Another black man dies. Let’s pause to acknowledge his name, George Floyd. George mattered as a human being. So did Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and many others that have died before them. Grief is messy.
What is different, or what can be different this time?
We all watched a video that chronicled the final 8 minutes of a man’s life whereby he died senselessly and unjustly at the knee of another man hired to ‘protect and serve’. Our sense of sight ignites a different emotional response than simply hearing a story. Mr. Floyd wasn’t aggressive or violent. He was unarmed. He begged for his life. The 46-year-old man called for his mom in his final moments of life. We watched George as a fragile and vulnerable human.
Our daily lives are different
Another element of ‘different’ includes the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic. The circumstances of our daily lives that have extended for over 3 months that include fear of infection and death. Our emotions and responses to those feelings heighten naturally when we endure chronic stress. Additionally, the context of social distancing (isolation in many cases) brought on by the public health crisis has ignited an intense craving for human connection. Interestingly, protests are a remedy for human needs of connection and validation. Standing shoulder to shoulder with others that share our beliefs is a powerful way of healing.
We feel powerless. Okay, this isn’t different for many of us. People of color experience this daily. The difference now seems to be that white people are also getting a taste of this feeling, and it is confusing and non-sensical. Important questions are being asked internally and with one another. How can real change happen? How can we make our voices heard?
Unrest has ensued both with us internally and in our neighborhoods. Grief is hard to predict and can be messy. Societal grief and the trauma response our communities are feeling is very real. Grief is a feeling is often turned into a behavior – activated and mobilized in some way. Now, much grief looks like anger. Rest assured, often sadness looks like anger. The primary feeling is important to see and recognize – grief, sadness, and fear. The secondary feeling of anger is a coping strategy, that is often quite effective. Protests are an active way of grieving. Let’s not pathologize these behaviors, but rather acknowledge that grief is messy because it symbolizes strong emotion, the basis of what makes us human.
A desire for peace seems unintentionally misguided in this moment. Don’t get me wrong, I love the notion of peace. I wish people peace on a regular basis, it is sort-of my mantra. But right now, praying for peace feels dismissive of the strong emotions and simply asks for a return to what was normal. Normal sucked for a lot of people. Even the idea of peace is often linked to peace ‘and quiet’. Now is not the time to be quiet. Our communities are making it clear that quiet is unacceptable right now. We are far from peace, and likely leaning into the hard process of change instead.
To conclude, it seems important to touch on the desire for justice. Justice doesn’t necessarily look a certain way, but rather feels a certain way. Justice will be interpreted differently by many in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Some are craving the charge, arrest, and conviction of all 4 police officers involved in the killing. Some are idealizing political and legal action. Some are soothed by a simple acknowledgment from police officers, police chiefs, and politicians that racism is real, it is a problem, and we will work side-by-side to change it. Justice is deeply personal.
If you are being emotionally impacted by what is happening in our communities and globally, reach out. These are strong emotions that deserve exploration and validation. A qualified, licensed mental health provider can be helpful in sorting through these feelings and assisting you in putting words to what you are experiencing. Your mental health matters and honoring your own feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and values can be an important self-care strategy, particularly now.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.