Iso-grief is a real thing as we hide from the coronavirus

Being self-isolated has brought around a lot of different feelings for all of us. In some ways it’s making us creative – like figuring out how to play beer pong on video chat with friends in other houses.

I’m seeing (and posting) food and workout photos on social media, but also we all know that we don’t tend to put the arguments and weeping videos on there too.

So… I can’t help but guess that life in everyone else’s bubbles is probably not always as amusing as your TikTok dances.

As I mentioned in my last blog, one of the things that impacts us most in times of upheaval is the loss of control. Like the loss of control over your lifestyle and situation

What a lot of people don’t know, is that the process of grief can occur outside of a death – it can also occur with other types of significant loss.

I think about grief a lot as I’ve experienced plenty of it in my life from my health conditions. It’s very helpful for me to think about what I go through as “loss” and “grief”, this way it creates a framework for how I’m feeling when the emotions are all over the place.

It also helps me to work through my difficult feelings to the eventual positive space of acceptance one magical day, in which I also learn something important.

Nothing bad happens without a positive learning or outcome ❤️

What is loss?

Let’s start at the start and look up some basic definitions.

The state of being deprived of or of being without something that one has had

There are all types of loss you could be experiencing right now:

  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of income
  • Loss of routine
  • Loss of freedom
  • Loss of your personal space
  • Loss of physical touch
  • Loss of social connections
  • Loss of “normality”
  • Loss of safety (or the feeling of safety)
  • Loss of security (now and future security)
  • Or any other loss specific to yourself or situation

We’ll all experience this differently based on what we valued or found most important in our lives before everything changed.

Or we might suddenly miss those things that we didn’t realise we held in such high regard until it was gone!

What is grief?

Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.

It is a very individual process and there is no right or wrong way to go through it. It can be short-lived, or drawn out, and can can have both physical and/or emotional reactions.

You might feel:

  • Shock and disbelief
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Physical symptoms – e.g. fatigue, nausea, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and not being able to sleep or sleeping too much.

And reading this list, I’m recognising that I’ve been through all of the emotional ones already and some of the physical ones. Good times 👍

The stages of grief

Whether you’re into idea of different stages of grief or not, I find it a really helpful framework for understanding my situation and reactions when they feel a bit over the place.

Here are the stages and how they might relate to pandemic-related self-isolation grief.

Cos that’s a sentence I expected to say this year 😬

Note that generally, people don’t always move through these in a nice orderly fashion. You might jump back and forward in no particular order through the different phases, they might overlap. There is no way to deal with grief wrong, this is just a way to understand what you’re dealing with.

1. Denial

This is the feeling of “this can’t be happening”, or “it’s not a big deal, I don’t need to worry”. It’s a natural defence mechanism to deal with the shock of change. It could be dangerous as you might convince yourself that you don’t need to take the precautions asked by your government and health professionals.

For me, this looked like downplaying the severity of the pandemic and how it could potentially kill me until the weekend we moved to Level 2 in NZ and the reality hit that my immunocompromised ass had to isolate.

2. Anger

This is the feeling of vulnerability which ends up expressed as anger or frustration. You might be angry that this happened to you/the world, and/or you might try to find something or someone to blame for this. “Why me?!”, “It’s not fair!”, “Why would this happen?”.

I’ve definitely gotten angry at the world in general, and at certain people in my life that I love and I’m sorry. I’ve had bouts of intense panic and get very angry at people when I feel particularly vulnerable that I could die in this mess and I feel like they don’t care (note: they do care).

3. Bargaining

This is when you start bargaining with yourself or a higher power, thinking about what could have been done to avoid this situation. It’s often done with “if only” or “what if” statements.

Maybe this stage is still to come for me, or I’ve done all my bargaining in previous grief battles, but I’ve heard plenty of bargaining from others. This looks like “if only we had closed the borders earlier” or “what if people had taken this seriously before this spread”. It makes sense that we bargain because it’s hard when we feel we don’t have control.

4. Depression

This is those feelings of emptiness, sadness, hopelessness and/or isolation (definition a bit on the nose). It might be hard to get out of bed, you may be low energy and not want to do things or see people. “Why even bother?”, “Is this even worth it?”, “What does my future hold?”. This stage could be dangerous if you stop those important self-care activities like eating, drinking water and taking medication so try look after yourself.

In my first week of self-isolation, I felt pretty chill with everything. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out over time, but I definitely felt a slump and motivation in energy in week 2. This is when I discovered I could watch videos on TikTok for 2 hours straight instead of getting out of bed! 👍 I also cried every other day or so?

5. Acceptance

This is the stage where you finally feel like it’s all going to be ok. You may not embrace this situation with open arms, you may not even be happy about it, but you might accept that this is your new reality. This is your new normal for now and you’ll get your old normal back. “It’s going to be ok”, “I can do this”, “I can make this work for me”.

Not everyone might reach this stage, or you might bounce in and out of it. Accepting something that is constantly changing is very difficult, and also very understandable to drop back out of.

Think like, “I can wash my hands regularly, socialise at a distance, and keep safe”. And remembering that this isn’t forever, but we can make the most of what we do have now.

How to deal with grief

So, you’re feeling the feels, but what now?

– Always remember to be kind to yourself.

Any emotion or feeling is completely normal, and remember that it won’t feel like that forever either.

– Remember that you’re not alone.

This situation is kind of wild in that it’s essentially affecting the whole world, and probably almost everyone you know. This means that there are so many people who are going through the same thing.

The understanding is very high right now, so reach out if you need to talk it out. I guarantee there is a close friend of yours ready to talk and who probably needs to talk too.

– Face your feelings

This one can suck. Especially for us kiwis who are pretty good at the “she’ll be right” attitude.

Suppressing your feelings through tried and true methods, or through alcohol etc only works temporarily. Trust me. It’s the sort of thing that also lowers immunity, and no one needs that right now 😅

Let those feelings out. Name the feeling – anger, vulnerability, sadness, helplessness (and that’s just me on a good day). Cry. Talk to a friend, partner, family member, online therapist, social media friend, anyone.

Write your feelings down if you don’t feel you can talk to anyone about it. Exercise. Write a poem or a song or a dystopian novel. Hike up a local mountain and yell into the abyss. Whatever works for you. You do you, boo.

– Let go of what you can’t control

This is a favourite of mine. I love me some contentment.

At the end of the day, the only thing that we can control is our reactions to our world.

If people do things we don’t like but can’t change, we can let it hurt us, or we can choose to let it go. I’m not pretending this is an easy thing to do – it takes work and we’ll probably be annoyed before we chill.

If we’re not allowed to go out and about anymore, ok. That sucks. But what CAN we do? We are privileged to have at least one device and an internet connection (to be able to write and read blogs) so we already have so much possibility online.

The energy used to resent other people who do things we don’t agree with, or the fact we can’t go out, is a totally a non-essential item. It’s a drain and not making us feel better.

I vote we let it go of things we can’t change, alongside our cafe espresso coffees (, and try work for contentment in what we do have.

– And if you need more tips

I basically wrote a whole blog about this a couple of weeks ago. Can I recommend that as your next read if you haven’t read it already.

Sick Girl’s Tips to Surviving Self-Isolation during COVID-19.

It’s fairly long with heaps of my favourite tips that has gotten me through some pretty shitty times. I’m hoping to use my pain and learnings to help others skip some pain themselves ❤️

So, to summarise

If you’re all over the place right now, or have been for the past few weeks, that’s totally understandable.

You might be experiencing grief, because we’re literally living through a huge amount of loss, in a way that is unprecedented in our lives.

You might find it helpful to look at your emotions as they connect to the different stages of grief to understand where you’re at and how to work through it.

And since we’re all going through this mess at the same time, let’s all try face our feelings, let them out in whatever manner works for us, and get through this together.

Charlie xx

 📷Featured photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

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