Jocelyn and her friends missed their interaction on Friday nights after a week of work.
They’d meet somewhere and have dinner and talk about work, their plans for the weekend, the people they knew, and their hopes for the future. But since the COVID-19 crisis, they worked from home and Friday was just another day. So they decided to have a meet-up online. Jack set up a zoom meeting so they could all see each other, and it commenced Friday night at 7pm like they’d always done before. They ate their dinner in front of their laptops and chatted about this and that, vented about isolation, about technical problems when all work had to take place online, and family frustrations. And they talked about the horrid emotions they felt. The idea that millions were expected to get sick and die. Scott, a therapist, mentioned ways of coping with anticipatory grief. Someone else said, “Wha..??” Jack said, “What the heck is anticipatory grief??”
Scott went on to explain that horrid feeling they all described, the dread they felt about all the sickness and death, the fear that their friends or family members would likely be among the dead…that this all falls under the category of anticipatory grief: Grieving about losses that haven’t happened yet, but might.
He also said that when you read all the articles that come out every day about the potential damage the COVID-19 virus can do, that dread increases day by day. Then you hear about someone’s co-worker or family member who tested positive for the virus, it gets a bit closer to home, and your dread and fear of loss increases.
When Fear and Grief Hit Home
Next, you get word that your own relative or co-worker dies… or the relative or coworker of someone close to you dies, then you feel the loss up close. It becomes your own loss. And it hangs on you, weighing you down, long after…because it goes so deep.
Celia hesitated, then spoke up. “My aunt died. It’s been so sad I haven’t wanted to talk about it. But she lives in New York City, and tested positive. She tried to recover at home…then her breathing got really bad one night and they had to take her to the ER. She was in the ICU with a ventilator for 17 days. Just about the time she seemed to be getting better, she suddenly got bad again…and died that day.”
Everyone told Celia how sorry they were. How terrible it was to lose someone you love over a virus.
Nick spoke up. He had a sadness about him most of them had noticed. He said, “ A friend of our family…someone I grew up with…started feeling bad, and called the doctor. The doctor told her to go for a test at a drive through testing center. She tested positive and her cough was so intense, her breathing so bad, they admitted her to the hospital, too. Within 3 days she was gone. She was my age! It’s so hard to make sense of it.
“I hear about people protesting the lock down…or throwing COVID parties…and I want to scream. So many people don’t get it. I wondered myself in the beginning. But as I saw the numbers increase around the world, I realized this is real. I wish each one of those people who went to one of those parties could see how it feels to lose someone you care about. And who knows who’s next?? It could be one of us!”
Celia jumped in and said, “Yes…or to see what’s it like to be sick with this. Sure there are people who aren’t having symptoms, but talk to the ones who are! My friend got sick and had to let someone take care of her child while she convalesced. She said it was the worst thing she ever experienced.”
Scott then pointed out how THIS is anticipatory grief. Realizing that someone you care about could get sick. Could die. And worrying about it.
“And,” he said, “there are things you and I can do to help us get through this.”
Study: 40% Say Anticipatory Grief Is The Worst
“A Swedish study,” he went on,” found that no matter how much you grieve before you experience the loss, it doesn’t reduce your grief after the loss really happens. And that 40% of the people studied felt the grief you experience when you anticipate loss is far more stressful than the grief you experience afterward.”
Jocelyn asked, “If that’s the case, then it sounds as though I’d be much better off waiting until someone dies to grieve, than grieving about everyone in advance. But I do feel fearful…I have anxiety all day and especially at night…On top of that, I’m drinking more than I ever have. Just to try to relax and not think about what could happen.”
Scott agreed. “But how do you wait until you have someone’s death to actually grieve??? Coping with anticipatory grief is so much harder than we could have expected!”
Celia finally blurted out, “My husband is beside himself. He’s so angry, filled with doom and gloom. Constantly rehearsing the latest statistic in illnesses and deaths in every country around the world. His rage is so hard to be around, even though I know it’s just how he’s coping. But it all makes me all the more lonely…
Symptoms of Anticipatory Grief
“Ok let’s all look at this, guys…” Scott was talking in a softer voice now. “We have Nick, who’s been so sad, and has lost a lifelong friend, and Celia’s husband who is irritable and furious about what’s happening…and likely struggling with feeling out of control…which he is… and Jocelyn who feels fear, anxiety, and uncertainty… and Celia who’s sad about her aunt, stressed about her husband, and lonely.
“You know what? All of these things are symptoms of anticipatory grief. So what can you do, what can WE do, to cope right now…and get through this?
Coping With Anticipatory Grief – We Need Each Other
Nick, Celia, and Jack all said at the same time: “Keep getting together like this!”
Scott and Jocelyn laughed…and heartily agreed.
Nick admitted that meeting and talking, opening up and feeling understood were all amazing for him. He could see that spending time together was great medicine.
So they agreed that the lockdown would no longer interfere with their mutual support. And they would continue their Friday night @ 7 gathering online, until they could meet in person again.
Grief is a looming and saturating condition for many, if not most, of us during this COVID-19 crisis. Grieving over the death of someone we care about is a form of grief that’s inescapable when we lose someone, no matter the circumstances.
But anticipatory grief is another form that can cause anxiety, depression, and overwhelm. In trying to prepare for loss, it magnifies the suffering of loss itself, and can continue to cause more pain months or more after that loss occurs. Right now, news from government and medical experts can ignite enough fear to trigger anticipatory grief.
How long will I be out of work? Will we lose the house? How will we feed the family? What if one of us dies? Who will take care of the children?…And that suffering intensifies the actual suffering from this global crisis. Coping with anticipatory grief includes finding ways to stop the cycle of fear in our thinking.
Like these friends, fear of what might happen, fear of losing loved ones or other things in life you hold dear, can overwhelm your outlook, and drown your perspective.
But if you have friends like these, people who care about you and with whom you can discuss your feelings and listen to theirs, you may be able to restore balance to the way you look at life.
But What if You’re NOT Coping with Anticipatory Grief? And Friends Don’t Help?
Unfortunately, sometimes talking, listening, and caring isn’t enough. Sometimes you realize you don’t have many friends. Sometimes you need help. If the stressors of life, and of this period of isolation, have worn you down, stripped your resilience, and damaged your hope, then you may need the help of a treatment that can make a real difference in everything for you.
At Innovative Psychiatry, we know that the COVID-19 crisis, and the enforced isolation that has been necessary because of it, can drain your hope, your energy, and your motivation.
It can make it almost impossible to just keep being brave, and willing, and steadfast. It can make you feel like you’re afloat at sea, all alone, without hope or remedy.
But as we’ve talked about so many times before, this is caused by the pruning and wearing down of synapses in your brain. That’s what stress does. But ketamine treatment gets your brain-derived-neurotrophic-factor (BDNF) going…burgeoning…which works like a rich compost to produce…no — more than that…to PROLIFERATE… the dendrites and dendritic spines that create those synaptic connection between the neurons in your brain.
With all that going on, believe it or not, you can be resilient whether you’re isolated or not.
Ketamine Treatment Can Erase Suicidal Thoughts, Too
That’s the beauty of ketamine treatment. And what’s more? It’s so effective.
And remember. The kind of discouragement, depression, and fear we’ve been talking about can make some people want to stop living. If you have struggled with those thoughts, if you’re not coping well with anticipatory grief, we want to help. Because ketamine treatment can stop suicidal thoughts in an afternoon.
This is why we’re open when everything else is closed. Because taking care of you is essential. And that’s what we’re here to do.
If you’ve struggled with some of the feelings Jocelyn, Nick, Jack, Celia, and Scott were talking about, call us.
You don’t have to suffer alone. We’re here to help you get through this confusing time, and to help you experience the joy and hope that will see you through.
To the restoration of your best self,
Lori Calabrese, M.D.