Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Questions from Quarantine: A Psychologist Answers
Coronavirus. Who would have thought THIS would be the issue we would all be facing - even a few months ago? Recall your list of worries in December - was a global pandemic on the list? I feel like there is a lesson for us all in there somewhere. Life seems to author its own story.
We are amidst a time of fear and uncertainty which have brought forth our vulnerability, fragility, and grief. Our health, its status, and more so our status as temporaries on the worlds stage has been brought out of its usual place in the recesses of our everyday consciousness and hurled to center stage. Disheveled and in the spotlight, we begin to wrestle with this Truth of being alive in the world – our vulnerability opens its mouth to speak (or should I say, cough). All of the sudden we are confronted with the reality that we can one day be surfing in the ocean and the next day fighting for our lives on a ventilator. It’s rare that we all face this reality independently, let alone as a country, and now as an entire world. I think as a whole we are grappling with the reality of a changed world, we are grieving in some sense. Grieving our loss of normalcy, grief for the world we thought we had known, grief for a future we thought we could imagine and now can’t. The impact of this confrontation with our vulnerability, mortality, ant-ness in the world is on the forefront of all of our minds. It’s the reason we wash our hands more, hole-up, stay 6 feet away, and think twice before biting our nails again. We realize we are vulnerable and so are the ones we love. Not only that, we don’t experience grief or other big disruptions/shifts in our world in isolation, it tends to tug on all of our other unique experience of change and grief too. In many ways, your unique response to this crisis is largely influenced by all the other big moments of change and loss in your life (e.g. your parents’ divorce at 9, the sudden loss of a friend at 10, a breakup at 18, your own sudden divorce at 35) – Remember this before you get into a fight with anyone over news and information, we really do live in different worlds.
As a psychologist I get a unique, behind closed doors, picture at how this is impacting our individual psychologies. What I can say is, in a global sense, people are re-evaluating their lives. People are making changes, they are personally answering the question “Life is short. What am I waiting for!?” This means lots of re-commitments, marriages and in other cases divorces. This means school enrollment and school dropping out, job changes, pregnancies – people are being forced out of their stagnation on change. Death gives us perspective on time, our time, and its causing people to take action. People are looking at themselves – I want to be more truthful, honorable, dependable again. I want to renew my wedding vows. I want to pick up art, singing, dancing again – they are recommitting to making time for the things that count. I have noticed that my patients are finding a new gratitude for the lives they were living before quarantine. "I never thought I'd say this, but I miss my students, I miss my job, I miss that old restaurant at the beach we would go to and watch the sunset with friends." I am sure most people can relate to feeling a nostalgia for pre-coronavirus life. I had one patient say, "I am going to coach my sons baseball team this next year, no matter what my partners at work demand of me." Values are at the forefront and people are making change.
I want to give some advice to the people out there playing with the idea of change – listen to your gut. This doesn’t mean act impulsively, they are not the same things. It means, start honoring what you are feeling and putting words to those feelings. From there you can begin creating an action plan.
For the couples out there – it’s okay to ask for space. Asking for time alone even while in the same house is not a rejection of your partner, it’s an affirmation of yourself and a way of honoring your independent existence in the world. Ironically, couples that can handle the space required to do so report a greater sense of lasting desire in their relationships as those that can “better take care of me, can better take care of we.” Work on accepting your partners different feelings about all that is happening. Remember, it’s the same data but different vantage points. As I shared earlier, our unique histories are ripe to shape our picture of reality at the moment. Also, work on making requests instead of demands if your partner doesn’t share your exact perspective on things. Approach them with the attitude of, I want to learn more about you - how you are feeling? what you are seeing in the world through your eyes? Communicate, in a sense, “we are in this together, would you do this for me so that we can make sure X, Y, or Z doesn't happen” Although we are all feeling fear, don't let it drive your communication.
For those that are finding themselves not overwhelmed with relationships, but lonely, please hear this - people need you. Find a way to get connected to your community. Volunteer, get your friends and neighbors groceries, walk their dogs, grab their medications for them. This is the remedy against the question “Do I even matter?” If you find your life not mattering to you, know that it matters to others. Really, it does. I know these suggestions come with risks but your mental health is intimately connected to your physical health and your ability to recover from any health issue. Purpose is the vaccination for loneliness. Get creative and find ways to get connected to others. If you find yourself nay-saying the above, at least get connected to a therapist. There are many out there who care and can help you get through the isolation and loneliness you may be facing.
Lastly, it’s okay to not feel great in a time like this and more than ever we need each other. When you ask the question, “How are you?” and you get a response like “Great! I’m working, the kids are healthy, nothing to complain about.” Reply with “No, I asked how you were not how are things...Are you sleeping? Are you eating okay? What’s is like being in your home right now?” Some are so conditioned by their past that they have learned on a deep level to ignore their feelings, not worry those around them, or to be invisible. Now is the time to push past this defense and really check in with each other, especially those who feel the need to emphasize the word “great!” in their response.
People are also sharing that the following seem to be helping (in addition to the previous post on here):
-Keeping a consistent routine that includes regular exercise, yoga, dance, or meditation. Set an alarm, even if you don’t have to. Book a few mandated hours into your day – reading, journaling, time to be outside.
-Turning off the news and start playing music in the home
-Facetime really works! Some are absolutely being saved by a nightly girls group chat and the guys are linking up and playing games together online that include the use of video chatting.
-Take one day at a time. Don’t project into the future. Just do today. Looking ahead can cause anxiety and at the current time we are living just one day at a time in this thing. News changes around each corner it seems.
-Don’t use drugs or alcohol. So many are relapsing right now. Reach out to your therapist. There are also a number of AA meetings that are meeting digitally on the hour every single day. This is already such a step back, don’t take two.
We are OPEN and continuing to serve our local community both in-person (with the help of medical grade sanitizing equipment and 6ft distance between couches) and via FaceTime, Phone, Zoom or any other medium you feel comfortable meeting on.
Reach out to us directly at 714-334-5497
-Keil Psych Group