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GriefSpeak: The Perfect Storm

By: Dr. Mari Dias

“I read the news today, oh boy….”  ( The Beatles, “A Day in the Life” 1967)

“An election incomplete. A divisive country. COVID. New RI regulations. A subjective media. Financial instability. Daylight savings time. Interrupted traditional education. A Halloween with a blue moon. A dysmorphic Thanksgiving.” These are some of the issues my clients address in their sessions. Some address all. One referred to it as a “perfect storm.” A popular meme trending on Facebook states:

“Remember that feeling you got when the second plane hit the twin towers and you realized what was going on? You should have that same feeling again right now.”

This anxiety, this fear, this overwhelming sensation of powerlessness is pervasive regardless of their political affiliation. I attempt to work with their potential for resilience and focus on a strengths-based approach. But first, I sit with their emotions, strive to hold them in my hands for a bit, alleviating their pain until they are ready to take it back.

In all cases, each of them is grieving a loss of their identity as an American. We define ourselves by our culture, our heritage our allegiance to a country. There is comfort is “knowing”. Now we are questioning that role, and with it a sense of modifying that role- or perhaps relinquishing it. Do we leave that role blank, empty? Or do we replace it.  But who and what is an American – Now?

People are fueled with hate, vitriol, and a razor-sharp anger at what they perceive as a helplessness. So, they gather. There still is an outlet for these emotions in America. There is comfort in shared feelings and so they protest. They can still protest. For now. As one client stated: “We still have freedom. For now. “

Conservatives want and offer a “need” for tradition and history. A wish for what was. They are fearful of a change. Not any change. This particular change. One that is being touted as a complete metamorphosis of the America they knew, know and love. The trending alternative is just too scary.

Uber Liberals see American traditions as antiquated. They believe it’s time to either abort or rebirth our country. They see our country as ‘stuck in the past” and “need to change with the times.”

And then there is the media, “whose goal is to provide us with one side of the information and in many cases have convinced us.” And there in lies the rub. 

COVID proves to be a major variable in this perfect storm. Many report that this election conundrum would not exist without the institution of mail-in ballots, an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. But. It is what it is.
Conservatives believe they can make their own decisions and thus chose to vote in person, safely, with social distance, washing hands and masks.

Uber Liberals take the government’s edicts to heart and follow “blindly”. “This all could have been resolved with in-person, ID requirements. Like “before”. (Anonymous client)

We can’t unchange what has happened. We can take efforts to recount the votes. But we can’t change the voting process or the existence of COVID.

However, we do have power. We do have choices, albeit limited. We have the power and the choice as to how we respond to the storm. Take care of ourselves. Prepare our bodies for the emotional onslaught. Turn off the television. Listen to music. Take a walk. And another walk.  Breathe the good air, not the divisive air that clogs our lungs, makes it difficult to breathe, elicits sharp chest and belly pains. We rant and we rave.

There are not enough therapists in America to meet the needs of the suffering in 2020. COVID and quarantine has exponentially increased our hunger for freedom and choice. “The strict governors have shut off our air supply with their unneeded rules.” “Why does our governor punish everyone in the state for the behavior of the few.” (client). “Doesn’t she know anything about reward and punishment to change behavior? What she is doing won’t work. She will get pushback from those of us who have been “behaving” correctly.” (client- “Behavior in quotes as it was said sarcastically).

No doubt, whatever the course of the virus and the result of the election, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide will all increase, as well as family cohesion and the erosion of quality education and the economy. “The cure should not be worse than the cause (virus).”  “Fear mongering by politicians is working.” (client). “People voted for or against a person, not for an ideology or philosophy. “I’ve heard some of my suburban mom friends say, “ I’m voting for Biden- he is so good looking.”  (client.) “I’m moving to New Zealand. (client). “I’m moving to Iceland.” (client)  But to what end?

There is some consolation. The conservatives still hold the Senate. The liberals still hold the House. Whatever the result of the election, we still have a democracy. We will all be represented.

I wish you all peace of mind and soul. I know that is what I strive for. I have to remain strong and intact and to genuinely hold your hurt and pain in the palm of my hand and in my heart during this perfect storm.

All names and identifying factors have been changed to protect the innocent or guilty in this story.

Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief.

She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to:  http://gracepointegrief.com/