As the Clinical Director for a moderately sized private practice in downtown Chicago, my job at the beginning of the pandemic was pretty simple: “Just focus on helping everybody keep their s*** together, one day at a time.” That included the 30+ clients I work with per week, plus staying on top of at least an hour or two per day of clinical and administrative supervision and meetings with my interns and colleagues.
My job just as a human though? NOT so simple.
I’ve always been able to separate my clinical work from my personal life (except for a few extremely unfortunate circumstances), but it was definitely not easy to separate myself from the fears, anxieties, frustrations, and disappointments that my clients experienced in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic striking the world and changing the way we live our daily lives.
As my individual clients were dealing with the grief and loss they felt around their social lives, losing their jobs and/or healthcare, and being cooped up in their homes with no outlets for stress or anxiety, I was similarly processing my own feelings of sadness and fear. I was processing how this was affecting my friends and family, getting wrapped up in the research and science behind this issue to help me prepare for “what’s coming next,” and starting to develop some back problems and a strong case of tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears) from staring at my computer and talking to people through my AirPods all day.
While my couples and families were struggling to navigate boundaries and physical space to accommodate the transition to working and learning from home (recognizing that some pre-existing issues in their relationships were now just “under a microscope”) and still trying to find a way to love and support each other amidst a worldwide pandemic and a cultural revolution, I was also spending my nights and weekends paying attention to how this virus has had an impact on my friendships. This included the kinds of conversations we have, and recognizing and calling out some significant pre-existing issues in my social circles and family relationships based on misaligned values. All the while I was still trying to make sure that I was offering some semblance of the warm, loving, and compassionate support that I am used to providing to the people I love and care for.
These may be just a few examples of my own experiences, but I can quite confidently say that many, if not most, if not all therapists would agree that, “We’re all just figuring this s*** out at the same time you are, bro.”
We know that social distancing measures are needed in order to prevent the spread of the virus “within us,” but we also REALLY need to pay attention to the ways that the pandemic has impacted our ability to connect so it doesn’t end up killing our relationships too.
Of course my first suggestion is, and always will be… GET YOURSELF A GOOD THERAPIST. Everybody needs one… but more importantly EVERYONE DESERVES ONE. This will not only help you learn how to manage stress, anxiety, and depression, but can also help you learn how to connect with yourself, and thus connect with your relationships better too.
Secondly, I recommend taking a goooooood long look at the quality of your relationships right now… Who do you go to for support? If you were to get infected with COVID, who would be the first person to drop off soup and meds at your front door? And how does your family, your room-mate, your boyfriend/girlfriend or the boy-next-door feel about social distancing, self-isolation, and extended pandemic quarantine procedures? If you’re not sure about some of these, that’s okay… But it does mean that there are plenty of opportunities for you to grow and enhance your relationships.
In a world where it’s not safe to be surrounded by anybody, I think it’s important that we do our best to try connecting with everybody in any way that we can (by phone, video, greeting cards, drive-by celebrations, etc.)… because right now, everybody needs somebody.
Best wishes, and stay safe, happy, and healthy.
Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with various challenges in their family or intimate relationships, encourage them to seek help from a Licensed Counsellor or Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in your area for help addressing these issues before they become a larger problem.