I couldn’t understand, at first, why I was having such trouble writing. In early March, following the advice of public-health experts, my husband and I had isolated ourselves with his septuagenarian parents, thinking that we could help them. At the end of each quiet day, I sat buzzing with terror but strangely listless, having accomplished very little. Until recently, I traveled a lot for work: Since publishing my first novel, I’ve often been on the road for speaking, teaching and other book-related gigs.
But now the speaking gigs were all canceled or postponed; my teaching had moved online; I was home. I had nowhere else to go. I had a novel deadline coming up. For so long, in planes, trains and cars, I’d wished to have an uninterrupted stretch in one place where I could really focus on my writing, and now, well, look, I had it.
But I couldn’t focus. What’s more, news aside, I could barely read. Instead, I ate an unusually large quantity of salt-and-vinegar chips. I was exhausted, but I slept badly, intermittently. I cried. Long-held desires and goals felt hazy, at times irrelevant. The days blurred together; deadlines pressed close. I couldn’t fully recall why I’d ever cared so much about books, words.
Other people who couldn’t stay home were going to work every day — many without the option, the privilege, of doing otherwise — while here I was, home, and I couldn’t, of all things, write. Yes, there’s a pandemic, and yes, I felt by turns anxious, furious, and terrified, but it’s 2020 in America, and I’ve felt quite anxious, furious and terrified for a while. The inability to work, though, was new.
But then it occurred to me, as I ate another astringent chip, that this lassitude, the trouble focusing, the sleep difficulties, my exhaustion: Oh yes, I thought, I remember this. I was grieving. I was grieving in early March, I’m still grieving now, and chances are, you are, too.
Consider how much has already been lost, and how much more we’re likely to lose: the lives already taken by the coronavirus, along with the lives currently in jeopardy, and exponentially more people falling ill every day. The lost livelihoods, the blasted plans. Entire families destitute today who were getting by three weeks ago. Upended routines. Postponed weddings and funerals. Depleted savings. Isolation.
The quickly rising anti-Asian racism, stoked by a cowardly president trying to distract this country from his own negligence. Politicians arguing that our elders should die for the sake of the economy. The exhausted grief of those who already knew full well how hard it can be to be American and marginalized. Jobs vanishing, the jeopardized local businesses — restaurants, bookstores — that make a place home. Whole cities are changing, fast. Well, the whole world is, it seems, and there’s that to grieve, too. I could go on; the list is long. “There’s Grief of Want — and grief of Cold — / A sort they call ‘Despair’ —,” wrote Emily Dickinson, who knew a thing or two about loss.
Does any of this sound familiar to you, and if so, do you know what to do? I didn’t, not really, so I asked an expert, Megan Devine, psychotherapist and author of “It’s OK That You’re Not OK.” Devine points out how relatively unfamiliar we are, in the U.S., to talking about this kind of life-changing pain.