I was meant to be in Byron Bay this weekend. My little brother was to be married to his girl.
My whole family was making the trip – even the ones who don’t usually travel. It was going to be a great celebration.
It was cancelled because of coronavirus.
In three weeks, I was going to jet off to America. My debut novel has just been released there – a dream come true – and I was planning events to promote it. I was going to see it on the shelves in Barnes and Noble and pinch myself. I was also going to have a holiday with my husband, something which we haven’t done in years. I was going to see a band that I love with a friend that I love. It was going to be the trip of a lifetime.
It was all cancelled because of coronavirus.
But I’m healthy. I’m safe. My loved ones are healthy and safe, too. I’m at home, where my daily routine as a writer hasn’t changed dramatically. Except my husband is home all the time now. Not quite the holiday we imagined. But he’s healthy and safe.
Everyone I know is healthy and safe – and also incredibly sad.
Ask anyone how they are these days and you’ll get variations on the same response: “holding up”; “okay”; “oh, you know...”.
I do know. Because I feel it too. We’re all feeling the same thing, in some form or another.
It happened gradually, and then somehow all at once. We’ve become a world in mourning, with no idea what to do with all these feelings or even how to recognise them.
Amanda Gordon, a psychologist, tells me that while people have been talking a lot about anxiety, what many are experiencing is grief – and there are a lot of reasons why we’re feeling it. There are all of those people who are sick, of course, and the statistics that go up daily. Numbers that represent human lives and human deaths. The most vulnerable members of our community – the old, the poor, the chronically ill – facing the worst risks.
There are the world governments and politicians who stick their heads in their sand or act out of greed. People everywhere, afraid and panicking. Fighting over tinned food and toilet paper. It would be funny if it wasn’t so devastating.
There are the big events, like my brother’s wedding and my overseas trip – the happy things people were looking forward to. There’s also everyday life. Choices we took for granted. Privacy and security and a sense that the world as we know it would always go on somehow.
In amongst the grief there’s a guilt that tells me how I should be feeling instead:
But if you’re healthy and safe – if your loved ones are healthy and safe – do you have any right to grieve? There are people who have it worse. So much worse. How dare you be sad. But also, how dare you be anything but sad. There’s so much awfulness in the world.
All of this runs through my head. It doesn’t make me feel better, of course. Only worse.
"We have no right to judge one person’s suffering as better or worse than someone else’s," Gordon tells me. She says it’s common to feel guilty if you’re grieving things other than death, but that it’s important to recognise what you’re feeling – irritability, lack of motivation, inability to focus, sadness – as grief. And to let yourself feel sad.
"Know yourself. Take some time. Allow yourself to grieve and to be sad. Don’t try to push it away. And then let that feeling pass over you. Don’t immerse yourself in it. Allow yourself to move through it."
The key to getting through the grief, Gordon advises, is to acknowledge the feelings without wallowing in them. Focus on the here and now. Maintain a schedule as best you can, live your life as best you can. Stay informed but don’t obsessively follow the news. Seek joy – because just as it’s okay to feel sad, it’s also okay to feel joy. In fact, it’s healthy.
"[You can] continue to have empathy towards other people who are grieving but find joy every day," Gordon says. "When things are hard there’s always something to smile at."
Try to take comfort where you can. For me, it’s there in cuddles from my dogs, in terrible reality TV shows, in books and music that I love, but most especially in other people. We might be isolated, but we’re not alone.
We’re all in mourning right now. But we’re doing it together.
If you’re finding it difficult to experience joy, or your feelings of grief are overwhelming you, it’s important to seek help. You can talk to your doctor about a mental health plan, find a psychologist online, or call services like Griefline on 1300 845 745 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.