Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You’re listening to episode 19, titled How Wordle Can Help You Heal. Last week we talked about the impact of grief brain on our ability to focus, think, or even write a simple, short transcript. I experienced a flood of frustration because my own brain was lost in all the thoughts I wanted to work through. This week, I want to share one of the accessible things I used to bring myself back to a baseline of clarity. And it’s not another breathing meditation.
This week, I want to talk about Wordle, the insanely popular once a day word puzzle game wooing the internet, five green squares at a time. If you haven’t seen anything about it yet, it’s an internet based word guessing game created by a programmer husband for his word loving wife. He released the program to any online user, and the internet went wild sharing scores, celebrating wins in only a few guesses and collectively lamenting when the word got the best of us and broke our winning streaks. A ton of copycat versions of the game have taken over the App stores, including Nerdle – a game where you identify a math equation, Dordle, Quardle, and more. I have at least four of the other versions bookmarked on my phone.
So how can a little word game help us heal through grief? Oh my friend, let me tell you the ways. When you are grieving, your grief brain is overwhelmed. It’s disconnected and often, you feel mentally detached and out of alignment with your community, your values, and even your family.
It can be difficult to know how to start conversations anymore, and even life-affirming care tasks like getting out of bed or eating a healthy meal can derail your thoughts to the point of giving up and binging Netflix for the rest of the day.
In short, grief can make your brain feel kind of broken.
But even though this is a little word game that will require you to know the basics of the English language and make you think, this is a phenomenal tool to realign your brain with your heart.
Let’s pretend you can’t get the word right. Day after day, you arrive at your sixth guess and still, you haven’t answered correctly. But does this guess change anything about your life, or your day? Sure doesn’t! In fact, this is a very safe way to fail. Losing the Wordle of the day doesn’t mean you’re unable to finish anything – and the grief brain needs to remember that it’s okay to mess up or not be productive or successful at everything we do.
It’s also a very small task for the day, that once complete, truly feels like a small accomplishment. Even if you answer incorrectly, the act of engaging in this on a daily basis can become a little ritual for your brain to step away from the requirements of life and into a little language oasis. Some people use body movement to get out of the overthinking habits of grief. Some listen to emotionally charged music or read poetry to help their heart begin to feel productively again, and still some need a mental engagement to move through loss. Wordle is a great way to see if a new mental exercise can help you experience relief.
I also love that there is no possible way for you to binge this game since there is only one puzzle a day. Yes, you can find other versions that allow for playing the archived words but the original is a one and done. That gives us something small but exciting to look forward to for the coming day, which might be something our griefy hearts haven’t experienced in a long time. Gosh, I know people who stay awake until midnight just to play as soon as possible (although, I would recommend prioritizing sleep instead of puzzles). Just an opinion.
And lastly, Wordle is going to create a community around you again. Whether your answer is a hit or miss, you are allowing yourself a chance to invest in a little microcosm of people with no requirements beyond showing up. We all want to have something in common with others. But while grieving, belonging is a really difficult thing to practice. It’s painful, and can leave us feeling misunderstood.
But Wordle? It’s not about winning or being the best. It’s about learning to play again – realigning our heart and mind with the intentions of others doing the same thing. Playing, sharing their stories and experiences, and talking with others about what worked for them and what didn’t.
One of my favorite things to witness around the Wordle community is learning who has a set “starter word” and who doesn’t. Who wings it and who sticks to a formula. My husband uses a completely obscure starter word that includes five of the most commonly used letters in the alphabet, and it still doesn’t always help.
But that’s just it. Is Wordle your ticket out of grief? Probably not. Nothing about your story is the same as mine, or anyone else’s. But maybe, instead of looking for final destinations, we can continue to pack our toolbox with techniques and tips; reminders of what we can reach for when the fog rolls in. And the more techniques you keep close at hand, the more likely you are to work through grief brain episodes more quickly than before.
And doesn’t that sound like healing to you?
Thank you for listening to episode 19 of Restorative Grief. I’m not usually one to jump on a trend from the start. I don’t really like being told what to do, shocker, and sometimes trends feel like the cool kids drawing another line in the sand. Maybe you feel the same way, so you haven’t tried this little game yet. And if you never want to, that’s okay. Perhaps word games really aren’t appealing for you. But what other small, somewhat meaningless activity could you introduce to your routine for a little more play? Think Sudoku or brain teasers, or even setting up a puzzle in your kitchen that will take more than a few hours to solve. What about bubbles? Or baking cookies? What small act could starting reminding you of joy?
Carl Jung said, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct.” We who grieve are learning how to live life in a new way after experiencing loss. Allowing yourself the gift of play may be the very thing to bring your heavy heart a little lightness.
Remember: The only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thanks for listening; I’ll see you next week.
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