graceful with yourself. Healing is available to us all, even during a pandemic.