Emotional exhaustion is a state of feeling emotionally worn-out and drained as a result of accumulated stress from your personal or work lives, or a combination of both. Emotional exhaustion is one of the signs of burnout. (Healthline.org)
Last March 2020; I was tasked with writing a blog a few short days after school was abruptly shut down. At first, I remember thinking this will be solved quickly and things will go back to normal.
I had literally no clue as to the gravity of the situation. A few days after school closed I was laid off from my job. The whole situation between a pandemic ; we really knew little about, the kids no longer in school and losing my job our world was upended in a matter of a week.
Fast forward a WHOLE YEAR. My level of uncertainty remains even vaguer. I had naively thought that we would be back to “normal” within a few months’ time.
A friend RM; wrote to me and said her grade school children asked her what would happen to us if we you were gone. I was really taken aback by this. I had not really even stopped to think how many children cannot comprehend what is going on right now and how terrified they must be to have to even think in these abstracts.
I feel as if some days I am mourning what I don’t even know we lost yet. I had two friends who have passed away from covid this past year. At times I worry about my own health. I have tried not to dwell.
Just this morning I was sitting in the car. Its pouring out and I as I saw people walking by in masks I became so emotional. I actually started to cry. I thought to myself this cannot be our new normal. I don’t want it to be! I don’t want to have to wear a mask, not see my family and change my whole life.
I usually don’t like to write such grim blogs. But, I have really been wrestling with my own emotions and I think that as women we tend to not share a lot. It makes us vulnerable. But, then I thought maybe other people are feeling the same way and it may help to hear they are not alone in their feelings.
I kept trying to identify why I felt so “blah” in the mornings when I woke up. I was starting to wake up feeling some type of uneasy feeling but, I could not place a finger on my level of discomfort.
I realized what I was feeling was a form of grief and loss. I haven’t felt myself the last few months. Friends and family kept saying “where is fun Debbie; come on come out, let’s do this or that “. I just did not want to I did not want to leave the house or go anywhere.
I am; by nature; a worrier. I am always thinking and planning. I fell into a trap of anticipatory grief as my friend coined it; I was worrying about bills, the next meal, finding a job, doing my resume, was I going to get sick, what will happen with the kids school, etc… I stopped living in the moment. All I did was worry. It began to be all consuming.
I realized that grieving is not only about the actually loss of life but, the loss of the way we live our lives.
Once I allowed myself to have that aha moment. The moment where I said this is what I am experiencing. I feel angry that my daughter missed her first year of in person high school, that my son missed out on sports experiences, that I was not employed, that my husband has to go work every day and be exposed like countless others to a health crisis (let’s face it we don’t really even have a grasp on) that I cannot come and go as I please. These are all losses. Albeit they are all manageable and I don’t want to sound callous or selfish; but they are real. They are real for all of us. Our lives have been upended. It does not negate that so much has been lost. At the time of this blog we have lost over 500,000 fellow Americans. May each of their memories be a blessing!
There was something freeing to admit I was feeling a sense of loss and grief. As with the grief associated with death; this too has stages.
I have spoken in past blogs about collective disturbances. We have as a nation felt the grip this virus has had on us all in every aspect of life.
Grief does not happen on a set time frame. Grief has its ups and downs. Some days are manageable and you laugh and enjoy life. There are other days where it all comes down like a ton of bricks and you have no idea how you will make it through the day.
In graduate school, we studied the stages of grief. I can remember spring 2020 I knew there was a virus we did not know much about. Admittedly, I was like oh this will pass quickly, it is not that serious. I was in denial of the gravity of it all. My sister’s birthday came in April, and I was so angry (another stage) we could not celebrate in our usual way, and we made the best of it all. We had a trunk party in her front yard with masks and were bombarded with dirty looks by people driving by, that we were having a “party”. I actually became a little fearful. Maybe; we shouldn’t be together even though we are outside with masks. As it sunk in, this was not going anywhere; my kids would beg to go see a friend or go over to someone’s house, play a game of basketball, etc. They would bargain with us. They would promise to wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and not go inside. This was the bargaining phase. I would bargain in my own mind is it safe to see my friends or family.
We reached the sadness phase, as my daughter’s eighth-grade graduation approached. Would they have graduation? How would we celebrate? The sadness of not being able to do year-end rituals, no planning for summer vacations, camp, time with friends, and participating in family summer vacations. I felt bad having sadness over these events when people were actively sick and dying. Yet, being home all the time left a lot of room for your mind to run wild.
I started to watch the news too but, I became increasingly upset about the homelessness, kids starving, and the loss of life. I needed to really take a step back away from media. I am a compassionate person, and I tend to feel things deeply. I needed to focus on where I could help through some distant volunteering.
The last stage is acceptance. We became really good at making things work. We found ways to be safe and still enjoy life. Part of grief is moving on and living. At times I question decisions we make to do certain activities. I try to be as careful as we can with hand washing, wearing masks, sanitizing, staying six feet apart and doing as much as we can outside.
It was a leap of faith to allow the kids to start doing some stuff with friends, and then came school reopening. I do not want to accept the reality of living life in this way. As a nation, we have made it through past pandemics.
As I ramble on and on here; I just wanted to try to put my emotions into writing. I did this in hopes that anyone reading it feels like “oh yeah that’s what I am feeling”. I am not an anxious person but, I started to feel those telltale signs of my heart racing, worrying about things I cannot control, headaches, restless sleep patterns, and trying to control things I had no control over.
It is okay to feel all of this but, it is not okay to live there and dwell.
Deborah Levine-Powell is a psychotherapist in New York, where she works with teenage girls who are victims of abuse and trafficking. She is a wife and a mom to a tween and teenager. When she is not working, you can find her engaged in PTA activities, a leader at Girl Scouts, having fun with her friends and family, while serving up hot soulful dishes in the kitchen.