Names of all clients have been changed.
It has been a startling, alarming, distressing period of history since the Covid 19 pandemic swept the globe. Whatever your situation, your life has been dramatically affected. It has been shocking and frightening. Tragically, many died, many were gravely ill, and many were infected.
The realization of what was happening came gradually to medical experts, to politicians, and to the citizens of all the world. It required us to adjust and then to re-adjust again and again, as new information was gathered. We began to accept the reality of the pandemic and our way of life changed.
Since the development and distribution of the vaccine, there has been enormous relief. There is hope for a way out. Yet as states and cities here move toward full re-opening, many of us now feel a surprising unrest about re-entry. Rather than an easy and carefree sense of returning to the old normal life, many realize this may not be so simple. After struggling to adjust to being adrift in a new shocking world, alone or with our small safe group of people, we now have before us the unchartered waters of navigating re-entry into co-existence.
Health Anxiety is a Real Thing
The most obvious anxiety many people feel is fear about their health. Before the pandemic, there was a sense of predictability. Cold or flu, aches and pains, injuries a doctor could fix: you felt relatively safe. Then 600,000 people died from COVID-19. Grappling with that truth- that the world can be deadly- has taken many of us, who were living carefree lives without health anxiety by terrible surprise.
During the lockdown, those of us lucky enough were able to hide away from this terrible surprise. In our home offices and zoom birthday parties with friends and families, we were able to continue to maintain a sense of order and predictability even as COVID ravaged the world.
Now, the world opens up and the expectation is that you will now go out and be around other humans. This, even though you have spent more than a year cultivating a distrust of fewer than 6 feet. It’s not surprising that we are uncomfortable and anxious.
Many people report discomfort with the now unusual experience of being in a crowd of people, some of whom are not wearing masks. They find themselves wanting to confront strangers, insist on masks, and move away to “safety.” Add to this feeling of discomfort a still ever-evolving understanding of how to best protect oneself during the pandemic, and it feels like we are expected to behave “normally” in a decidedly unusual situation. Even for people who are relieved to be vaccinated themselves and who believe that the worst of COVID is behind us, re-entry into society might be stressful.
At the heart of this health anxiety is unpredictability. What is really happening? What is really safe? What do I want, given the shifting nature of all of this? And, maybe, most of all, how can I feel safe being around other people?
I can help you explore these questions, and support you as you determine your own path back to normal.
For the last year and a half, many of us have been living in a more private world than ever before. We are no longer used to the sometimes over stimulating experience of city life: the hustle and bustle, busy, rushing, noisy, crowded, schedules, commutes, delays, pressing to get to work, busy streets, packed restaurants and shops, choices to make, people to see, trying to fit everything in.
The idea of returning to a commute can feel stressful and exhausting.
Frank*, a client of mine who is a C-level executive at a major retailer, said it perfectly: “I know that the pandemic has been terrible for so many, but for my life, it has also been the best thing ever.”
Before the pandemic, in addition to 10 hours a week spent commuting, Frank worked 80 hours a week in the office: early mornings, late nights and most weekends. When the pandemic hit, Frank was able to work from home for the first time.
Though he was still deeply engaged with his team, working from home allowed him to spend more time with his children and wife. The loss of his hour-long commute meant he could have breakfast with them, walk the dog with them, and put them to bed.
“For the first time, I get to hang out with my kids as they go about their lives. I find them truly delightful.”
In addition to his family time, Frank was able to fit in workouts, meditation, and therapy. He is coming out of the pandemic much healthier and happier than he went into the pandemic.
He is, naturally, hesitant to give all of this up to head back into the office.
Lots of people feel this way. Of course, not all of us were fortunate enough to be able to stay home and work. Many lost jobs, and have been overwhelmed with finances and family stress, and have struggled to make time for ourselves. Even so, many, many of my clients are dreading the return of the commute, and the rush, and the crush of city life after almost year and a half spent at a slower pace.
The pandemic has had a multitude of effects: it was catastrophic, but the changes it brought may also, ironically, have provided some unexpected relief. Now, as we head back to something more “normal,” we have an opportunity to bring what we’ve learned about ourselves and our values back to the office. There are opportunities to consider, conversations to have, and schedules that can be different than they were before.
In therapy, I can help you navigate this transition.
I Enjoy Being a Hermit
Diane*, a 35 year old data analyst at a nonprofit, spent the pandemic in her pajamas. And she really enjoyed it. “I never had to get dressed.” she tells me “I spend my days looking at excel, updating data tables and creating data visualizations. After work I watch netflix and bake bread. I thought that I would eventually get bored of my insular hermit life… but I never did. I don’t want to go back. I have to go back… but I don’t want to.”
Before the pandemic, Diane got dressed every day. She wore professional clothing and high heels at the office. She went to happy hours and “out” on weekends. She recalls feeling a lot of pressure to participate. She wanted to be a good friend and a team player and she didn’t want to miss out on opportunities to get to know the decision makers at her nonprofit.
When the pandemic hit, it was frightening and disorienting, but, still, nevertheless, also almost immediately a relief. No one was going out, so she didn’t have to either. Any social events occured via Zoom and she could slip in and slip out unnoticed.
Even before the pandemic, Diana didn’t feel lonely when she was alone. She felt comfortable. It was easy. “I like my own company. I naturally stick to myself. I’m not a big party person. I like things quiet. In fact, if I’m honest, I might be a little bit of a hermit. I’m a creature of my own habits and I like it that way.”
As the world opens back up and her company has begun making sounds about ‘getting back to normal” and returning to the office, Diana has begun to feel some anxiety. “I’m not worried about my health, exactly, but I’m ashamed to say that I’ve even contemplated pretending to have a pre-existing condition just to keep things the way they are now. I know I can’t do that… but I’m also really concerned about returning to the real world.”
In therapy, Diana and I have faced two simple, but challenging truths:
- Some socializing is good for you, though it may feel a little foreign to you after a year of Netflix and sourdough.
- You don’t have to be someone you aren’t. There can be a place for you in your company and with your friends just as she is.
I’m happy to discuss similar things with you. We don’t want you to lose the self-awareness that you gained during the pandemic. And we don’t want you to hide away from opportunities and interaction, either. I can help you integrate both.
I am Mummified
Another client, Robert*, has found himself feeling unwittingly changed by the pandemic and feels stuck. Pre pandemic, he had an active social life, dating as a divorced man looking for a genuine relationship. He had quite a wide circle of friends, often exploring different restaurants around the city, attending interesting events and thoroughly enjoyed himself socially.
He owned a successful business, had a full office staff, he liked his work and the many varied elements of his life. The isolation of quarantine was very difficult for him, work ground to a halt, his staff went on unemployment and he maintained the company from his kitchen table alone.
His adult children checked in with him regularly; they could see he was struggling to adjust. He saw no one for many long months. He was bored. He read and watched TV, but it wasn’t satisfying. It was such a time of catastrophic unrest, and he felt alone in his experience, and alone with his thoughts.
“I felt so anxious and so lonely. Eventually, I just adapted for the sake of my mental health. I turned inward and I did find some peace.”
But now, ironically, as the world opens up and invites him back out, he feels withdrawn. When he is with others, he feels uninvolved, just wanting to get back home to his solitary life. He says “I feel almost “mummified. I want to be with people but I feel like I’ve forgotten how.”
In therapy, Robert and I are working to help him feel more natural, engaged and motivated. He has come to understand that he shut himself down for good reasons, but it’s time to reconnect with his prior, healthy way of being. I am happy to help you do the same.
It’s an Adjustment For All of Us
While some have lost more of our safety and stability than others, there has been a universal loss of control and familiarity for us all. To different degrees, we have all had to face challenges: income, living situation, support systems, reliability of regular routines, social stress, familial strife. This has been a period unlike any other in history. We’ve all struggled, and some of us have struggled with a lot.
We may feel as though the world as we knew it has essentially vanished and has left us lost and misplaced. It’s easy to feel unnerved, or anxious, or depressed in these circumstances. “
While a part of you may feel excited and celebratory, moving forward with relief and trust, you may also have simultaneous feelings of hesitancy and uncertainty. This is typical when people have gone through a crisis. It’s normal, we all need to re-accustomed ourselves back into life, recalibrate our daily actions and interactions. You need to adjust yourself back into the world, even as we know it is not yet the world we once knew, and that reality hovers over us. The impact of what we have all experienced since March, 2020 and the uncertainty that faces us as we move ahead can be overwhelming. Let me help you navigate. Find out more information on my therapy services here.
* Client identities have been changed.