As we approach the two year anniversary of shelter-in-place, I simultaneously feel bewildered and unsurprised by the clusterfuck that is society’s response to so much collective worldwide trauma. It will be years before we fully understand the psychological ramifications of the last two years, but it seems unlikely that capitalism’s not-so-gentle pushes to get us back to the status quo will help humanity acknowledge the magnitude of the grief at hand. I’m reminded of the Stalin quote that captures our tendency for dissociation and avoidance so aptly, “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.“ I’ve never been one to feel much in response to numbers, it’s one of the reasons I became a therapist instead of a mathematician. Yet as the causes for grief add up, I can’t help but notice the impact of avoiding the piece of collective grief I am called upon to carry. I observe myself numbing out with countless hours of Jane the Virgin. I alternate between fighting and flirting with being comfortably brainwashed by the industrial wedding complex. The elephant in the room tries to convince me that spending hundreds of dollars on matching pajamas for my bridesmaids will soothe the ever present anguish in my heart. That silly elephant- tricks are for kids!
Therapy is teaching me that one secret to living a happy life is learning to balance holding space for both joy and grief simultaneously. In the early years of my life I became a professional at using denial to simply ignore the things that distracted from my joy. Doing this might work in the short term, but in the long run it is like slowly compressing a dimmer switch on happy emotions. In No Mud, No Lotus, Thich Nhat Han writes, “Without suffering, there is no happiness. So we shouldn’t discriminate against the mud. We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.” For me, approaching the world’s suffering with tenderness means slowing down and sitting with the elephant in the room. It means continually guiding myself back to acknowledging the white supremicist culture I was born into and recognizing my privilege in being able to choose when, where, and how I do that. It means holding space for the legacy traumas in society and our planet caused by racism, patriarchy, sexism, materialism, and rugged individualism. It means allowing myself to grieve the losses of the pre-pandemic world that we will never recover, while simultaneously celebrating the positive changes and possibilities the last two years have brought with them.
I feel a palpable pressure from society to return to business as usual. To specifically put the trauma of the last two years behind us and move on. I know I’m not responsible for anyone else’s process, but I’ll be here doing my best to recognize, allow, investigate and nurture my piece of our collective grief.
And if you want my professional opinion, I’d suggest you give it a try too.