It was on 30th Jan 2020 that the Corona-virus first appeared into my mainstream consciousness. A routine thursday morning walk to work, which included listening to ’The Daily’ by NYT. The title that day was ‘A virus’s journey across China.’ Michael Barbaro’s usual measured and pensive voice inquired a reporter in Wuhan, China about a mysterious virus spreading rapidly. As the Chinese government feigned normalcy, my thoughts glazed over to more cheerful news that I could catch up on instead. There was the Weinstein trial of course. Harry and Megan leaving the monarchy maybe? Or something about the impeachment trial? After all, this was life before – the world as we knew it – would be forever consumed by COVID-19 and collapse like a pile of playing cards.
The past few days/weeks/months, as they say have been ‘history in the making’. As the world still grapples with the awareness that world we once knew is fading into oblivion, I can’t help but think of the seven stages of grief and loss by Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist who pioneered in near-death studies in her book ‘On Death and Dying’ developed this model.
We all have lost/will lose something or someone to this pandemic. Livelihoods, routines, vacation plans, big life events, loved ones, a sense of normalcy, a life we built so carefully. Humans respond to loss in in-consistent and mysterious ways.
We all, in our personal, professional, and virtual life are and will transition across these seven stages of grief. Some experience all stages simultaneously. Others skip a few. Many are stuck in a couple for extended periods of time. And then there are those of us who jump around in no particular order depending on our state of mind. In an attempt to make sense of what’s happening, I tried to structure human responses I am witnessing around me. Including those of my own in words and doodles. Hope as you read, it will prove therapeutic and cathartic as it slightly was for me.
1. Shock — Pandemics served as compelling plots for blockbuster movies starring A-listers like Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow. Or interesting TED talk topics for billionaires like Bill Gates who drew attention to our unpreparedness for worst case scenarios. Pandemics were not commonplace in our lifetime at least, so when we were swept up by one, the emotion that engulfed us all was pure shock!
2. Denial — Upon shock, our bodies and minds react in irrational ways. We kick into denial mode where we don’t want to acknowledge a difficult situation, counter hard facts, and downplay possible consequences of a given issue. We want to believe in, and propagate a myriad of self-justifications and convenient myths to anyone who will listen.
3. Anger — A natural reaction to botched life plans due to the lockdowns, closed borders and shelter in place diktats is uncontrollable rage. Humans experience immense discomfort with sudden change and express emotions with less fear of judgement of rejection than we would otherwise exercise. Anger mixed with feelings of guilt serves up a toxic cocktail on social media platforms.
4. Depression & Loneliness — When the sudden surge of mental taxation finally slows down and the panic subsides, we come face-to-face with the reality of the situation. We sense loss, deep sadness and retreat to an isolating inward state of being. We feel alone and lonely. But hopefully not for long.
5. Bargaining & Decisioning — Our emotions are in uncharted waters right now. We are willing to desperately believe, try, and trust the workings of a higher power. A power greater than all of us — nature, the universe, god even. During this time, the important things in life become vivid, and you decide to focus on what you know in your heart and go from there.
6. Reconciliation & Reconstruction — Once the fog lifts, we see things more clearly. While all previous emotions still linger, we brace to face reality. We plunge into functioning mode, not only within the constraints provided to us by quarantine, but also beyond the walls of our home. As we are permitted to step into the real world, as a society, we get the chance to reimagine what the ‘new’ real world might look like. It also becomes clear what and who are the truly essential people/professionals in society — teachers, nurses, govt. servants, food supply upholders…our treatment of these people also becomes apparent. We also ask probing Qs like how can we build more faith in and sufficiently fund critical government institutions like disaster relief, disease control, essential services etc.
7. Acceptance & Integration — In time, we will accept that life is never going to be the same ever again; personally, professionally, or societally. While we will never be completely ‘over it’, the intensity of anguish becomes more bearable with each passing day. And we finally as the human race will pick a pill. The blue pill – ‘to remain blissfully ignorant and go back to how things were’ or the revolutionary red pill – ‘to face and prepare for an unpleasant truth’ . The Choice is ours entirely.
Time and life can be fleeting, but also eternal. So let’s be patient with ourselves and allow the grieving process to take its due course. Hopefully we all come out brighter on the other side of this.
Disclaimer: Above content is personal opinion only. Absolutely not meant as academic research or mental health advice. Please seek professional advice as needed.