Please consider replacing the term “social distancing” with “physical distancing.” The latter is more precise and focuses on the actual activity everyone needs to do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The former term wrongly implies the concept of socially isolating from others, which is the last thing that should be emphasized. As human beings, we need social connection more so now in these scary times than ever. Language shapes narrative, which, in turn, shapes culture and society. Let’s foster a sense of connection with each other as best we can. One way of doing that is emphasizing the need to be physically distant from people, for the time being until this pandemic is over, but not at all socially/relationally apart where and whenever possible.
In regards to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis here in the United States, my frustration and sadness over not only the lack of presidential leadership but absolute detrimental, minus leadership from out of the White House are felt acutely of late. But, these feelings are placed right up against a strong hope that solid leadership from other quarters, including by some governors, congresspeople, doctors, nurses, and many others around us will somehow be enough to see us through.
Three days ago, I started posting short videos of myself on Facebook, where I talk to my friends and, by the second one (of three at this writing), anyone in general. Due to this pandemic pandemonium, as I’ve been calling the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve felt a need more than ever to be seen and heard, connected and not alone. In a span of five days, my mood state has especially soared up and down, hopeful some days, discouraged the next. I’ve made it my clear intention to remain open to the new possibilities arising from this strange, distressing world situation. This has already borne out some positive experiences and understandings, for which I’m grateful. However, with so many drastic changes happening at once, I find adjusting to them a mix of intriguing, surprising, fulfilling, scary, and unpleasant. Hence, why some days feel better than others. I think this is to be expected. Many of us are undoubtedly experiencing a similar see-saw of emotions.
Just a short while ago, I was soberly reminded of how people besides myself are feeling painfully challenged. Standing first in line with a shopping cart, purple rubber gloves covering my hands to protect me from the corona virus, I waited with several others for our local Trader Joe’s market to open for the day. A sixty-something-year-old woman took a cart and then stood near the entrance, opposite the queue of people. I mentioned to her that the line started over where I stood, to which she angrily snapped, “I understand, but I’m not getting in it! Everyone will be able to go inside anyway!” A short while later, a worker came out to place disinfectant wipes by the carts. He turned to the woman and matter-of-factly reminded her where the line was in order to enter the store. She let fly some “f” bombs at the man and explained that she comes to the store every week, recently had a knee replacement, and would let other people go by to get inside. She just was not going to go all the way down to the end of the line. I chimed in, “So do we,” in response to her fact of frequently shopping at T.J.’s. She then swore at me as well. I gestured with my index finger before my mouth, releasing a “Shhh.”
I take no pride in how I responded to this woman. There I was, not only speaking for myself (as, indeed, I do shop at Trader Joe’s every weekend), but presumptively for the twenty or more people waiting behind me. Such an angry and seemingly entitled response evoked my own “us against you” reply. Having been bullied at school during a good share of my childhood and adolescence, I know all too well how it feels to be singled out and “put in my place” by a group. But, that said, I spoke this morning from a protective, reactive part of me I rarely ever express, getting caught up in this poor woman’s polarizing, angry part of her psyche that spoke from actual pain and difficulty she’d been enduring.
In a short while, I found myself thinking how it was sad this older (than I) woman felt such a need to lead in public from a place of vitriolic anger. Perhaps she could have explained to the Trader Joe’s employee and the rest of us there that she was experiencing some difficulty from having her knee recently replaced. Would it be alright if she didn’t wait in line, but enter the store first so she could then get off her feet that much sooner? This I would have understood and compassionately permitted. She was probably at least sixty-five years old. And gods know what else was going for her in addition to this world health crisis. I wouldn’t be surprised if the worker would have allowed her inside right away, perhaps even a bit sooner than the rest of us. After all, I’ve read about some stores allowing elderly individuals to come in and make purchases an hour or so before the mad rush of shoppers flood in. Of course, all of this is mere speculation, since the scenario did not happen that way. Very likely, the angry individual had already been shamed elsewhere for simply having needs, be it recently and/or repeatedly in her distant past. Clearly, this particular morning, she felt an inner pressure to lead her life as if prepared to fight against the rest of the world. I’ve certainly been there too now and then.
I came away from my shopping trip reminded yet again, more than ever, that many human experiences are greatly shared, including ones that have yet to arise in the future for some. Such circumstances and events have simply not occurred for those people– yet. While it wasn’t me in the moment feeling particularly hurt inside to then harshly defend with anger a deep sense of vulnerability and intense need like this woman customer clearly was going through, it certainly has been me in other instances. If I live long enough, my body will remind me too that I need to get off my feet sooner than those who are younger or have stronger knees. But, I trust I will do all I can to set my anger to the side and lead with a gentler voice and words to advocate for my needs. With age has come some wisdom for me to draw from, should I choose.
Reflecting on standing in that store line, I recall looking behind me more than once at the growing stream of people waiting in the bracingly cold wind of early spring in Massachusetts. We were all in need, coping as best we could in the face of incredible uncertainty, there to get food and other basic supplies. I was impressed with how well-behaved everyone else was being, each and every person undoubtedly filled with concerns about their own and their loved ones’ future. Yes, I was at the head of the line, but well aware how we are all in this together.
Addendum update: Since the above writing, a mandate by the Commonwealth of MA went into effect whereby people aged sixty and older must be allowed the first hour each day of shopping in a grocery store, at the exclusion of everyone else who is younger. The disgruntled woman customer I wrote about can rest easy from now until this pandemic crisis is over whenever she waits in line, first thing in the morning, at Trader Joe’s. She has been fairly and duly accommodated. I hope for her sake that this makes her life a bit easier, enough to hopefully begin to facilitate improving her behavior in public.
Previously, I wrote about the economic strain the COVID-19 virus is and will be causing across the U.S.A. For me, as a psychotherapist in private practice, I’ve had to stop seeing people in person, per the need for social distancing to remain uninfected, towards “flattening the curve” of overall infection rate. This week, I’ve just started to feel the economic effects of doing this. Even with the remote/teletherapy option I’m offering to everyone on my caseload, more of my clients than usual are canceling their appointments. This is to be expected, given how the pandemic is upending people’s lives. In response to this precipitous drop in revenue, I’ve already started to tighten my budget where I can. I’m not a big spender, so there hasn’t been a lot to trim back. Fortunately, I’ll be able to pay a smaller amount for my next quarterly tax installment, due in June, since I’ll be making less money. Still, anxiety about my financial future lurks around the edges inside me, reinforced by the knowledge that my retirement savings in the stock market have been shrinking of late. I know these money worries are arising for many people.
Others have it a heck of a lot harder than I do. There is still so much I have to be grateful for.
This new normal is bound to go on for months. What is already quite challenging is the restriction in movement to which I’m having to adjust. My husband and I would probably still be out to dinner somewhere on our Tuesday date night. Of course, this can’t happen anymore, except at home. Just watching Petula Clark sing “Downtown” on PBS a short while ago felt oddly sad.
I’m curious to see how I evolve in response to these big changes in life and routines. I think a key plan here is to do all I can to live from that place of open curiosity as much as possible. And I need to remember to treasure the small and large expressions of beauty to be found everywhere, including what the advent of spring offers. I just need to keep my eyes and heart open to readily notice it all.
Inevitable reality cascades over me. Recession is surely on the way as part of having such necessary mass social distancing going into effect. I have felt so fortunate to live in a thriving area of commerce and culture. But, local restaurants and other retailers whose owners have business loans and/or personal home mortgages will be– or already are– strained around keeping up with their monthly payments. Given that a large percentage of them probably at least have mortgages, this will soon be a large-scale problem, with banks and stock markets reacting to this strain. Employees of these businesses will then (or actively are, I already imagine) be cut back drastically in response to such huge slow-down of public purchasing of goods and services. Sales of online products and physical necessities have and will increase exponentially, until spending money runs out for a significant percentage of consumers whose employment has been adversely affected by this global crisis. Not everyone can simply work online from home. Already, I myself have shelved my upcoming plans to make a certain large purchase in the next few months or even probably this year.
Here in the United States, leadership at the federal level has been extremely lacking, unquestionably. The only high up elected official who seems truly capable is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But, even she is not quite enough. I am grateful for some degree of state level competency where I am. Again, it seems to be too little too late, though. To my understanding, we could and should have had successful containment during an earlier window of time that is now long closed.
I do not mean to sound fatalistic or complaining, because I have faith we’ll get through this, except for those who will die of COVID-19 and/or economic-related fallout. At this point, it’s all about mitigating bad outcomes. People– myself included– will need to help those who are especially isolated and/or economically impoverished by this TWILIGHT ZONE of a situation. It is going to be very rough for a while before things get better. In the meantime, I’m well aware there are lives to keep safe– our own and everyone else’s around us. And, with me as a psychotherapist and my husband who works in customer service at a small community bank, we each signed up to be on the front lines in our own ways.
Take care, dear readers, both of yourselves and those around you. There are solid safety guidelines out there for avoiding infection and spread of COVID-19. Please follow them responsibly, while also helping those you know (and don’t know) who may especially be in need.
In these stressful times with such a lack of formal leadership from the top in the U.S.A., I urge compassion, patience, and non-judgment for ourselves and others as we each go about deciding how to cope (or not) with the Corona virus outbreak among so many assorted challenges. Remember, everyone’s life history and situation are unique. And within this request for compassion, I mean that to include being mindful each day of all those with whom one will be in close contact. For, no matter how healthy and low risk oneself may be, elderly and immunocompromised people are especially vulnerable to this fast-moving, potentially lethal (to them) illness. Thank you and be well, dear readers.
Speaking for myself but also, I suspect, for others, many of us are simply needing some time to feel through our disappointment before we “suck it up” (a shaming expression I’ve always viscerally detested) and move along in lock step with the corporate Democratic establishment to vote for a candidate many of us find lackluster, uninspiring, and/or other unsavory adjectives.
Humans have feelings that, for the benefit of overall health, should be felt and expressed. And only then can clear, right action(s) be more readily and sensibly taken.
Over on Facebook, I just had a simple realization. By me clicking “like,” the laugh emoji, or angry emoji on so many insulting and anger-laden picture memes about 45, I’m being part of a problem. I’d really like to stop participating in having the powerful platform Facebook be a perpetuator of Drumpf’s image, even when posted by people out of cathartic jest and/or valid frustration. I’m there with all my dear friends about how horrific and problematic an individual the U.S. has for a so-called president. But, I’m committing now to no longer expending– out of habit– my energy clicking my approval on memes of that deeply disturbed man’s face. I wish to de-clutter my mind from his visage more than I already have to endure seeing it or even hearing his voice. As it is, simply scrolling through the latest news online, briefly watching news updates or campaign ads on TV, or hearing him speak on the radio is far more than enough for me to deal with.
As a person, I am many roles and attributes– husband, brother, son, friend, psychotherapist, gay man, eclectic Pagan, movie lover, writer, sensitive, empathetic, introspective, caring, imaginative, sometimes overly-critical, and many more things. What I also am, though it is not a central identity for me, is someone who survived a relatively/moderately traumatic childhood. (So many people have survived their childhoods, which is nothing to necessarily brag about– though one can if they wish– or be ashamed of. Probably each and every one of us can say we survived at least something during childhood.) This included divorce of my parents before I was five and much uncertainty thereafter, due, in part, to frequent moves and having to adjust to several new schools and living situations.
Shortly after my parents’ divorce, my birth mother gave me up to my father and his second wife, having found herself, through no real fault of her own, overwhelmed and ill-equipped to be a single parent. I’m also convinced she was hoping I would be a duplicate of her older brother, who she idealized while watching him fill in as surrogate spouse to their mother, my grandfather largely away from home as a career Marine during much of her childhood. What my mother got with me, however, was something very different than my stoic yet caring uncle. She didn’t quite know what to make of me when I left toddlerhood. My emotional sensitivity and fascination with her high heeled shoes, long hair, and makeup made her uncomfortable.
Other unpleasant to even very painful difficulties arose after this initial trauma of divorce and later what I experienced as abandonment by my birth mother. However, simultaneously, I was also thrilled to finally go live with my father and the woman I would soon call “Mom.” Being a sensitive gay child on the non-binary spectrum (in my case, identification with feeling partially, but significantly female in a physically male body) became an added challenge. Most of the community I grew up around was quite intolerant of such differences. I was bullied throughout much of school, especially during sixth through eighth grades. I inherited a propensity for an anxious, highly reactive temperament. This, combined with my early personal history, resulted in some pretty serious anxiety (both generalized and OCD) and long bouts of depression throughout adolescence and much of my adulthood. Looking back, there is no doubt that I suffered from PTSD as a child and adolescent as I lived through deep relational disruptions and repeatedly perceived threats to my safety, with a good share of these perceptions based on actual reality.
After many years of effective psychotherapy, particularly a combination of Internal Family Systems work and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and increasingly mindful living, I’m glad to say that I haven’t experienced any clinical depression for almost nine years. I have been fortunate to not require sustained use of prescribed medication, although I did go through some short trials of assorted antidepressants (with misery-inducing side effects resulting each and every time) and long-term use of a benzodiazapine (Klonopin) for the anxiety. However, I was even able to give that drug up completely about seven years ago. Being free of the need for any prescriptions has been a relief, yet I also honor and understand those who find help in maintaining a regimen of psychopharmacological meds. We all must try and do whatever is necessary for our well-being.
The chronic, generalized anxiety and OCD will always be what I contend with to some degree. They are part of my body’s lot in life right along with some other health vulnerabilities, such as high cholesterol and skin that occasionally produces melanomas (only two thus far in twenty-seven years, both in situ/stage one, thank the gods) requiring prompt medical attention. But, my OCD has lessened in intensity enormously, having last been seriously bad for an extended period when I was fifteen years of age. I realize now that the OCD was intensified at the time by assorted stressors, including a reaction to an accumulation of traumas. Now, it’s something I chuckle about and bond with others over as they describe to me the unique little quirks of their own OCD. As for the generalized anxiety, I think it’s debatable whether I actually clinically suffer from it any longer. My day-to-day intense, chronic worrying has largely decreased. Ten years ago, I wasn’t certain I’d ever reach this level of inner peace I feel today. Mind you, I still have quite a ways to go on that front. Finding and living within inner peace most or all of the time is a lifelong effort for so many of us, perhaps even for most save for a very few (like the Dalai Lama, among others). My nature being what it is, I’m still to a certain extent what others would call “high strung.” That and growing up with having to cope with frequent disruptions to my sense of security as a child, I’ll likely always tend towards initially catastrophizing in the face of change or new difficulties. But, I am able to more quickly step away from such negative thinking and feeling, instead of getting stuck and bogged down in it so often like I used to do. I’m confident I function within the average range of the general population when it comes to dealing with uncertainty and life changes, with me being somewhere in “normal range” on the broad bell curve, for what that’s worth. For certain, I’ll never be fully “normal,” whatever the hell that even actually means. Mentally healthy and adjusted, on the other hand, well, I am definitely more that than not and it’s wonderful.
These days, it’s been about maintaining all the healing I’ve done for my psyche/inner system of parts while continuing to release some remaining deep-down pain from my past as I live more and more freely in the present. I’ve manifested most of my life dreams I started having as a young teenager, namely that of having a psychotherapy career, owning my own home in a pleasant neighborhood, and being married to a fabulous, loving man. I continue to live them each day, for however long I’m meant to do so. All I, and we, really have is now. I enjoy building from the wondrous now.
I’m starting to live into another big dream of mine. This simply is to commit to writing more often than not and see wherever that takes me next in this incredible journey called life. If I publish anything I produce, that will be a cherry on the sundae at this point. At least I’m writing and some people are reading it here on my blog, which I’ll do my best to have exist long after I’m gone.
A fact is, we all had, and have, our unique challenges in life, including, for a lot of us, mental health challenges, and often very serious ones. These are nothing to be ashamed of any more than the plethora of medical problems people live with and can finally freely admit to having more often than not– at least compared to when I was younger and when my parents were children. Being human is to be born into a body and mind with so many vulnerabilities and difficulties, arising from enduring tough environments, genetics, the inevitability of aging or some combination thereof. It’s our resiliency, including deep capacity to heal, that gets us through and never ever ceases to amaze me, both that of others and in myself. And it’s in mindfully sharing who we are, how far we’ve come, and whatever we are going through– good, bad, indifferent– that affirms what being alive is all about: connection. Connection– bit by bit– in ourselves to who we are and trusting that is enough. Connection with others and their wonderful, good enough selves, no matter how wounded in body or mind, so long as one’s wounds allow for genuine connection to come through, however limited initially. And, of course, connection with the rest of the world around us, nature, the All.
I used to think I was basically just my wounds and was worthy of so little, anxiously, shamefully, and sadly hiding away from a lot of life. But, I see now how we need not be defined by our wounds or imperfections, none of us. (And those who seem to intractably, pervasively live and act out from just their pain are, well, ultimately the most challenged, but I refuse to give up all hope on even them.) However, out of our efforts to heal from these injuries and foibles, we can find opportunities to derive wisdom and access to more compassion and other virtues, both for ourselves and others. This healing includes releasing shame, particularly the shame of assorted false beliefs that boil down to the thought we somehow only are our wounds or perceived flaws, victims of our worst experiences. Nothing could be further from the truth. As psychologist Richard Schwartz has written extensively about, what we actually are at our core essence, or Self, consists of calmness, courage, creativity, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, and connectedness. And that makes it all the worthwhile to share in this journey called life, finding out, while doing so, that we are all– not just us, alone– imperfect in body and mind but uniquely wonderful, lovable Selves anyway, and always were.
I have made it a point to a take long, hot shower for my overall well-being on an almost daily basis since I was a young teenager. I do my best to conserve water and energy in every other respect, but decreasing the frequency of or shortening my showers is not going to happen, not if I can help it. I’m convinced that I can attribute maintaining much of my mental and physical health to standing under hot running water on a regular basis. It’s also a spiritual, cleansing act for me, my (almost) daily ablution.