All the Feeling to the Front
My little sister is five feet tall.
Years ago she came home from a concert thrilled that the band had called “little people to the front” at the start of the show. It was the first time she hadn’t needed to contort herself around someone else to see the stage.
I’m five foot eight.
I don’t always move out of the way for people at concerts, but since hearing her story I’ve been more aware.
So look, some of you are about to get defensive. You are not going to like what I am about to write. You may unfollow me. But before you do, just know I’m not attacking you, or your sister or your favorite band or poet.
Honestly, I’m just calling the little people to the front.
Right now many of us are not okay. We are not even pretending. And social media is killing us. We want to stay connected, but mercy….
We are not homeschooling, taking the time to finally learn Spanish, going on bracing walks with kids, baking bread or doing a push-up challenge.
I know this because despite what my Facebook feed shows, I am hearing from my people all day long. They are not okay. I am not okay.
And a few days ago I threw my back out something awful.
My body has been using this particular technique to get me to stop and feel my feelings for about two decades. If I’m overwhelmed emotionally, but try to keep trucking through life as normal, BAM. Flat out.
Previous to this latest event, the last time I threw my back was after my mother died. Unsurprisingly, it was the worst one ever. I was in my basement doing yoga when it happened. Trying to exercise because I knew it was important to my health and suddenly, I couldn’t move without intense pain and sobbing.
Because that was what I also needed to do. Sob.
And right now, that is what some of our people are doing. Sobbing.
Some are hiding because the world seems to not want to make room for it, but sobbing is appropriate. We are in the midst of losing so much, and we are afraid.
So if you are someone making bread, organizing google hang-outs, creating math lessons out of pasta, setting up virtual tours of world-famous museums, posting living room concerts or a witty meme, thank you. We need all that, too. Honestly, we do.
But we can’t skip the sobbing.
In therapy, we talk about feeling our feelings. All of them, good and bad. It’s a type of betrayal to our human experience to value only happy, positive, feelings. Everyone wants and deserves unconditional love — to be seen and known. But how can we live into that reality if we don’t allow ourselves the spectrum of emotional experience, good and bad?
And also, it’s sort of a lie.
Calm down, I’m not calling anyone a liar per se. I’m just saying that if I can only post uplifting inspirational messages of gratitude on my social media, I’m minimizing and denying the grief, pain, loss, and fear that everyone must be feeling, including, myself.
Come on, crew. It’s a global pandemic. Surely we can give each other a few minutes to freak the fuck out before we are expected to learn origami, or do burpees in our supposed free time.
And what about that “free time?” Most people I know are now trying to do their jobs, learn how to homeschool AND teach their kids, clean their houses, walk their dogs, stand in line for toilet paper, and care for family at a distance in the same twenty-four hours we’ve always ever had. Honestly, what is with employers not giving an inch? I know we are culturally pretty terrible at things like maternity and sick leave, but surely we can’t be expected to work at the same clip when all hell is truly breaking loose?
Folks out there are also feeling shamed by all the ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ of it all. Instead of allowing for ‘feel the fear, freak out and find a way forward.’ They feel bad, and then worse for feeling bad.
I’m writing this for myself first and foremost because I’m responsible for validating my own experience. The high functioning, badass, grown-up mama in me honors the terrified, exhausted, grieving kid in me.
And today I’m okay enough to write. Yesterday not so much. I’m a mess AND I’m okay. Sometimes I vacillate in two-hour increments.
And I’m writing this for the people I love and care about:
For my people trying to stay sober being faced with memes and jokes about wine at ten am when their disease is not a fucking joke…
For the highrisk pregnant mama who had to go on meds she was trying not to need because she is terrified to go outside…
For my neighbors who have health issues, and have to decide between improving hip mobility at physical therapy, or risking a killer virus…
For the couple who wondered if maybe they should try a separation and are now suffocating themselves and their kids…
For the single mama who is home with her elderly mom, and high energy kid and no stove…
For people separated from their loved ones or terrified for their loved ones watching them come home from 18-hour shifts and living in the garage so as not to expose the kids….
For the garbage crew and the grocery store clerks, and pharmacists, amazon delivery people who never expected to be on the front lines…
For the teachers, and clergy and therapists who are frantically learning technology to show up…
For people who aren’t paying the bills, are losing jobs and businesses through no fault of their own and will continue to lose…
For people who are living alone, and didn’t want to be alone before a pandemic, never mind during one…
For people who have recently lost loved ones and don’t know how to do a normal day without them, never mind these days…
Can we agree to sob with and for them for a few minutes today? Let’s not try to move them from the incredibly sane and inevitable place of tremendous fear, and grief and let them be. Love them by telling them you see them.
And let’s be careful not to compare pain, okay? No, you think that’s bad, at least it isn’t…nothing good comes of that.
Just tell me who you see, even if it’s yourself.
And the grief will pass. Grief passes like a fucking kidney stone, but its energy does pass and morph and shift…and we will be ready for the jokes and the plans and memes (but sorry, never the push-up challenge), eventually.
Meghan Riordan Jarvis is a psychotherapist, author, wife, and mother of three. After losing both her parents within two years of each other she began Grief Is My Side Hustle. (www.griefismysidehustle.com).