I never thought that a work meeting would inspire me to write a blog post, but inspiration can come from even the most seemingly uninspiring places. We were discussing the best term for following up on a project with ‘debrief’, ‘follow up’ and a few others making appearances but then my colleague offhandedly said, “how about — aftercare?” This stopped us all in our tracks and led us into a discussion about how much we need to take the time to reflect and learn after a big event or project, and what happens when we don’t.
Society as a whole is really terrible at processing things. There are cultures where big things like death or grief are dealt with more carefully, but particularly in capitalist societies we aren’t afforded much, if any, time or chance to process and heal from life events. And, living through a worldwide pandemic is a pretty big thing to be healing from right now.
A line from the 2007 Hilary Swank movie, “Ps. I Love You” has always stuck with me. The movie deals with the death of the main character Holly’s husband (the fact that he dies is not a spoiler by the way) and how she processes and recovers from the grief. At one point after her husband dies she hasn’t left her apartment in months and her sister comes by, and though she feels sympathy for Holly she tells her flatly, “you gotta be rich to be insane, Hol. Losing your mind is not a luxury for the middle class.”
Haven’t we all had days, or weeks or months where all we wanted to do was hide in a safe hole somewhere and not show our faces at all? But instead we had to go to work, we had to take care of kids, family, pets, and the time consuming thing that is life management, never mind any additional strains and stress such as health issues, disability, and all that other fun stuff like can throw at us. It’s a luxury to be able to take time for yourself to heal from anything.
Other than the very real anxiety of getting COVID and all the unknowns, in some ways the first year of the pandemic felt emotionally and socially easier for me. As we moved into year two and the back and forth of “go out, stay home, mask, don’t mask, go to work, don’t go to work” shot back and forth at us like an Olympic ping pong game, my anxiety sky rocketed. It’s so often in the middle of things that we are most lost during any kind of struggle. We don’t know when it will end, and we can’t see a way out.
We somehow bumbled our way through year two and then year three burst forth with all its promises of the “getting back to normal” and “being able to go out again” and “seeing people again.” All good things in theory, but in practice it feels like trying to do any of those things has been like finding your way out of a Greek Labyrinth. Suddenly I couldn’t do normal, or at least not all the time, going out was sometimes great but more often exhausting and draining and seeing people became a game of “who doesn’t have COVID or the flu or an upper respiratory infection and who has been vaccinated and who was last exposed to COVID when” where no one really wins unless you draw the elusive and magical “no one is sick! Advance to social gathering” card. Even now I find that the things I used to do before take me so much more energy.
I suffer from a couple of chronic health conditions so on top of trying to be “normal” again I’m also just trying to be healthy in the first place. I feel like we all need pandemic aftercare groups where we meet once a week and talk about how we’re doing. I know we’re all in different places in this respect, and as a highly sensitive person I feel all the things more deeply, but even if we don’t realize it, we’re all still recovering to some degree. I just want to be able to create some safe spaces to talk about this, and times to pause and process.
I hope you all can find some moments for aftercare, and also realize that it’s okay not to be fully okay right now. At least with me, you don’t have to pretend you’re fine.