Where We really Are, Is Inside The Waiting Room

April 3, 2020

It was fall 2007, in Massachusetts, the leaves were starting to change, and everything was looking almost eternal.  Nearly perfect. It was then, when I took on a full time job after the loss of my 35 year old husband making sure I could pay my bills, take care of my kids. Building a new career. Externally, one might say, I seemed as if I was living again.  It was probably two years into that job that I first witnessed what I now call the Waiting Room. Until then, I was convinced that I was well into my new chapter after his loss rebuilding my life.  But something wasn’t quite right. Something was feeling out of place. I was certainly healing, living again, doing all the things that present as a new life but I was not feeling alive.  By this time, it was at least 3 years since his death and even though the intense mourning and grieving had subsided, what was there, was a sense of stuckness. As if there was glue under my feet, and I could not move.  Even laughter was empty. Joy was not fully experienced anymore. That is when I realized I was somewhere else. I was stuck somewhere on the way to a new life. Somewhere in between. And just like that, I knew where I really was, was a waiting room of some kind. I felt as if I was half alive and half dead. Being able to locate the place I was in after my loss, was key in my own life reentry and the reentry of many others.  And this is what I learned.  While in quarantine, we are grieving the loss of our old life but not yet allowed to enter the new one. This place is eerily familiar to the one I and many others find themselves after a tragic loss.  This is why I feel a sense of urgency to share with you why this place should never get comfortable. Why we need to take steps to continue feeling alive even while we are inside this gap. If we don’t, one day it will be very hard to go back to life.  You may be thinking, but why would it be hard to leave isolation?  You see, the longer we stay in a state of isolation and grief, the harder it is to go back to a lively world. The brain’s primary purpose is to now keep you inside and keep you safe. When it’s time to be out of here, it won't let you go that easy. We can’t let that happen as we will end up with bigger suicide and depression numbers.  We are living in the gap.  We have just begun living in a gap between lives—the life we’ve left behind and the life we have yet to enter. In my book Second Firsts I coined this space the Waiting Room.  “When we’re in the Waiting Room, we’re still attached to the past. In this place, we struggle with our new reality. We are unable to see ourselves clearly and make decisions as we used to. The brain’s ability to plan and reason is temporarily gone.”  Millions of people right now have lost the ability to plan and organize their life. We are not able to reenter fully as we can’t start experimenting with a future life.  We are forced to stay inside and wait.  What happens when we postpone Life. Postponing life can lead to complicated grief. When Covid-19 feels as if it keeps happening to  us, the brain responds with a trauma loop.  In order to interrupt the trauma loop we must take action. You may ask how can I take an action oriented approach while I am forced to stay in a waiting room mode?  I will share with you the how, the what and the when as Life Reentry is both an inner and outer experience. But first let’s get clear as to what is really the Waiting Room.  What is the Waiting Room? The Waiting Room is deeply rooted in our brain’s evolutionary survival techniques, and it is a chronic condition. It can cause long-term changes in our cognition and perception. Because it is connected to our survival mode, it can be difficult to shut off. We go inside a safe place while we are in danger and in pain. But the longer we stay the harder it gets to leave.  The Waiting Room is not designed for long term residence. As long as we feel threatened by the Corona Virus our brain cannot devote proper energy toward considering the future.  It’s an evolutionary survival adaptation—the fear takes precedence over other, rational thoughts.  The Waiting Room begins with honest intentions. It represents a safe space. Having a shortlist of self-soothing behaviors and routines is comforting for a fragile state of mind.  The Waiting Room is meant to minimize mental strain while we adjust to our loss. And right now it also represents a physical safe space. It is a matter of life and death. We need it for our safety.  Our self-soothing routines stem from the need to feel safe, but over time, we start to self- identify with them, incorporating them into our personality and lifestyle.  This is not what new life looks like—it’s a signal that we are still living in a state of grief. The habits fostered by The Waiting Room do not reflect our priorities and goals; rather, they are emotional reflexes created to keep us in survival mode. So let’s see how we can prevent these unwanted emotional and physical responses from happening longer term.  The 5 steps of Life Reentry during Covid-19 Step 1: Get real with how you are feeling. What is happening right now is overwhelming and it demands our attention. As this stress becomes longer term, we become accustomed to consistently devoting significant mental energy toward coping, leaving important secondary tasks neglected.  Let’s be honest, we are glued to the TV screen counting the number of Coronavirus cases. And because our every day schedule and life structure has dramatically changed, our habits have too.  For example, not getting dressed or showered as you used to do every day.  You may be afraid to go to the grocery store for things you need to get in order to nourish yourself.  You end up with an empty fridge, unpaid bills, unwashed dishes and these things start to feel like normal aspects of life.  We adapt to not caring for ourselves, not getting inadequate nutrition, and letting our feelings go unexpressed.  We also become more focused on maintaining the facade of being “fine” than addressing our trauma.  We have to start by getting real with ourselves as to what is happening inside this Waiting Room. What are we not looking at? What are we not sharing with anyone else? Are we becoming invisible?  One of the very first things we must do is share with others what is taking place in our homes. We must take stock of the current reality. We must share all of our invisible experiences with our family and friends. And we must validate and listen to theirs.  We need to give each other the opportunity to speak truthfully. Whether what we are experiencing is severe or basic, it still needs to be validated.  For example, we are all experiencing the loss of continuity and being surrounded by friends. We have begun to feel distanced and dehumanized, and we find ourselves increasingly detached from the ebb and flow of life.  Neglecting to acknowledge our reality does not protect us from pain. It buries us further inside the gap. Share your home via video with your friends and family. Send pics of your room. Tell someone how you are feeling. Do not become invisible.  Step 2: Plug In to life  Once we start talking, sharing and being aware of how much we have physically neglected ourselves the next step is to start to change that. We must partially shift from observation of self and others to taking action.  Once we identify what we need to change we take a small step which I call a plug in. A plug in is a 5% effort.  We don’t want to add more fear in a fear based reality. So we take steps that are easy inside our homes.  We may take a step towards putting our clothes back in the closet after doing the laundry. Or showering first thing in the morning even if we won’t be going anywhere. Have you noticed how much our life has changed?  We went from maybe commuting an hour to work and back keeping up with a very busy work schedule, to not even showering or changing our clothes.  This is how quickly loss of life can take place. Our brain is now fighting with us to hold on to the no shower, dishes in the sink reality and make these new persistent neural pathways habitual.  I know it is hard to believe that when it is time to go back to the world of the living you will struggle with getting up and being ready to go to work. But that you will do. Struggle. Because your brain has made this new routine a habit. Don’t let it. Plug into your life with a hot shower every morning and every other day put on your favorite outfit, will you?  Step 3: Shift your space  This step will help you refocus your mind from the Coronavirus overwhelm, back to your life and self. The objective here is to shift from an identity of being stuck in quarantine to getting back some of the controls of your life. Shifting your mind to an experience we are controlling is key to making sure we are preserving the maps in our brain that have leadership and ownership qualities. This has to be a conscious transfer of mental energy. For example, here is one thing you can do easily.  Establish an area in your home that you call Your breathing space or a designated space that you can access to temporarily step outside of your thoughts of quarantine. Move some chairs around. Get rid of some junk. Paint a wall even.  Being able to displace your pain, even for a brief time, offers a sense of control and an opportunity to be reminded of the positivity in your life. You need and deserve this space. In it, you can focus on what you can control. There are many mantras, thoughts, sentences and ways of thinking that you can act on during this step.  The main thing is that you use your breathing space to maybe read a new book, talk to a fun friend, meditate and even do a bit of yoga.  You can also just be there, and listen to music while being away from the TV set.  Step 4: Discovery  When coping with the loss of our life due to the virus, we can neglect our capacity for happiness. We become preoccupied with the process of maintaining a semblance of our old life and projecting an image of resilience to our friends and families.  Some of the strongest people I know are exhibiting this kind of behavior right now and saying things like: I am fine and well. It could be worse. Ignoring our emotions can help us temporarily avoid stress, but when we hide our feelings, we may forget where we put them.  When the time comes to re-enter life, we may find that the relationships around us no longer reflect what brings us joy. We often maintain friendships out of convenience, boredom, or perceived obligation.  It is important that during this time you allow yourself some truth about your relationships, your career choices, and your true needs and wants.  What is the life you want going forward?  You should no longer be concealing your truth. As you probably have gathered by now, you are learning fast who your true friends are, and because you are spending a lot of time on your own you are getting a sense of who you are now becoming too.  Your goal is not just to reconnect with life; it is to reconnect with the life that you want. Make sure you notice the person you are becoming and let go of the relationships that no longer reflect your truth.  You never know it may be easier now than ever before.  Step 5: Reenter  Whatever you do, make sure you find time to feel fully alive. Whether it’s with connecting with a new friend you made in a private facebook group. Or taking on a new online class you have always wanted to do but never had the time to.  Discovering all these new aspects of yourself while in quarantine requires you to take action on them. You must bring these new interests, new habits and wants to reality.  You may still struggle to shower first thing in the morning but when you do, you go and wear something that represents your new self better.  When you turn on the TV look for the kind of show or movie that brings out the new identity that has been emerging.  Life Reentry can take place inside your quarantine, for sure.  And yes, it is harder to do it while stuck at home, but it doesn’t mean it's not possible.  You have the tools, the space and the time to stop your brain from keeping you stuck inside a habitual loop of living that mimics a prison. (Click to tweet!) During this time in our lives, we must meet ourselves with grace, action and above all vulnerability towards the grief we are feeling. If we don’t allow ourselves to get real, get seen and take action now, we will not be ready to face the big world when the time comes.  Here’s to morning showers, breathing spaces and some new friendships.  Christina Rasmussen  www.christinarasmussen.com

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We Live In A Kind World

March 27, 2020

There will be arguments.  Disagreements. Misunderstandings.  And above all, loss of friendships and relationships during this time.  You will say angry things to people you love.  And they will do the same.  But it is the fear and grief that is really speaking. There will be lots of swearing. Aggression. Impatience.  And lots of self knowledge will be acquired during this time.  It will be as if we all went to one of those silent retreat places to understand our own minds. Only we never left our home and it was free of charge.  But here's the good news about this pandemic.  There are millions of kind people running around helping others, right this very moment.  I have seen leaders walk away from their old comfy chairs in their big glass offices, roll up their sleeves and get to work.  I have chills when I think of them. I never knew their names or faces before.  I also didn’t know there were politicians who cared this much.  I have loved watching the Governor of New York take charge and giving everyone who is not helping, hell.  It’s not only in his actions that I see he cares, it is actually something else.  Something in his voice.  In the gentleness of how he talks. Off script. Deprived of sleep.  And yet he still speaks to us as if we are his family.  He gives time, even though he doesn't have much time to give. And I am ashamed to say I didn’t even know who the governor of New York was before these last few days.  But now I certainly do, and for the right reasons.  Another thing that touched my heart has been how Governor Newsom is trying to help provide shelter for all the homeless.  There are at least 25,000 homeless in California and all of them will have a bed to sleep in soon. There is this concrete level of kind responsibility everywhere you look.  Well, maybe not everywhere but in many corners of the world.  To the good neighbors who make sure the older folks get what they need to stay self isolated.  To the loving emails teachers are sending to all their students who are now being taught online.  You can see from their emails, these teachers miss their students.  And of course last but not least the true superheroes, doctors, nurses, and grocery store workers. It is evident that the human species is made of a very kind DNA. Mr. Rogers would have been proud.  His most memorable words ring true during this unprecedented time. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”  They are indeed everywhere.  And because there are so many we will all get the help we need.  There is an amazing group that has come together called Intellihelp that is helping thousands of people. If you need a can of soup or diapers for your newborn, even toilet paper has been given to anyone who needed it.  Go join that group.  And last but not least for those of you who feel they are not getting the help they need, reach out, ask for help.  Join the groups that are helping, seek the leaders with their sleeves rolled up.  If someone is unkind to you, call them out.  We don’t tolerate this behavior anymore.  They are the outsiders and outcasts of our modern times. (Click to tweet!) With awe, Christina  P.S. We are having a virtual pizza night tonight for connection and Life Reentry here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/lifereentryc19

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We Already Know How To Eat, Sleep And Be Alone

March 20, 2020

I have to be honest.  When self isolating started to take place, it kind of felt a little familiar.  But it took me a few days to figure it out.  You see, self isolation is already a familiar experience to people who have already gone through losses such as death, divorce, job loss, abuse and neglect.  People like us know how to be at home alone.  We know how to process a hard day without anyone by our side.  We have gotten used to the feeling of no human contact, or touch.  We certainly know how to eat alone. Watch TV with our pets.  And sleep solo.  This has already happened to millions of us over the years.  The only difference is that we did it with a broken heart.  Without anyone knowing about it.  We also didn’t have Netflix parties, and family facetime calls.  We had to tell everyone we were doing just fine by week three or four.  The TV news reporters did not spend their news hour talking about the hardship of our lives.  Nobody was telling us ‘we are all in this together.’  There was no ‘together’ for us. Now millions of people are sharing with each other what is happening to their lives.  And that is the good news.  I am grateful that so many folks are not going through this alone.  But, the media needs to take advice from people who have gone through this before.  We know how to pull through after days and months of isolation.  We know how to walk into a busy grocery store when we are uncomfortable in doing so.  We know how to keep going regardless of the unknown future.  We have been through much worse.  The government did not try to pay our bills when we ran out of money during our isolation.  The medical system did not say don’t worry this is on us, when we got sick and needed a test.  We had to figure out how to make a living while trying to stop the sky from falling on us. And maybe one of the many lessons we are learning right now is that being isolated and afraid of the unknown, is not easy.  Whether it is a choice or an event that has made this happen, it is a hard experience. I hope, as we pull out of this difficult time, we take with us free medical care, government funds for unpaid bills due to a life altering event and lots of talking about how hard being alone really is. (Click to tweet!) Dear world, welcome to our world of loneliness, deep loss and uncharted territories, we promise you growth, lessons and above all wisdom for the ages.  With lots of self isolation experience,  Christina P.S. If you need a virtual support group during this time come on over: https://www.facebook.com/groups/lifereentryc19

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The Hugs From Your Friends Will Come Back

March 13, 2020

I know you are sitting alone at home every night, afraid.  The few places outside of the safety of your home you relied on after your loss to begin again are closing their doors.  Your local coffee shop where you made small talk with the person behind the counter each morning is more distant and wearing gloves.  The very few hugs you got from friends, are now being held back.  Even the pat on the back you felt here and there as you moved through your life is no longer happening.  Your life after loss became harder to understand.  It is as if the little air you could breathe in from the few life moments you were able to grab for yourself, are stolen from you.  The dinner plans you courageously made a couple of weeks ago with your friends for the first time in a while are being cancelled indefinitely.  And as you lean back on your arm chair to turn on the tv, you find yourself with the only companion that is allowed in your home.  A digital mastery that provides the illusion of companionship through sound and image only to bring more fear and panic in your life.  I write this letter for everyone who lost a person they loved and then this pandemic hit them.  An ugly monster with a voice of million journalists and tv presenters who have access to your only safe haven.  You feel like you have no choice but to let them in. If you don't, the silence will make your fear even bigger than the puppets on television.  You have no choice but to immerse yourself inside their world so your world is not lonely.  You see, loneliness kills faster than this pandemic.  If you are reading this letter and you feel all of the above I want you to keep reading as I have a few good things to tell you.  The hugs you miss from your friends will come back.  Your dinner plans will be remade.  You will have human visitors in your home again.  This is a fact.  Until then, sleep as much as possible.  Drink a lot of water.  Make sure you take your daily vitamins.  Wash your hands, of course.  And watch feel good movies on Netflix. (Click to tweet!) Here are some of my favorites: Kate and Leopold, About Time, As Good as it Gets, if you have a good sense of humor you got to watch Groundhog day, and of course Mamma Mia.  And since we have some extra time in our hands I would recommend Love is Blind.  Even if this is not something you would have watched before, I would recommend anything that makes you laugh and even gossip a little so you can take your mind off the hard things.  In the next few weeks the sun will rise again.  Being with other human beings will one day feel as safe as it always did.  For now, make sure you mindfully choose the voices that come through your tv screen.  See them as your guests and don’t invite anyone who makes you feel afraid.  This is your house. Your life.  And you still have choices.  That tv remote control has your name all over it.  Be relentless with who you let speak to you. Especially now.  With many healthy and vibrant days ahead of us, Christina  PS. And of course listen to some of these awesome guests on the Dear Life Podcast show: www.dearlifepodcast.com/episodes

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