This Too Shall Pass – A Masterclass on Grief and Change With Julia Samuel, MBE
No one finds it easy to go through grief, loss, and change in life.
And author and psychotherapist Julia Samuel, MBE, has seen grief and loss of all kinds over the last 30 years.
And although it may appear that some sense of normality might be returning to society, many of us may be feeling that we’re grieving the lives we were once living prior to the pandemic, and we that might not necessarily feel too well-equipped to deal with the changes it has brought.
Julia sat down with Action for Happiness to explain why we find grief and change so difficult, how to support ourselves through it all, and to show us that this too shall pass.
Living with change in the void
Life might have thrown us some kind of life change every 7 to 10 years in our pre-pandemic existence, but during and even after lockdown, it has certainly felt like it has been every single day that a new curveball has been thrown our way.
And during these rollicking adjustments, it might have felt like everyone else you know is doing better than you.
I can certainly attest to that – after the confines of lockdown and since the relaxation of social distancing regulations, almost everybody I know is regularly seeing friends, down the pub, out and about… and that’s just not been happening much for me, and it makes me feel awful inside, like I’m missing out (something that’s followed me around like the Babadook since childhood).
So what’s wrong here?
According to Julia, nothing – change heightens our evolutionary functions, and we believe we should be ‘nailing it’ all the time, every time, which as humans, we just can’t do.
Part of change is feeling uncomfortable, and we need to support ourselves within it, even if we don’t have a map through it, and we can’t quite see the light at the end of the tunnel just yet.
If we suppress and push away the discomfort of change, it may build up into psychological and physical harm over time, so the bottom line is: the only way out is through.
Be aware of the ‘tumbling of feelings’ you don’t like, as Julia puts it.
Knowledge is power, after all.
Connect with others, and yourself
There’s a time and place for a stiff upper lip even in the eternally emotionally-repressed UK, and it’s during these times that we’ve realised we all still need and rely on each other as much as we ever did.
And you might not realise it, but you even need yourself as much as you need those around you, so make time to connect with your inner self too, through journalling for example.
I’ve done this since I was around 9, and I would be a gibbering wreck without a journal close by to vent and reflect my brain vomit into over the years – and ESPECIALLY over the past 18 months through illness and family distress.
Plus, it’s all too easy to compound the isolation and get stuck in ruminating loop that you’re the only one suffering through this.
Julia recommends exercise which helps as it lowers cortisol and stress which block the ability to connect… and that reminds me, I need to get back into working out.
Defining grief and trauma
The pandemic still feels like an ongoing traumatic event in itself, especially as we grieve the life we had beforehand.
And I was today years old when I learned how to define grief versus trauma:
- Grief is an adaptive process of mourning the loss of someone or something.
- Trauma is something that does not adapt – it puts us on high alert, and is often linked to addiction, depression and suicide.
Grief is invisible and you carry it around with you, whereas trauma to many means that they may have seen relatives pass away on a tablet screen, leaving them no time to be present as they might have been, affecting their ability to properly grieve the loss of the people they love without the normal rituals such as burial and prayers, in turn suspending their grief, and compounding the trauma.
It’s incredibly helpful to be able to properly put a name the things we go through and identify them so we might be able to get the help we need – it certainly feels like a small relief to me.
What you can do to help yourself through it
As well as exercise, there are things you can do to help yourself through times of grief and loss.
You can actively support yourself in a lot of ways, and that means loving yourself no matter the situation and allowing yourself to feel all of your emotions as they pass through you.
Feel it all, but make sure you get back up on your feet – as Julia says, to ‘oscillate between loss orientation and restoration orientation.’
You can also:
- Make a playlist about your person
- Put flowers that they liked in your house
- Light a candle in their honour (always take care with naked flames!)
- Talk to them so that the connection continues
As Julia says, loss of a beloved soul is permanent, but the love never dies.
And if you’re feeling that you’re in a low place staring into the void just that little bit too hard, you can try these micro-acts and give yourself the gift of agency that you might feel you’ve lost:
- Write a gratitude list
- Get outdoors
- Paint or create
- Go to supportive webinars
- Physical contact with a good long hug
- Walk and talk with a friend (I find this super therapeutic!)
Recovering from grief and adapting to change isn’t necessarily linear, but you can get back to feeling a little better if you take that first healing step.
Humans just don’t deal with change very well, as we’ve witnessed worldwide.
But according to Julia, whether we’ve lost a person or something else, pain is the agent of change and forces us to face our reality.
What helps us heal most is connection and support from others while we feel our way into our ‘new normal’ however it looks to you, so don’t ever be afraid to ask for help if you need it (I’m going to be seeking counselling soon, and if you feel the call, why not look into it as well?)
And I now know that finding a way out of suffering alone in the dark and into a bright new stage in life is possible for us all, even if it doesn’t look like it at this exact moment in time.
This too shall pass.
To find out more about Julia and how her resources can guide you through grief and loss, you can visit her website.
And to get involved in making the world a kinder and happier place, go to the Action for Happiness website.