By Jenn Worley, LPC
There’s a sensation that has taken shape but is a bit hard to nail down. Sometimes it's described as a numbness about things that the person had previously experienced a high interest in. Other times people are describing it as a sense of not being able to take in more information in a way that is productive but rather they feel completely overwhelmed. This might be compounded by sadness, guilt or even possible embarrassment from the desire to disengage and not deep dive into life’s steady stream of stress, judgements and activities. In casual conversations, people who typically engage in multiple arenas have shared they no longer have the emotional capacity to take on or in more.
One friend described it like her sphere of influence had rapidly shrunk and now she is tuning out where she used to tune in. Another friend described it in the following way: It's not that I don’t care, I just don’t know how to make enough room in our lives to actively focus beyond day by day existence.
In thinking about this experience the word combination of care-loss came to mind. Apathy doesn’t accurately capture it in that there is a sadness around not engaging vs the indifference of apathy. Depression also isn’t a fit in that the people aren’t indicating other symptoms beyond loss of interest in something they had previously had interest in (although there may be some overlapping experiences at times). When considering the expressed emotional state of not having space to engage as deeply, fully or sustained as one previously did, we can consider it from the influence of grief. Grief is often an overlooked emotional response since it is normally associated with death or bereavement. However, the grief response can present itself with losses of multiple sorts. In this current day covid landscape there are losses experienced in different ways along with a chronic level of stress fueled by cancellations, disappointments and change.
People may be experiencing grief symptoms due to the disappearance of well established norms and routines, connections, historical rights of passage activities, income, support systems and identities. However, due to self protection mechanisms in place such as numbing out or anticipating the cancellation (loss) the grief might be more hidden.
For example: A family takes a trip every summer. The family discusses if they can do it in a way that allows for social distancing and limited contact. Many ideas and options are presented as ways to meet those needs. Ultimately, it's decided to not go this year, that it's too complicated. The initial loss might be minimized because the members of the family in many ways expected the cancellation. However, the disappointment is still there and could take the person by surprise at a later time by showing up as sadness the week that the trip had been scheduled. The grief of the loss is present but felt after the initial protection mechanism of numbing or expectation of disappointment has worn off. Therefore, the link to the pain source is obscured. This makes it hard to know that the person is coping with grief compounded by other losses and stressors. The person’s desire to engage beyond day-to-day life maintenance experiences is impacted. However, this feels disconnected from the stressor, thereby leading us back up to the sensation of care-loss.
As individuals look at trying to give voice to some of the emotions that are surfacing, finding words to express and name those sensations has a role. Further, acknowledging that grief is a reasonable possibility given the level of loss of routines and norms can be a true reframe for people as they think about emotional wellness of themselves or their children and loved ones. Care-loss becomes even more complicated when it's not acknowledged as at least partially fueled from grief. If you are wondering if grief is present in yourself or a family member, reach out and get support in ways that are meaningful to you. Understanding something from a point of view previously not considered can be a critical part of coping, adapting and thriving.
If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Jenn, you can reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call our intake line: 608-709-6972.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]