What a therapist is observing about people in the days of COVID…

Dr. Samantha Morel July 14th, 2020

It’s July… mid-July at that! Just like most of you, I sit in complete and utter disbelief that this experience that started in March, has lasted through to July. As both a mental health professional, and just a person walking through COVID 19, this has been such a learning experience for me. Personally, my life compared to March is practically unrecognizable. In some ways, I’m busier than ever and I find myself more irritable, tired, and pessimistic than I usually am. In other ways, life is slower and I find time to do and think about things that I have not made time for in years (or perhaps ever).

These days, things have felt different.

I’ve seen so much struggle. These days, everything requires more thought. Grabbing dinner on the way home from the quiet office suddenly requires a google search, and a phone call to clearly understand their current offerings (dine in, take out only, curbside pickup). Would I prefer to do yoga in my living room today instead of the studio so I can reduce my exposure? How do I phrase it to my friends that I’m not comfortable joining their party where people are not following guidelines? These days, everything requires more intention. If I want to acknowledge a person walking by me in the grocery store, they can no longer see my colloquial smile because it’s covered by a mask. I work hard to clearly, but not overly awkwardly, communicate my intentions behind not shaking hands with new clients. These days, we long for connection. I’ve said it many times, and I truly believe isolation is one of the most profound and harmful things that we experience as humans. Think about it- in our prison/correction systems, where do we send the people with the most severe punishments? The most severe form of punishment we use in those places is total isolation from others. And it’s torture. These days, we dream about what the world could look like. Is this going to be forever? Will I ever get to have that party or celebrate with my friends and family again? Birthdays and graduations and marriages seem almost unexciting if we cannot celebrate them with those we love and who have seen us through these important life experiences. These days, we grow. We grow frustrated by what we don’t have, can’t do, and what “they” won’t tell us.

COVID has challenged and changed us all.

And yet in these days, I’ve seen so much more than just struggle.

These days, everything requires more thought. People seem to be considering how to consider one another. We are checking in with one another about boundaries, comfort, and safety. These days, everything requires more intention. We are going beyond the typical smile and nod to the checker in the grocery store to asking them how their day is going and sharing words of encouragement and thanks. Rather than just a text, I spent time making homemade cards and snail-mailing them as a surprise to some of the people I care about. These days, we long for connection. A moment to sit with a friend is not something we take for granted any longer. Hugging a family member is not a given, it’s a gift. These days, we dream about what the world could look like. We dream about a world that is more kind and inclusive. A world where Black Lives Matter, where we are compassionate about the varied needs of those in our community, and where we can be together. These days, we grow. We grow closer in shared experiences and greater understanding of what it means to be a human being, rather than a human doing.

These days, things are different. And different does not exactly mean “bad.”

My advice for all of us is to mindfully notice the “these days” experiences you are having. The practice of mindfulness means to simply notice and acknowledge our experiences in the moment without judgement, perseveration, or distraction. Let us acknowledge our thoughts, feelings and experiences so that we can learn from them, and grow from them. This is not an attempt at “silver lining” these things. That’s not appropriate, and it’s not my experience. In one form of psychotherapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), they talk about two kinds of pain- clean pain and dirty pain. Hang in here with me…. clean pain is the unadulterated, raw, human experience of a emotion. Dirty pain is the kind that comes when we deny our experiences, push against them, try to scramble to fix them quickly, or worry about how worried we are. The more I connect with the clean, the more I can see that second paragraph. And I can see a path forward through these days.

I hope you are staying well, and doing what you can to take care.

-Dr. M

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