Covid-19: Emotional weather

I do not think of emotions as bad or good. None of them are bad or good. They are information, controlled by electrical impulses and hormones, evolved over millions of years (or endowed by our creator, for those who swing that way).

I don’t dismiss emotions. I listen to them.

I think of myself as an ocean. There is all sorts of stuff happening in the depths that I don’t understand. Probiotics, for example. I don’t take them. If not for penicillin, I’d be dead many times over, from strep A pneumonia twice and other infections. I don’t think we understand probiotics yet. We don’t understand the brain, either.

The emotions are the weather in my life. I don’t really control them but they don’t control my ocean, either. Some days are sunny and gorgeous and then a storm may blow up. I am afraid of hurricanes, one destroyed my grandparents’ house in North Carolina, on the outer banks. I think all the cousins still mourn that house. And I miss my grandparents too, all of them. And my parents and my one sister.

See? The weather got “bad” there for a moment, but it isn’t bad. Storms have their own beauty though we hope to batten the hatches and that not too much damage is done. Maybe there is rain, scattered showers, sun breaks, a lenticular cloud. In the Pacific Northwest on the coast, the weather can change very quickly and we have microclimates. My father lived 17 miles away, but inland from me and in a valley. It was warmer in the summer and colder in the winter.

My goal with my weather emotions is to pay attention to them, let the storms blow in and out, and try not to harm anyone else because of my weather. When my sister was in hospice, we had a sign up in my small clinic. It said that my sister was in hospice with cancer and that clinic would be cancelled at some point with little warning. Patients were kind and gentle with me. And then it was cancelled, when she died. I got cards from people. They were so kind, thank you, thank you, and I could barely take it in. My maternal family then dealt with grief by having lawsuits. I don’t think that is a good way to deal with grief, but we just see things differently. Maybe it’s the right way for them. I don’t know.

Whenever I was having internal emotional weather that stirred me up, I would tell my nurse or office manager. Because they will sense my weather and need to know what is up. I had enormous support from them during a divorce, while my partners treated me horribly. My nurses and office manager knew me and my partners didn’t. My partners distanced me as if a divorce were catching. Whatever. Their loss.

Sometimes patients sensed that I was upset. I could tell by their faces. If they didn’t ask, I would. Bring the emotions out. Reassure them that I AM grumpy but not at them. Stuff in my own life. No worries.

Sometimes clinic is about a patient’s weather. They ask if they can tell me something. Often it is prefaced by “Maybe I need an antidepressant.” or “I feel really bad.” When they tell the story, usually I would say, “I think it is perfectly reasonable and normal that you feel angry/hurt/shocked/horrified/grieved/upset.” And then I would ask about an antidepressant or a counselor and most of the time, the person would say, “Well, I don’t think I need it right now.” What they needed was to know that their weather was NORMAL and REASONABLE.

I am seeing things on Facebutt and on media saying that mental health problems and behavioral health problems are on the rise. Maybe we should reframe that. Maybe we could say, “The weather is really bad right now for everyone and it’s very frightening and it is NORMAL and REASONABLE to feel frightened/appalled/angry/in denial/horrified/confused/agitated/anxious or WHATEVER you feel.” This weather is unprecedented in my lifetime, but as a physician who had very bad influenza pneumonia in 2003 and then read about the 1918-19 influenza, I have been expecting this. Expecting a pandemic. Expecting bad weather. This will pass eventually, we will learn to cope, be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others. Everyone is frightened, grieving, angry, in denial or in acceptance. The stages of grief are normal.

Hugs and prayers for all of us to endure this rough weather and help each other and ourselves..

I took the photograph in color. My program made a black and white version. It looks like the back of a stegosaurus to me, a dinosaur now living as a mountain.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: rainbow. Because sometimes the rain and sun combine to make a rainbow.

18 thoughts on “Covid-19: Emotional weather

  1. This post was the best thing I’ve read in very long while. Thank you.

    • drkottaway says:

      Thank you so much. That is a very high compliment that I will treasure.

      • You’re welcome. I try and practice mindfulness but I’m not very good at it (and I guess my impatience at not being very good at it might be partly to blame). I’ve never thought of my emotions as weather before and when I read your post I had that little light switch moment where something suddenly looked a little clearer. And another thing is that while emotions – mad, glad, sad, scared – are all valid and all part of being human, some of them still carry some measure of shame. But if they’re weather? Weather (assuming it’s not a hurricane or tornado that causes massive destruction and death) is beautiful to watch and experience; and it always passes. Sorry, I’m rambling here :) It was a really good post!

        • drkottaway says:

          I like thinking of emotions as weather because we pay attention to weather and dress correctly but we don’t let it run our lives. I don’t think we should be ashamed of that part of ourselves.

  2. Perpetua says:

    Emotions are good. Just like you, I use it as a barometer or a scale. Family is the number one source of emotion!, positive or not. The wind is just like emotion, it passes by. A feeling emotion wheel helps navigate mine when I am lost for words. A psychiatrist wrote a Psychology of Pandemic that helps me understand what is happening to the society as whole and looking at the history to learn a lesson.

  3. […] wrote about emotion on my blog a few days, about Covid-19 and affecting us all. We can strive to be kind to each other […]

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is very important for us to realise we all face bad weather. I like how how you tied it to rainbow.

  5. “The weather is really bad right now for everyone and it’s very frightening and it is NORMAL and REASONABLE to feel frightened/appalled/angry/in denial/horrified/confused/agitated/anxious or WHATEVER you feel.” This is so right. If there was ever a time to cut people slack it’s now, but that’s a big challenge since all of us are in some kind of emotional storm.

    Your post made me remember when my dad was in a nursing home, only months from death from MS (pneumonia, but you know what I mean). I was in college 85 miles away. Everything at school seemed unreal and I was naturally very sad and very scared. My dorm mother (who was an idiot) sent me to the college shrink because I was “troubled.” After he talked to me a while he said, “You’re OK. Everything you’re feeling is completely normal for a young woman whose father is dying. If you felt any other way I’d be worried.” The dorm mother got a talking to about how not all of the girls in her “charge” were “shiny happy people” and she needed to relate to us individually. I changed dorms the next year.

    For me the challenge comes in identifying what I’m feeling and handling it constructively. I didn’t get good modeling for that at home. We had ONE emotional outlet, rage, which I hated. I think that particular challenge for a lot of us is a lifelong thing…

    • drkottaway says:

      Anger was ok in my family but not grief or fear and if we showed them, my mother would tell it as a humiliating and very funny story. She could make anyone laugh about a whole room full of drunk adults laughing at a 2 year old.

      • Exactly. Anger was FINE and they were GOOD at it. When my mom was in the hospital near the end of her life, and they did a brain scan and found multitudinous lesions from alcohol use over a long period of time, the doctor called to tell me the results. He said, “You know your mom was an alcoholic, right? This is a common sign in later life.” I hadn’t known she was a drunk. I was shocked, sad, confused, I started to cry. My wonderful aunts (Montana cowboy mentality women whom I loved and who loved me) were there beside me. Seeing my tears, my Aunt Martha said, “Quit yer cryin’. You have work to do.” I realized that my tears frightened her. She didn’t know what to do to help me. I just went out to shovel snow. <3

        Now I understand that for a drunk (my mom) being compelled to pay attention to anyone else is really too much and it's enraging to be pulled out of whatever that alcoholic haze is. I'm glad that's over. I just wish I'd understood it sooner.

        • drkottaway says:

          I am so sorry you went through that, but you sound like you have healed so much. Some people never step up to heal or get lost in addiction.

          • I lost my brother 11 years ago to alcoholism. I guess will is an important power. I just didn’t want to be or live like that and I had wonderful aunts and, at a certain important point, a wonderful therapist who could help me see more clearly. Dostoyevsky said (paraphrase) that one good memory from childhood could save a person’s soul. ❤

          • drkottaway says:

            I had a grandmother who saw me and supported my rebellion against the family triangulation and gossip.

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