For the past four weeks, someone I love has been in a hospital intensive care unit with an unexpected and grave medical crisis. Immediately, friends and family mobilized, and many of us tried to keep ourselves busy with tasks ranging from dog walking to email updates for work colleagues. COVID regulations plus ICU rules severely limit visitors, so hanging out at the hospital, walking the corridors and trading off bedside shifts is not an option. As a result, there hasn’t been much to do except wait, worry and try to maintain our regular life routines.
Yeah, like that’s going to happen.
I know, I know: the advice we’re all given when a loved one is very ill or dying is to try to make a little space for self-care: eat food that feels good (and doesn’t come out of a vending machine if you can help it); get some rest as you can; and do some kind of physical activity, preferably outside.
The internet has all kinds of articles telling us that movement is helpful for grief, sadness, depression, pretty much whatever ails you. This article seems to suggest “sweating out the sadness”. However, others are more balanced and modest in their advice for those dealing with stress, sadness and grief. In this article, we hear from an expert who, given my current experience, really gets it:
“This is not a time to be judging oneself and it’s important to listen within. People become more fatigued and can become more accident-prone during grief. Both of these can affect exercise and this is not a time to ‘push through it.'”
“Sometimes all one can do is walk to the mailbox and back”…
Thank you, internet article expert. Because I have not been moving much at all the past four weeks. I’m teaching my classes and dealing with the absolute necessities, but as soon as I get home, I flop on the couch and talk on the phone to give or receive medical updates (yes, I’m one of those throwbacks who uses phones for real-time two-way audio). Or, I watch episodes of Top Chef or Blown Away or other craft or cooking reality shows. For food, I’m scrounging in my kitchen or ordering takeout.
But movement? My yoga mat is sitting on my living room floor, mostly unoccupied (I’ve managed a few sessions, but nothing like I want or need). My bike trainer is not set up. And the outside remains too far away for me to venture out. I’m just too sad, too flattened, too depleted to move.
So I’m not moving a lot these days. I am, however, moving a little. Sometimes I’ll hear a song on the radio in my kitchen (again, throwback moment– I have a radio that plays songs real-time over the airwaves; but I don’t churn my own butter, in case you’re wondering). That might get me into a rhythm, even inspire a few dance moves. I’m parking in the lot not closest to my office at work so I get a few more steps in. I’ll stretch before bed and after my morning coffee.
And then there’s meditation. Meditation is saving my bacon right now. I’m meditating several times a day right now, mainly because I have to in order to 1) get out of bed; 2) get through the transitions of my day; and 3) get to sleep. You don’t have to move to meditate. In fact, it’s recommended to stay relatively still. Yes, I can do that.
One thing meditation teaches is that, when you’re paying attention, things change. All the time, they’re changing. I don’t know the outcome of this crisis for my loved one. But I do know that things will change. I’ll move more again. Just not right now.
Readers, if you feel like sharing any thoughts or experiences you have with grief and physical activity, I’d be honored to read them.