Life lessons from a pandemic
A psychologists sees more worry, more depression, but some positive changes, too, in our daily lives
With the onset of the coronavirus,to say life has changed dramatically is an understatement. In our small communities, we all know someone who has been exposed to the virus or has contracted the illness, some mildly and others life-threatening. How we live, work, think, behave and even breathe is now radically different. We are living in a new time –one we were not prepared for or even equipped to adequately handle. To watch the news and see how this virus is spreading worldwide, and even more so in our own backyard, is beyond belief.
Like Noah from the Bible, we are all cooped up in our homes, isolated, socially deprived, praying for a sign of hope, be it a dove, a rise in our 401k, a job offer, schools reopening, a plateau of the pandemic curve or even a politician willing to tell the truth. How can we not feel frustrated and helpless, when we hear the medical experts say “the virus dictates how we live and react not the other way around.” How can you feel nothing but despair when we are told the pandemic is going to get exponentially worse before it gets better.
As a clinical psychologist who practices in Fairfield county, many of my patients are traumatized by how their lives have changed so quickly. We are no longer going in to work, our kids are now being home schooled, our food is delivered, we are home alone with our immediate families, socially isolated, financially insecure, and emotionally drained to the point of being numb. If we see neighbors it is from a distance, at best a walk together on opposite sides of the street. Nothing is the same. Nothing is normal. Even Amazon’s two-day delivery, something we have all taken for granted, is now a distant memory. Time seems to have changed. We are not moving as fast, a day home schooling or going food shopping can feels like an eternity. Each week that passes now feels more like a year than seven days.
The psychological profession has also adapted to this new reality. Like most other occupations, we are working remotely, doing video conference sessions from our homes, wearing the new business causal, a dress shirt with pajama bottoms. While at first slightly awkward, video sessions over time begin to feel natural. My patients are glad to talk, have someone there they can count on each week to listen and provide insight and understanding — perhaps a normal hour routine is much appreciated in the midst of uncertainty and worldwide angst.
There is no question, the people I talk with are having a difficult time. Our sense of normality, our everyday routines, the feeling of being in control of our actions and surroundings, which we have all taken for granted, is no longer present. The anxious are more anxious, the depressed are more depressed, the lonely never felt more isolated. In the midst of all the the tragic stories and emotional suffering I have witnessed as a result of this deadly virus, there are surprisingly some positive psychological changes that I have noticed listening to my patients. While people cannot go to work or the supermarket, go out to dinner, socialize with a friend, or even workout at the gym, they are spending a lot more quality time with their immediate families. Parents are playing with their kids, spouses are cooking dinner together, children are thinking about the well-being of their older parents and elderly neighbors. Even Democrats and Republicans are pulling together to pass necessary humanitarian aid across the global to help others.
Maybe there is a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the world was moving a bit too fast. Maybe there was too much divisiveness and intolerance in the world. Have we been taking things for granted, not appreciating the preciousness of our daily existence and the vulnerability associated with our own finitude? Have we forgot the principles of the Golden Rule? Have we not made time to smell the roses, let alone spend an evening playing a game or watching a movie with your kids? Perhaps isolation and solitude is not such a bad thing. Maybe it is time we all reflect upon the story of Noah and the Ark and look forward to the passage of 40 days and 40 nights, the passing over of this plague, and the signs of spring, rebirth and new beginnings.
When I was a college student I remember reading Carlos Castaneda’s books about his spiritual teacher, a Mexican Indian named Don Juan. Don Juan taught Carlos that he should remember “death is always over your left shoulder.” Perhaps this pandemic can teach us all a lesson of how important it is to remember our humanity and the importance of each moment when faced with one’s own temporal and fragile existence.
Martin H. Klein is a clinical psychologist who practices in Fairfield and Westport.
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