Most of us know that there was a run on toilet paper in North America in a panicked preparation for Covid19. I have to admit I was perplexed and didn't understand why toilet paper of all things? Seems to me that there are alternatives to TP where as other things, like flu medication or tissues, there might not be as many alternatives? I figured this was my thought pattern as a third world kid who had seen families manage just fine without toilet paper, and as an ecologist who has often spent long days "in the field" and had serious scientific discussions about the pros and cons of different plant species appendages serving as butt wiping tools.
I talked to a friend in Edmonton who was just as perplexed about the run on toilet paper. Their family is from Bangladesh so I figured it was our shared third worldness. Then I happened to talk to a friend in Dallas who also didn't understand the obsession with TP specifically. They're from South Korea so my third worldness theory didn't hold any more. This seemed like a legitimate question for me, "why the run on TP?". And, how could I ask this question in all seriousness? When a couple of podcasts I listen to had question and answer sessions with children I figured we were finally going to get an answer. Surely, some kid has got to have this same question?
Sadly, even kids have been socialized to know that they shouldn't talk about TP in public. I did enjoy hearing the children's voices and the popular science writer who answered questions did an amazing job. Apart from my disappointment about the TP question remaining unaswered, my only complaint was about the response to one of the last questions on the show. The child calling in asked "what does it feel like when somebody gets Covid19" and the answer talked about what the virus does to the body, damaging cells etc., and didn't actually describe any feelings.
Folks who know me know I'm an advocate of feeling our feelings, feeling them in our bodies, naming them the best we can, and holding space for them. So when I see children's questions about feelings unaswered it gets me riled up because some part of me wants to make sure those children don't forget to keep asking that question and to keep feeling their feelings.
After hearing the feeling avoidant podcast I had a zoom call with two friends. We started by asking what we wanted to do for a check-in. I shared my disappointment about the feeling avoidant answer in the podcast, and asked that we talk about our feelings. While talking to these friends the puzzle pieces started to fit together.
When I had woken up that morning I remembered a dream from the night before which is very unsual since I rarely remember my dreams. I probably remembered this dream since it had a re-occurring theme. I've had dreams with this theme over and over again. To the point where a couple of years ago I googled to find out what the dream interpreters have to say about it. There's no polite way to say this, the dream is about plugged up toilets and no matter which stall I go into there's shit in the toilet bowl. Sometimes it's even all over the floor of showers. Dream interpreters say that this image represents feelings that have not been dealt with. [Yes, as much as I advocate feeling our feelings it's a challenge for me too. We are all products of our socialization] As I was sitting on the zoom call it all fell into place. The run on toilet paper is a collective running away from dealing with our shitty feelings in this moment. Why do we avoid our emotions the way we avoid excrement? I want to start public service announcements saying, "Did shit just get real? Then feel the real shit!"
Turns out the puzzle didn't end there. The next morning I heard a meditation teacher say, "the issues are in the tissues". They were talking about how the issues manifest in our bodies, and I couldn't help thinking about the nose-wiping kinds of tissues. Why wasn't there a run on tissues when a runny nose is a more common symptom of a flu-like virus than diarhhea? Perhaps I can make sense of this by understanding that we have feelings about our feelings. We have internalized messages about not feeling our fear or grief or anger. What would happen if we just felt our feelings? David Kessler, an expert on grief says that our emotions need to have motion and pass through us.
As we continue to ride the wave of the Covid19 pandemic, let's invite ourselves to feel our feelings the best we can and give our emotions motion. To feel the grief that may show up in various forms, perhaps as denial in the folks who are not following protective measures. Or grief showing up as anger for those who are frustrated by the inadequacies of health systems and governments. Or feeling depressed and overwhelmed as we open to the pain and suffering that so many around the world and in our communities are feeling. Some of us may be getting by with bargaining promising ourselves our favourite treats once this is all over (it'll just be a few weeks). Perhaps some of us are coming to terms with the global and long-lasting impacts of the pandemic and have a sense of acceptance. Others of us may be making meaning out of what is still unfolding. These forms of grief include: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance, and meaning making.
Some of the best "work" we can do in this moment is to discover what we are grieving, to feel our grief and to mourn. Perhaps we are grieving for the loss of loved ones, or anticipating the loss of loved ones. Perhaps we are grieving for lost/changed plans, perhaps we're experiencing a sense of loss because of the uncertainty. Perhaps we are grieving the loss of physical contact with loved ones. There are an infinite number of things for which we can grieve as this pandemic plays out. Grieving and mourning are more than worthwhile uses of our time in this moment.
As we start to feel our own grief we may start to see that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and none of these forms of grief is more evolved than another. In our individual journeys we may travel from one form to another, and even come back to revisit some forms. Those around us are also doing so in their own ways. Perhaps then we can bring compassion to our own experiences and that of others. We can be more patient with the person who is not taking protective measures to care for themselves and others. We can stay present with the rage and frustration felt by those who are the first to be short-changed by our systems. We can hold the overwhelming sadness that some are feeling and perhaps find that a similar sadness lives inside our own hearts as well. We can extend more understanding to those who are bargaining with time and rushing forward to "when things go back to normal." We can appreciate those who have accepted this new reality and talk about normal things with no reference to Covid19 rather than seeing them as insensitive. We can also acknowledge the grief of those who are trying to make meaning, through conspiracy theories or looking to this moment as a chance for rebuilding. None of these ways of feeling grief is better or worse than the other, they are all valid ways to feel the uncertainty and grief of what we're going through. Keep buying toilet paper if you need to, and please buy some tissue to go with it. Keeping feeling the feels, the real shit.