Good grief, what's going on?
Updated: May 28
Have you stopped recently, given yourself time to think deeply about what you have lost as a consequence of the covid-19 pandemic?
Grief is universal. At different points in each of our lives, we are bound to experience something that brings grief. It may be the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or any other change that alters life as you know it.
The famous Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
It has been noted that not everyone experiences all the five stages, and that you may experience the stages of grief in any order. Grief is different for every person, so you may begin coping with loss in the bargaining stage and find yourself in anger or denial next. You may remain for months in one of the five stages but skip others entirely.
The question is, have you adjusted to the changes in YOUR life brought about by covid?
Are you, like so many others globally, still yearning for that elusive return to "normalcy"? Perhaps, like me, you are getting closer to accepting the idea that maybe your life is forever changed - that there is NO going back? When I hear the pandemic news about some people who still refuse to even wear a face mask, I can only assume they are still in the 'denial' stage. Maybe those who would blame China for allowing the virus to spread worldwide could be feeling very angry.
In the early stages of this pandemic, some Hong Kong (HK) people made the immediate connection with the SARS epidemic that swept into the city from China in 2002-2003 (see links below). That meant people in HK in 2019 were quick to start wearing face masks and adopt other necessary social distancing and hygiene precautions. There were also others who tapped into history, researching the Spanish Flu epidemic (1918-1920) and other major medical emergencies like Ebola (various outbreaks in Africa since 1976), and MERS (Saudi Arabia, 2012).
HK's pro-democracy freedom fighters are a determined and steely bunch, no doubt, but that does not make them immune from any potential illness sweeping the globe, or from any impact on their human psyche and emotions. The impact on us all has been compounding over the weeks and months.
Many have lost their innocence and naivety. Some have lost their employment, while others have lost their bond to family. Sleep, peace of mind and overall health has suffered not just from being an activist, but also from the ongoing heightened sense of impending conflict, of fear and threat. I doubt that these people would have it any other way as their cause was about self-determination, self-actualisation, and self-respect. Many felt and still feel there is something worth fighting for.
Dealing with covid-19 has been an added strain for everyone, and it's not yet over. Will it ever be?? We should not be surpised if we start showing symptoms of battle fatigue, or PTSD! We all have to act responsibly and care for ourselves and one another - and not just our physical well-being.
I take the greatest lesson in life from what I learnt as a gay man during the early stages of the AIDS crisis that first began in 1981, and I would like to humbly share the lesson of this with you.
No, this is not my coming out story!
First, I use the term "crisis" because the WHO has never actually recognised the AIDS illness as a "pandemic", instead terming it a 'global epidemic'. The fact is that since 1981 more than 30million people have lost their life to AIDS, and thanks to medical advances an even greater number are now afflicted with the virus but still leading meaningful lives.
And secondly, sadly, AIDS still infects and kills people due to inadequacies and gaps in health services, poor preventative education, social stigma and failures of governance.
There are some questions we the world over have to ask ourselves to begin an honest and realistic dialogue about the current pandemic:
+ What is life going to be like where ever you are in the world now that there is a new dangerous, mutating, life-threatening virus out there?
+ What personal and public adjustments and precautions do we now have to take as mandatory, that we did not give so much attention to before?
+ Do health systems in your country need more support and better organisation?
+ Are prevention, testing and vaccinations now more important than they ever were before?
+ Do you trust Science, and if not, what needs to change or happen so that you do?
+ Are you still only concerned about your own health and those of your immediate family, or have you begun to see that on this planet we are all more interconnected and dependent on one another than you ever imagined?
+ Do you trust your government to help your people adjust and adapt to the new reality, to maintain our health and stay alive?
+ Are you willing to be vaccinated, and are vaccines available on an equitable basis in your locale and globally?
. . . . . . o o o o o . . . . . .
Back in 1981 I joined in dialogues with other gay men to share our thoughts and feelings about the threat of AIDS....in fact, I joined a number of sessions hosted in people's homes that were billed as "Safe Sex" promotional workshops.
These little private gatherings were organised discretely since where I lived at the time consensual sex between men was still illegal. I was not that much different from the men described by John Paul Brammer in his 2017 article that chronicles those "who survived the gay plague" (see below). I was enticed and tickled by thoughts of reinventing and reinvigorating my sex life.
It was a big adjustment in life to learn that having sex was tantamount to suicide - a mere exchange of body fluids or act of love could be the act that ends your life, especially as at that time there was no HIV cure imminent. I already knew of one acquaintance lost to the affliction, and I'd heard of tragic stories of young people, my own age and not long "out of the closet" being infected.
AIDS seemed like a ravaging scourge that mainly affected gay men, but of course, as history tells us, that is an incorrect and incomplete picture of the epidemic (see the links below).
What I experienced at the "safe sex" workshop, apart from the support and cameraderie of other self-accepting Gay men was not an orgy of lust or debauchery, but rather a rediscovery of pleasure and a pledge to use condoms for 'high risk' activities. Some of those present bemoaned the loss of erotic sensitivity they experience by placing a layer of rubber between themselves and their partner - less pleasure to be had so they claimed.
Of course, there was no point in arguing with them then about the myriad other ways people can find romance, fun and pleasure in each other's arms and bodies. Once it's in your mind that you've lost something, it's like a seed growing, and nothing is going to stop it.
I distinctly remember suggesting to my therapist host all those years ago, that as Gay men we all had to grieve our AIDS-induced loss: no more free love, no more debauchery, no more careless sex!
Instead we had to take on being responsible for ourself and for others, and educate others about "Safe" sex. Ironically it was sometimes called 'safer' sex, just to be safe, as we understood there would always be RISK until a cure or vaccine was found.
There's no use crying over things you cannot change, apparently. After your crying is done and you're ready to pick up the pieces of your life, you will feel better. I'm not going to tell you the details of my sexual habits, or what adjustments I specifically had to make, though you may be wondering.
So, as we live in and through this covid pandemic our task is to redefine our lives, find its new meaning and purpose, to grieve.
Being Gay, Shame, HIV, and Mindfulness: My Story
Between 1981, when a few gay men mysteriously contracted rare forms of pneumonia and cancer, and 1990, [about] 120,453 deaths occurred due to complications of AIDS. Most of these dead were gay men. Those of us who lived through the epidemic still bear the trauma. In 1981, I was 14 and a freshman in high school. In 1985, at 18, I admitted to myself that I am gay and had sex for the first time, with the man who became my first boyfriend. During these formative adolescent years, developmental tasks for a psychologically healthy person include the development of sexual and personal identities. The developmental tasks for an emotionally healthy person include the development of strong peer associations and intimacy. I, as most of the gay men of my generation, was struggling to develop a sense of myself and intimate connection with others in a world that hated me, and with the knowledge that gay men were dying in horrific ways.
During the plague years of the 1980s and early 1990s, gay men attended funerals of friends monthly, sometimes weekly. These men who died were largely in their 20s and 30s. Overnight, a dear friend would change from a vibrant man, filled with promise and youthful life, to a gaunt, frail ghost. The disease sometimes took years to progress, but when it started to progress, the pace was astonishing. Someone you loved could be gone at any moment. We were in a war zone, and the invisible enemy threatened to wipe us into extinction. Like others who have been in a war, gay men suffered trauma. Because of homophobia and shame, we already had a profound lack of safety in the world, and the AIDS crisis multiplied that existential crisis exponentially.
Adding insult to injury, gay partners had no legal rights. Grief-stricken families often rejected the partner, barring him from participating in the death of the man he loved. Men who considered their partners equivalent to a husband did not get to hold the hand of the most important person in their lives as he died. A generation of gay men did not get to say “goodbye,” did not get dignity in the face of loss. In many instances, they also lost their homes and their possessions, as families used legal advantage to claim their partners’ property.
“HOW TO HAVE SEX IN AN EPIDEMIC: One Approach”
A manual by Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen (1983)
"Finding ways to have sex and avoid these epidemics might seem impossible, but we believe it's not. This pamphlet offers advice on one means of reducing (and hopefully eliminating) risk which has yet to receive proper attention: limiting what sex acts you choose to perform to ones which interrupt disease transmission. The advantage of this approach is that if you avoid taking your partner(s)' body fluids, you will better protect yourself not only from most serious diseases but also from many of the merely inconvenient ones. The key to this approach is modifying what you do - not how often you do it nor with how many different partners.
In the end, how you have sex is a matter of personal choice. But in the age of AIDS, it is important to realize that each one of us is now betting his [or her] life on what changes we do or do not make..."
Three decades later, men who survived the 'gay plague' speak out
"In 1987, a fiery speech was delivered at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Service Center in Manhattan. Gay playwright and activist Larry Kramer, who would go on to found the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), had been slated to be a substitute speaker for writer and activist Susan Sontag. What he said on that day ignited a movement.
Kramer asked two thirds of the room to stand up and told them they would be dead in five years.
'If my speech tonight doesn't scare the shit out of you, we're in real trouble,' he said. 'If what you're hearing doesn't rouse you to anger, fury, rage and action, gay men will have no future here on earth. How long does it take before you get angry and fight back?'..."
. . . . . .o o o o o O O O O O O o o o o o . . . . .
Just as Gay men in the 80s had to fight against shame, bigotry, and homophobia, for recognition and acceptance, for fair and equitable treatment, FOR THEIR VERY EXISTENCE, so do people now.
The fight against AIDS has always been about an instinctive and primal struggle - the choice to survive the threat to our health, to enjoy living, about the RIGHT TO LIFE.
So it is with the current coronavirus. We are not alone in our own little world - so don't isolate yourself. The best way to be happy is to reach out and help others. I am reminded of a news story of a U.S. doctor who now spends his spare time doing telemedicine, giving what assistance he can to reach out to those in need in India during its latest terrible wave of the virus. During this pandemic many people are in need of help globally, so sometimes we need to count our blessings.
It is unethical and wrong for the rich and privileged, for corporations and big business to exploit the weak in times of need. Many say it is just as evil in the good times!
It is wrong, for example, for business to keep on polluting the environment in the interests of its own profit, when that comes at the expense of people's health now and in the future. Those corporations disrespect the planet first, and our right to life and good health second.
Similarly, it is wrong for any nation to hoard cornavirus vaccines, or to charge exhorbitant prices for life-saving medical supplies, to use their wealth in a way that deprives others of their right to life.
Is it any different to conventional warfare in which death comes to the less-advantaged side thanks to military weapons? Parallel to this, we can never allow our government's inaction, or its lack of Science, to slowly (or quickly) kill us!
This is a call to action. With thanks to Larry Kramer, if what you're reading doesn't rouse you to anger, fury, rage and action, humans will have no future here on earth. How long does it take before you fully grasp the situation, get angry and start to reclaim your right to life and good health?'
Now is always the right time to move on from the past. It's time to get real and to do whatever is needed and whatever is right. Good grief, if there can be such a thing, is that which will bring our lives back to balance, a new equilibrium, harmony with the world, with one another and ourselves.
How HK beat SARS:
How Hong Kong Beat SARS: Lessons Learned
SARS Pandemic: How the Virus Spread Around the World in 2003
Message from Hong Kong: What SARS taught us about COVID-19
Time to learn more about AIDS and the Sex life of Gay men:
History of AIDS
WHO HIV/AIDS Fact Sheet
23 Gay Sex Ed Lessons I Wish I Had Learned in High School
Gay men: Finally, sex without fear
You may also be interested in our BLOGS concerning human life and the forces that disrespect it:
'Right to life' (part 1): 'Fight for life' compelled by greed and now consumed by it!
Police play politics
CCP China’s COVID-19 cover-up killed health care workers worldwide
Myanmar military burn man alive : CCP help to stop violence
Removing Uyghur children from their families is genocide
CCP, Carrie Lam and HK government's pandemicide
What Can the HIV/AIDS Pandemic Teach us About COVID-19? (Psychology Today)
Opinion: Lessons from the HIV epidemic can teach us resilience in the face of COVID-19 (Devex)
Lessons we can—and can’t—apply from HIV/AIDS to COVID-19 (Northwestern)
10 Lessons from HIV for the COVID-19 Response (OSF)
COVID-19 and HIV Are Not the same. But They’re Similar in Many Ways That Matter. (The Body)
CCP please answer the following UN letters sent to you: