“The World Changes So Fast…”

These words were uttered last week by my friend to her son on the day he was supposed to celebrate his bar-mitzvah.

The bar-mitzvah was canceled, as are nearly all gatherings considered unessential.

Instead, the family gathered alone, and she tried to offer words of comfort and perspective to her son, who had to grow up so quickly.

“One month ago, we were worried about how we would fit all our friends and family into the sanctuary.

Two weeks ago, we were thinking of alternative plans, such as a small gathering in the backyard.

And just one week later, it was clear we needed to cancel the event.”

The world is indeed changing rapidly—for 13 year-olds who have been preparing for a year. And, really, for all of us. Keeping up with new information, and trying to keep ourselves and others physically safe, has meant making radical changes to our lives.

A Toll on Our Mental Health

Both the fear for our own well-being, as well as the pace and overwhelm of the changes required to maintain health, maybe making us feel emotionally unsafe. When the world feels uncertain, it takes a toll on our mental health.

I have woken up each morning of the past 3 weeks with a pit in my stomach. My body tells me before I am even fully conscious that I am not okay.

I called a friend while taking a walk through my neighborhood, and she told me that that particular day, Thursday, was the first day in 3 weeks that she hadn’t cried.

As I balance our new reality of my husband and I both juggling working from home while caring for our 3 kids, the days are a blur. What day is it? I land in bed at night, dead-tired.

But I know we are the lucky ones—we are still working. We have jobs that bring us fulfillment.

Working Hard to Keep Emotionally Healthy in a Topsy-Turvy World

As a couples therapist, blessedly still able to offer therapy to my clients through online sessions, I have found myself learning from them as well, even more than I usually do.

Last week, I saw one of my couples through the screen, a modality that I’ve been using for some of my clients for 2 years now through Couples Therapy Inc.

One of the partners (we will call her Kate) has a trauma history. Because of the abuse she’s experienced, she has difficulty feeling safe within the world, within her own body.

She has worked hard to create emotional health. She has learned to recognize the traumatic narratives that run through her brain.

Such as this one: “Dave is sleeping late because he doesn’t really love me and I’m not a priority in his life. If I were a priority, he would wake up and spend time with me.”

These narratives still run through her brain, but she has learned that they are not accurate and is, therefore, able to calm herself down and imagine alternative stories.

Kate also spends time each day listening to meditation and mindfulness apps. She has worked hard.

I Don’t Have to Control everything…

When I saw her and Dave last week, I was expecting her to be in a dark hole. The world is topsy turvy. Shouldn’t that trigger her? And she is a physician, her brain packed with medical knowledge and worse case scenarios.

But surprisingly, she looked calm and grounded. She said she has learned not to live in fear. Her years of working through trauma have helped her: “I don’t have to control everything.”

She said that she used to believe that if she remained alert and guarded, nothing could harm her. Since she now understands that that tactic won’t help, she is ready to release it. And, thus, to live more freely.

While I certainly hope my therapeutic training has helped their relationship, I am certain that her wisdom has helped calm my spirit as well.

We are All Struggling Now…

When I speak to my friends who are therapists, I know that we are all struggling right now.

We are afraid. We are anxious. We are sad. Some of us may even be sliding into depression.

Now is the time for us to be open and vulnerable around these feelings. We are stronger when we can acknowledge our pain and connect through it.

And, we must remind ourselves, we don’t control everything. That, alone, can be a liberating notion.

As therapists, we must try to continue our important work, as individuals and couples will need more support through this crisis, not less.

At the same time, we also get to learn from our clients. Some of whom may be handling these challenges better than we are.