As the pandemic ebbs and flows in different parts of the world – so have our emotions been buffeted about, from our personal lived experience to those absorbed from the world around us. Like many other countries, as the UK battled for many months with the shock of shutting down, the eventual positive ebbing of the pain (declining infections, vaccine promise) – led back to a crashing onto the sharp rocks of reality, the long cold winter lockdown the most cruel kind of wave. As we emerge, blinking into the spring sunlight, we carry hope mixed in with scars of loss, mistrust, of uncertainty in the future and we may have little handle on what ‘normal’ even means anymore.

The shake up has been intense and even for those fortunate not to have lost loved ones, jobs, business or close connections, the loss of habituated patterns of life, of the ease with which we may have accepted previous burdens or how we even did life, have been thrown in the air by the great disruptor. On the first day of UK lockdown 24th March 2020 I wrote in my journal ‘I feel a pandemic is going to make us run into the heart of who we really are.’

A year and a week later on a similar Tuesday marked by the first truly hot day of the year, I sat by the river near home, tears rolling down my face. I’d not yet processed the gulf between the sunny days of then and the sunny days of now. We have all been through a raging storm, collective sorrow, loss of connection, the witnessing of arguments, conspiracies and struggle between frightened people on social media and the wider media, all activating the sense of severed belonging in many, the desire for ‘answers’ seeded in fear and lack of control. Added on to that the witnessing of traumatic events in the wider world and continued suffering of many nations, and there is no running from the precariousness and preciousness of life – we are irrevocably changed.

The sun and river view, paddle boarders and boaters, ducks quacking and swans gliding were a catalyst for my unprocessed emotions. I thought I was fine, having been doing so much work on myself with many good things occurring in other ways, that I had not mourned the whole situation. It was as if in that moment the emergence into the light let me feel the tricks of the brain. The impulse to gloss over, to cover up, to ‘get back to normal,’ to push away feeling the grief for what has just been lost. The collective loss and trauma collided with my own internal shifts and I was unanchored, all at sea.

For many, the fear may be of what we have failed to learn, that we will not get back to a ‘better world.’ We have looked out at it, prisoners in our homes, separated and each marred as a potential virus carrier, a lethal threat. To deny our all too human need for connection so to protect. Some of that was deeply comforting, it allowed time to escape and go within, perhaps make long needed changes or grieve past hurts. We may have been able to find more compassion for others, perhaps for the deniers, for their cognitive dissonance. All borne from fear although the gaslighting of medical professionals working tirelessly in the eye of the storm was hard to stomach.

For others it was simply getting through the day with work and family merged into an exhausted mess.

As we emerge into the light, the months of restrictions having crashed over us like waves, the pressure and impulse to drink ourselves into regretted hangovers, to numb our feelings, to get out there and ‘celebrate’ seems ever more hollow. Unprocessed feelings, or denying individual or collective empathic grief is a sure route to further pain. So we must be kind enough to let ourselves experience what surfaces, to take it slowly and to let the sun in gradually. Reconnection with others may feel jarring and forced if we have not reconnected with our own loss first. We may still be in uncharted waters but we can steer our way home.