This pandemic has impacted everyone, in some way. Maybe your job has changed, maybe you cannot pay your rent, maybe your business has shut down or maybe you lost a loved one. The outcome for most has been unfortunate to say the least; and with that comes grief. Grief is a complex word and the feelings it brings are just as complicated.
What is grief?
1a: deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement | his grief over his son's death
b: a cause of such suffering | life's joys and griefs
b: annoying or playful criticism | getting grief from his friends
c: an unfortunate outcome : DISASTER —used chiefly in the phrase come to grief
3 obsolete : GRIEVANCE
Hopefully you have not lost someone to this virus and if you have my heart goes out to you. But grief has many other applications and as shown above, multiple definitions can be used to describe our current state. Although I have had my fair share of loss, I am by no means a grief counsellor and I won’t pretend to know the sorrow of losing someone during these unprecedented times. I will speak on grief though and how this pandemic might be bringing up certain feelings for you and how you are not alone.
How am I affected? In February, I reached a high point in my career. I had been working for 5 years building my career as a Pilates instructor and was promoted to senior instructor at Retrofit Pilates. I had worked so hard to build my schedule, which is how it works in my industry. You’re not just handed a bunch of classes and clients, you earn them, you grow them and you nurture them. You take additional training and workshops, you take classes and seek advice from mentors, you learn as much as you can, so that you can pass that knowledge on to your clients and earn their trust. You work at multiple studios (often, but not always) and you spend years juggling class schedules of what was available or needed at the studio, attempting to fill in spaces with other classes or clients. At least that’s what I did. Last September, I finally built my schedule up to an amount I was really proud of and nearly doubled my previous years’ income in the process (or was on track to). I won’t do into specifics but I was thrilled that after 5 years, I was feeling like I was finally “making it”. Obviously, I had felt like that numerous times over the years and smaller milestones (first group class, first private client, quitting my serving job, etc.) but this time I really felt like I had succeeded in my goal of making Pilates a viable career. It wasn’t a specific number I reached or a certain number of classes or clients, it was just knowing that I no longer needed any additional income streams and that every day I got to teach Pilates. I was also feeling like I had found my style and really come into my own; and more than that, my clients were happy and finding value in what I had to offer.
So, March 1st, it was announced that I had been promoted, fun posters went up (another colleague had also been promoted!) and a newsletter was released and I was so proud. I worked all week, announcing to my clients the great news and joking about how excited I was to get away on vacation, I said my goodbyes and promised stories on my return. On March 7th, my partner and I went on vacation to the Bahamas and had a lovely vacation, even though it happened to be spring break (but that’s another post). During this trip, Italy went into lockdown and I remember thinking “wow, so this is serious.” Up until then, it was far away in China and not fully on my radar, I’ll admit I was naïve. Then March 14th, I’m at the airport preparing to fly home when I got the email that it was decided that I (and another colleague who was also travelling) would be unable to return to work following my return for two weeks for mandatory self- isolation. The Canadian government had issued an advisory and my employers (rightfully so) had opted to enforce it. I cried. It felt so surreal and scary. I called my mother, who was supposed to be picking us up from the airport and she explained how nervous she felt and how it would impact her job to do so. I understood but that made me more scared and so I cried some more. We arrived back to Toronto and a very different world than when we left. A few days into isolation, I got the news, my studios would be closing to help flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus. Of course, it wasn’t just my studios but bars, restaurants, shops and many more businesses deemed “non-essential”. Online classes began popping up and live streaming was quickly introduced on a variety of platforms. Again, I was nervous and anxious. Could I teach in that format? Could my body handle doing multiple classes a day/ a week? What will it look like? How much will I teach? Financial concerns increased during this time, but thankfully the CERB was introduced and I qualified. That helped a great deal. During this time of self- isolation, we did not go out and my aunt and mother kindly brought us supplies. I was in a little bubble. Fearful of what was happening but also sort of at peace with the fact I could do nothing at the time. I filled my days organizing, doing podcast and blog entries, cleaning my apartment and sleeping. I don’t sleep well and I was actually sleeping quite well those first two weeks. It was out of my hands and so was the stress. But then my two weeks ended and life became real again.
Now, nearly two months since I came home from vacation. I am sitting in a very strange world. One of my studios has permanently shut down and with it, my hope that life will return to “normal”. My favourite bar in the city, owned by my friends and where I worked myself for three years, has also permanently shut down. They are not alone, many other businesses are being forced to close. Although they are beginning to implement guidelines to reopen some businesses and strategies for the long term. I am skeptical that “normal” will ever exist again. I personally have been struggling with being out at the store or even going to my studios to live stream (I don’t have enough space to film at home). I’ve had multiple panic attacks being out of my home. Some days I am okay and will go for a walk or get groceries but others I step outside and am instantly sweating, with anxiety rising up my chest. Those days that I feel uneasy, I don’t go out, I stay in. If I have to go to work, I’m literally balling prior to class. The actor in me sucks it up and pretends to be great for one hour of class and then I cry some more as I sanitize my very existence the entire way home. I wish I was being dramatic. Thankfully, I haven’t had a massive panic at work in a few weeks but I’ve still had some tears and stressful moments, that’s for sure. The fact that constant sanitizing and washing of items entering my home, social distancing and lining up to enter a store has become “normal” is what scares me the most. How can we ever go back to large group classes and hands on corrections with clients or large venues hosting live bands and people brought together by the sounds? How can we sit at the pub, wedged into our usual high-top table, shoulder to shoulder, shooting the shit? How can I touch items at a restaurant, the forks, knives and ketchup bottle and not think of the time it was dangerous to do so? And most scary of all… what if there is a second wave?
I grieved for my studio and the owner who is one of the most amazing people I know. I grieved for my friends who lost their livelihoods and their pride and joy. I grieved for my loss of income and financial security. I grieved the career progress I'd achieved. I grieved for my ability to feel “normal”.
I’m writing this now but in the last six weeks, I’ve written one blog post and that’s it. I haven’t done my podcast or voice work. I haven’t continued organizing and cleaning out my apartment. I haven’t helped do my boyfriend’s taxes. I still sleep a lot but not as soundly. I watch a lot of movies and play games on my phone. I walk when I can, which does feel good. I’m down, I feel sad and unmotivated. And guess what? That is okay! I know I am not alone and I know many have it much worse. It’s okay! We are allowed to feel how we feel, however that is. Whether we are spiraling down or thriving during this time. YOU ARE ALLOWED.
The Stages of Grief
This is not an exact order. You can be in any of these stages, at any time and even bounce back and forth between them. You might not even get to them all. Grief is like stress and it can also take a toll of you physically. Are you tired all the time? Are you getting headaches or back spasms? Are you getting sick to your stomach, constipated or have diarrhea? Depression has a physical effect on your body as well and if you are having feelings of depression, reach out for help, I promise you are not alone. Here is a list of crisis helplines in the GTA, including abuse support. https://www.chs.ca/distress-centres-and-crisis-lines-ontario
Most importantly, do not let anyone minimize your feelings. These are unique times and how you handle it will also be unique to you. So grieve, laugh, cry, scream, exercise, drink, meditate, work, walk, play with your dog- whatever you need to do to get through this. And when life begins to reopen and we have to adjust again, you can feel whatever you need to feel then too.