It's been 10 days since Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 innocent people at Orlando gay nightclub Pulse, leaving not just the gay community but an entire country scratching in the dust of heartbreak, grief, loss and this newfound, unfamiliar, creeping sensation of fear.
The gay club has always been our safe place. Our home. What do you do when your one safe place suddenly becomes unsafe? How do you cope with this lonely sense of homelessness, this lingering inner lostness we're all -- even those of us who have never stepped foot inside of Pulse -- feeling?
The only semblance of light in the dark of this undigestible tragedy has been watching the entire country and the full spectrum of media share the grief with us. Sometimes being queer feels like you're living inside a bubble that's separate from the outside world. It's a deep isolation. It's us, and it's them. Two different planets on the same earth.
And while the Orlando shooting cuts particularly deep to queer people, I've felt the tears and the pain of the entire country. I temporarily felt the bubble pop. I've felt connected to humanity in a way I never have before.
However, in the past few days, I can feel a sudden shift in energy. The outside world is going back to their lives. Let's talk about the Kardashians. Let's argue partisan garble. What asshole stunt did Donald Trump pull this time? Did Kim really plump her [insert body part here]?! When the initial shock and awe subsides, when the story is no longer "hot," the love subsides and the attention is channeled elsewhere.
I can feel the pressure of the outside world telling us to "move on." Enough with the sad Facebook statuses. Enough with the crying. Enough with the 1,200-word articles.
What the outside world is neglecting to realize is this moment is the most delicate moment yet. The Band-Aid has been ripped off, and the grief has set in. When the anesthetic of suddenness, surprise, adrenalin and rage wears off, what lives beneath those surface emotions? Pain. Loss. Inconsolable heartbreak.
We've finally had a moment to breathe, and that breath gives life to the deep-rooted feeling. We're starting to really mourn the great loss of our friends -- some of whom we loved, some of whom were gorgeous fixtures at the gay club, beautiful people we exchanged smiles (or threw wicked shade) with on the seemingly endless line for the bathroom at 2 am. We're mourning the faces we will never see again but will be imprinted on our hearts for the rest of our lives. We're mourning the innocence of having a home that always felt safe, even when the outside world was full of hate and danger.
In the past 24 hours, I've felt the truly vulnerable aftermath of the Pulse shootings more than I have in the surreal blur of the past 10 days. I'm starting to feel a bit like it's "us" and it's "them" again, as if my community is by itself again. It's lonely.
To all my queer brothers and sisters who are just starting to feel the burn, you're far from alone in this. The rest of the world might be telling you to get over it, but we're far from over it. And it's important to grieve and feel this tragedy, as isolated as you might feel in your pain.
We New Yorkers have NYC Pride this weekend. It's a strange time for Pride, isn't it? We're expected to celebrate our sexuality, the freedom we've garnered to express ourselves and love openly, all in a time when we're mourning the worst shooting in American history, specifically targeted toward us.
And while I plan on rallying during NYC pride harder and fiercer than ever before (because I've never felt so fucking proud to be queer in my life), I know that Pride is going to be a loaded experience. It's going to trigger a boatload of feels within all of us. The juxtaposition of partying whilst mourning is bizarre. Toss booze into the mix, and it's an inevitable recipe for disaster.
So, I decided to get some help. As someone who has definitely dealt with my problems in self-destructive ways, I decided to steer this ship around. I went to Talkspace, an amazing online therapy company that has a large number of LGBTQ clients. (It even had a booth at Brooklyn pride!)
Katherine Glick, LPC, LCADC, BCHHP and Talkspace Therapist so generously provided me with an easy-to-follow, eight-step guide to help us cope with the grief after the Orlando shooting. And I'm here to share the love:
1. Understand the stages of grief, and identify what stage you are in.
Becoming aware of the five stages of grief [denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance] can help you understand what it will take to work through each stage.
2. Accept your feelings.
People tend to feel a range of different emotions when experiencing grief. Sadness, anger, frustration, exhaustion and hopelessness are are normal, and accepting these feelings tends to lessen the amount of suffering we feel from them.
3. Identify and build upon healthy coping strategies and activities.
Art, meditation, dance, hobbies, sports, exercise, listening to music, playing an instrument, writing, reading, gardening, talking to friends/family, etc. The goal is to find activities that make you feel good physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
4. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.
When we experience a significant loss, it can be difficult to maintain a focus on our wellness. Attending to our overall health, and the health of our loved ones, can increase our resiliency and allow us to process grief a little easier.
5. Be sure to guard against unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Many coping mechanisms can provide some temporary relief but can also create some new problems or exacerbate the existing problems. Isolating from others, using alcohol/drugs/food as a means of coping and lashing out are a few examples. Being mindful of these unhealthy behaviors can help you prevent yourself from using coping strategies that will not serve you in the long run.
6. Continue functioning and attending to your daily activities.
We can sometimes feel very overwhelmed by our grief and the other negative feelings that are associated with it, resulting in our neglecting the rest of our lives. Recognize that, despite your loss, you still have a life to lead. And attending to your responsibilities can help you push through some of those painful emotions you are experiencing.
7. Accept support.
Often, you don't have to face your loss alone. Learning to accept the kindness, help, encouragement and support from friends, family and others who populate your life is truly important. Allow yourself to connect with others for support, even those who are grieving, themselves. Often, we tend to feel better when we are able to help someone else.
8. Rebuild, reconcile and re-engage.
The loss of someone close to you can leave a permanent mark on your life, in the sense that things cannot be restored to the way they were before the death. However, you can begin to rebuild, creating a new life for yourself, re-engaging with the world around you and becoming reconciled to the death itself and the changes it has brought to your life. Most importantly, begin to live in the present rather than the past and re-establish who you are in the world.
So, kittens, there it is. I know nothing can ease the pain we're in, but let's attempt to cope with our grief in active ways that empower us, not in ways that destroy us. Queer people are such inherently strong creatures. We've had to withstand an incredible amount of adversity just to be ourselves. Let's not let hate win. We've been fighting for far too long to let hate win.
There are so many resources to help you get through this. Talkspace is one of many places that's here to help you. Don't suffer in silence.