Processing Grief and Getting to Normal

“I’m in my head a lot — and it kind of sucks. There are certain things I have to do to be out of my head and just to get to normal. I’m not talking about being really super effective. Just to get to normal…” — actor Rainn Wilson.

It’s been a wild few weeks, world.

I won’t go deep into the obvious here, but I will state it: the U.S. election shitshow and the toilet bowl spiral our country (and world?) appears to be swirling down before our deer-in-the-headlight eyes. I’m typically an optimistic guy, but when I read these 13 gloomy crises humanity now faces, I’m not feeling much like myself these days.

Couple this with my sister’s boyfriend getting into a cycling accident with severe head trauma and still unknown brain damage, and I’m experiencing complex mix of emotions, thoughts, and mental states that feel foreign and confusing.

I’ve since learned to describe it: grief.

“Pure, unmistakable grief” as my friend Steve said.

Within the first 72 hours after the election, I took a stab at navigating my grief via a few Facebook posts like these ones:

Three weeks later, the grief is still very real, very raw, and I’m still working through it. Or maybe it’s still working its way through me.

I’ve been slow to return to work, physically and emotionally. I’ve struggled to settle back into a routine. I’m sure the jet lag from California to London hasn’t helped. Meanwhile everything in me hungers to get to back to normal.

Intellectually I know “normal” is a facade. Normal doesn’t exist. Life isn’t static and what we think of as normal is a constantly evolving state. And despite what the idealist in me believes, I know there’s not much I can do to change the state of the world instantaneously.

But hearing Rainn Wilson talk about “getting to normal” reminded me that there’s still much I can do to get myself back to a normalized state:

“Just to get to normal I have to do meditation. I have to do some exercise. If I can get into nature — great. If I can play some tennis — better. And acting is that same way. Acting, rehearsing, playing characters — these are the things that get me out of my head and out of just analyzing every goddamn thing that comes down the pike and leaves me miserable and making really bad choices.”

It was almost 6pm on Tuesday night, already midnight black in London, and Rainn Wilson’s words were in my head. My body needed something. My soul needed something. My heart needed something. They all needed something my thinking mind couldn’t satisfy. I felt an impulse to run. Run away? Run towards? Run wild? Before allowing myself to think about it too much, I threw on my running shoes and clothes, swung open the door and started running.

My body felt creaky and stiff. Three weeks of long drives and longer flights, foreign beds and late nights caught up to me.

My heart felt heavy, like it was clogged with lead. The cold air pierced my eyes and they began to water. I gasped for air. More tears came, these ones salty. I was crying while running. Or running while crying? Either way I was letting myself feel, letting myself move, letting myself be.

Humans are a privileged and tortured part of creation that can rationalize, create stories, think deeply, and eternally question the meaning of life. As a result — if I can speak on behalf of us — we’re in our heads way too much.

When we’re off kilter and feeling less than normal, we’re probably so far up our thinking head’s ass that we can’t hear our physical body, our emotional body, or our spiritual body screaming, crying, begging us to pay attention.

Four miles of cold dark air stinging my face and lungs, full-bodied tears carrying my pain, running wild under the brotherly watch of strong sycamore trees — I was getting to normal again.

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