We are all facing new challenges as we try to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a time of high anxiety for many people and others are becoming numb to repeated stories of loss or crises. I am hearing from clients already devastated from losses due to cancer, heart disease or suicide, that they fear the unpredictability of this virus. The virus is random in who it strikes, rather like the casino game Roulette, and everyone just hopes their marble spins around to the place it needs to go to win the game. But if you bet on numbers too high or low, black or red or the wrong sequence, you just lose! It is just this unpredictability that gives rise to the anxiety and sense of depression or overall dread people feel. This is what I find important to address in these challenging times.
Many people are experiencing unpredictability in work so it’s good to use that as a reference point. There are those of us that have the good fortune to work from home. There are blessings for all who can do this. And believe me I am grateful for this opportunity. It has its drawbacks because I can’t see my clients face to face and feel the energy that passes between us or pick up the finer nuances of body language. I feel I might miss something, or our time together won’t be as personal. Yet, if I could not offer telehealth, it could be months before we could have a session and that would not be appropriate in any way due to the ethics of halting therapy suddenly.
And there are so many who are have lost their jobs and now are on unemployment and what a mess that is, right? Not nearly enough to make up for the lost paycheck but some money to cover a few of the basics; but when will the money finally arrive? Finally, there is the group that has lost their jobs and don’t get any unemployment or assistance at all and are left with nothing. They might have been the steadiest part-timer ever seen for a company!! Poof! No job, no benefits, no unemployment: nothing! What the heck!? What do these folks do? Talk about the issue of unpredictability!!
My question is who of our neighbors are in these harder situations? Do we even know which of our neighbors have had this unemployment fate befall them? And how can we help? With everything our healthcare professions are doing for the world in this pandemic, I wonder what regular folks can do. Regular folks like me. How can we help our lives and theirs become more predictable?? The reason I ask this question is because when life is so unpredictable it can be a precursor to traumatic response.
One of the first things to do is what feels like the opposite to what we are told to do: reach out and connect. Yes, that’s what I said! CONNECT!!! I am learning so much more about my neighbors than ever before. I am pushing myself out beyond my introverted nature to ask how folks are when I see them out walking. I ask them their name and tell them mine. We keep our physical distance, but I make a connection with them. I let them know I will look forward to seeing them on another walk. This has been a good thing and they have said they appreciate it.
I have asked the different neighbors that I do know about their families, especially those who have healthcare workers or sanitation workers, grocers and, etc., in the family. This reminds them that I care about what they value and what has meaning to them. I ask them how they are managing and let them know I am thinking about them. I am predictable with them in my behavior.
This has not happened to too many of my neighbors, but it has to others I know. They have lost their jobs. It not only cuts out their income, but also their means of socialization and their meaning in life. Their job was their “everything” and it was the thing that kept them going. It had become their identity and they don’t know who they are without work. Struggling to find a new “self” at this time of sheltering in place can be more of an emotional crisis than a financial crisis for some people. It might produce more anxiety and depression than lack of income.
So, first make connection. Then make predictable connections!
The second thing I think is provide support. Support can come in myriad ways. It might mean a pot of soup for one person (as one of my neighbors did for an ill single woman), or a money collection by still-working employees for the one who lost their job and did not have benefits so rent can be paid. It could mean a few bags of groceries for a family who lost a parent to COVID-19 and who finds it overwhelming to cope with even ordering the groceries.
Support in these times, just as in times of loss and bereavement, needs to be more than “call me if you need anything” responses. It needs to be action. Don’t wait to be asked to deliver groceries or a few meals or cut an elderly person’s grass. Just provide the support. You can ask them if they have a list of things that need to be done while you keep your distance and are healthy enough to provide support.
Support can also mean a quick text to check in on someone who is lonely and afraid and needs some contact with the outside world. Perhaps their family is in another country or very far away. You might have just a few lines of text back and forth, very simple to break up their day, and that is enough to help them feel grounded again and cared about.
Provide support. Then, provide predictable support!
The last one helps us as well as neighbors. Practice mindfulness. Stay in today, be in the present moment. Try not to get ahead of yourself. Resist dwelling on the past and slipping into discouragement, depression or despair. Try not to leap to the future and get hooked by fear and anxiety with the “what if’s”.
Rather, stay in today and breathe into this moment because there is no other moment just like this one. There is no conversation just like this conversation. No hello, no goodbye, no greeting of another or yourself, just like this one. Let this moment be one of compassion and kindness. Let this moment be one of love and tenderness. Let this moment be one of connection with self, with other. Let this moment be one of support of self and other. Let this moment be. . .
Be Mindful! Be compassionately predictably mindful!