Acceptance and the new normal

Acceptance is a recognized stage in the grieving process. It is the final stage of grief and the one associated with finding a way forward. If we look at our current situation in a pandemic-stricken world we are in a period of grief. We are grieving our “normal” lives which can be many things for many people. For some it is grieving a job lost that we loved, it is grieving for friendships, missed family connections and celebrations, in some cases school or privacy. Whatever it is for each of us, and for some it is more than one thing, it is still grief. For most of us the first stage, Shock, has diminished. We are no longer paralyzed and glued to the tv for one unbelievable announcement after another. We have become somewhat accustomed to social distancing and new rules at work or in the community. We are still inconvenienced from time to time or find ourselves suddenly remembering there is a new way to get your tires changed or get a can of paint. The denial stage is still real for many. This is complicated further by an over-abundance of information that spills across our screens every day. Conspiracy theories and supposed cure-alls and this overwhelming desire to believe that this isn’t really real, that someone will call it for what it is and we’ll all go back to life and have a chuckle or a cry over how ridiculous it all was. There are a handful of us in the Anger stage. For many, there is no real direction for that anger, so it spurts out as uncontrollable frustration. The government is to blame, someone else’s government is to blame, scientists in secret labs are to blame. It makes us feel some element of control to stomp our feet and shout “NO”, I’m not going to accept this, this is not my fault and I refuse to accept the punishment for something I have no culpability in. The most important thing to remember about stage 2 and 3 is that it is normal, it is healthy and, in the end, the why and how and what if does not really matter. If your house burns down does it make it less painful or less burnt if lightening struck it or if someone left the stove on or someone lit a fire on purpose? I mean when you think about it. The how and why gives you a place for blame and anger but does not make you feel better or correct the situation, does it? So that leads us to bargaining. This stage is about finding any way out. If you let us go back to school, we will promise to wear masks and not play outside or touch toys or come withing 6 feet of each other.  If I could just hug my mom, I swear I will self isolate for 14 days. If some of us could just go back to normal we promise to wash our hands and not go out more than we need. Sound familiar? Now the caveat to our current situation is that there are certain bargains that may work. We have seen some work. We have a little bit of freedom and the risk is relatively low and we get optimistic that the bargaining worked, and we can negotiate our way out of this situation. We can’t. We can accept small victories as just that, but acceptance would bounce us down to the bottom and we are not all there yet, are we? The next is a tough one. Depression. The inevitable reality that this is what it is. We are not going to graduation. Mom’s birthday is going to be on zoom and my first grader may not learn to read this year because I just cannot find the time or energy to teach her. This stage is different for everyone, as different as the things we are grieving. The thing to remember is one – I am not a psychologist, so this is all my opinion but also that from what I know as a layperson is that the stages are not always linear. You could find yourself happily in denial on Monday and full on depression on Tuesday. It is ok. I am personally a fan of connecting with a friend or family member when dealing with anger or depression particularly. It is not an easy path to navigate solo and we may find we have more in common than we think. The reasons we are in each stage and feeling each feeling may be different but like the house analogy – it does not actually matter. We can connect through the commonality of how we are feeling even if we do not agree on the why or the how. But I digress, let us jump next to testing. This one is not about testing our limits in so much as they concern the health and safety or ourselves and others but in seeking a new challenge or passion. It is the glimmer of sunshine follow the darkness of depression. That moment where you may not accept everything as it is, but you are willing to try to find a silver lining or make the most of it. Maybe that is a new exercise routine, a new hobby (cooking/painting/interpretive dance) or maybe it is finding an opportunity where there was not one before. With warmer days perhaps that means standing in the yard (proper social distancing of course) and enjoying a visit and cup of tea with a friend or your mom. For some it could be finding a way to help others or find a new calling in this new world we find ourselves in. My opinion, again not worth the virtual ink it is written in, is that when things are the darkest for us, we should reach for this light. This opportunity in the chaos to be our guide through it. Let me say, as someone who is tried a few things this is again not a straight line. You may try and fail at something; you may circle back to another stage and start all over. All perfectly reasonable – after all, we are all new to this. I like to reflect on and mimic some earlier generations. Generations who lived through wars and depression eras that lasts more than a decade. These resilient, enviable people went through a remarkably similar process I am certain. After all we are all human. They suffered and learned and adapted and thrived eventually and so shall we all. If we keep in mind some very fundamental truths. The how and why do not matter. The focus needs to be on “we” and not “me”. We need to learn to be resilient and adapt to an ever changing normal. There are likely a million other truths that we will learn and come to know in the next months and years. Now, my favourite stage…. acceptance. It is hard to know if any of us are here yet. Some of us may have a very hard road ahead to reach it. This is a lovely stage. The stage where we accept that our lives as we have known them are over. There is no “back to normal” coming. There is a new normal that we get to define and create together if we can stay united and strong in our endurance of the other stages. This stage is fundamentally one of action. We accept and we find a meaningful way forward. I would not begin to suggest that I know what that road will look like. I still bounce around the middle section of this process most days, but I believe we will find the meaningful way. Perhaps that hope is my testing stage. So why write all of this down at all. There are no more answers here than anywhere else, what the hell do I know anyway?! Writing is what I do – it is my process and I think if I can share with just one person a glimpse into how it all makes sense for me, maybe it will provide comfort to them. Just maybe we will stop focusing on the how and why and stop clinging to constant news and start moving forward. To grab the proverbial pandemic bull by the horns and say, “listen bull, I am going to protect my friend and family from this virus, but I am going to define what that looks like for me.” I am not going to let changes to what I thought was “normal” decide if I am happy or if my children are happy. My new world will be built within the confines required to keep people safe and I am happy to do it and I will do it well and I will thrive in its creation. Well that might be a bit ambitious but the one thing I have learned these last few months is nothing is certain. Something as small as a virus can change all human existence so why can’t I define mine?

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