Friday, May 22, 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week, day 5

The car hasn’t been out much since Jo started working from home, though, whenever it has been possible, she has ferried me to and from the crem. On one outing, to drop off donations at the food bank, on turning the ignition a warning came up on the dash display: the pressure in the front right-hand tyre was about half what it should be. We got a quick and dirty fix at a garage. It didn’t hold. More than once, Jo pumped the tyre with air: outside the crem, using the onboard pump, as we waited for the hearse; and at the machine at the petrol station. Each trip we made, the tyre pressure had dropped again. In the end, we had it and the valve replaced, by a different mechanic.

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a friend. It went like this:

“I’m struggling with motivation to work ...”

“Hmm, motivation (or loss thereof) is hard, isn’t it? ... What would, ordinarily, motivate you?”

“That’s just it. I feel like a leaking tyre ... Not sure what would work.”

I was struck by his choice of words: like a leaking tyre. On reflection, that feeling seems to me to describe grief. And all the more-so because there is no ‘obvious’ bereavement.

On Monday, I wrote:

“Grief is an active process that involves engagement with the tasks of accepting the reality of our loss; processing the pain; adjusting to a world without what we have lost; and finding an enduring connection with what has been lost in the midst of embarking on a new life.”

These tasks aren’t strictly sequential, but, to be clear, none of us have really even begun to make a start on the fourth. It is too soon. But, we are all experiencing bereavement. The loss of physically present co-workers. The loss of personal space, if we are living 24/7 with children who are not going out to school (or even, outside the house). The loss of a host of conveniences we took for granted. The loss of assumed certainties. This, to name but a few.

And accepting, processing, and adjusting are exhausting. But, often, they exhale us like a slow leak. We aren’t conscious of the tiny cracks, but each time we go to set out on some activity or other, we find ourselves deflated.

People are not tyres; but, by way of the analogy, quick and dirty fixes won’t hold. Moreover, we can inject air—can receive support from others, and enjoy life-giving moments—but even that won’t be lasting. Eventually, we can expect to emerge from the process with a new tyre, an adjusted life. But it takes time.

In the meantime, we are where we are. And that will be lacking in motivation (as I have to keep reminding myself, as I watch my sons’ lack of motivation). Motivation is in part concerned with productivity, and you are not a machine: you were made to be fruitful, but only in time with the seasons of your life. It is also, in part, concerned with legacy, and you might need to find new bearings in a new world before you can offer that.

But, for now, lack of motivation might mean that at times we need to say, “Please forgive me, I have not been able to do what is expected of me.” And that at times we need to reply, “Of course we forgive you. Now, how might we bear this burden together?” In other words, as we collectively experience multiple bereavements, we need to be kind, to ourselves and to one another.

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