It’s the day after our county issued a “Stay at Home” mandate. I’m running along a greenway on a warm March morning when I hear an alarm and a pre-recorded voice blaring near the playground at Freedom Park.

The voice is instructing people to leave the playground as it has basically been deemed unsafe by health and safety, in light of the pandemic.

How apocalyptic: not dangerous because of faulty, recalled, or broken equipment but because the virus can survive for up to 72 hours on hard shiny surfaces (which you would think would be the antithesis for sustaining life; although viruses are debatably living organisms…).

At the tennis courts, I turn around and run back, this time closer to the playground, to catch a glimpse of what is really going on here.

The siren and announcement are no longer sounding, but there are police vehicles in the parking lot, and the monkey bars, slides, and swings — which most mornings would be swarming with young healthy bodies — are completely empty.

Although I am thankful for many things—for such nice weather during quarantine, for people taking measures seriously, for blue skies and warm breeze backdropping the empty play area—I can’t help but notice that this, with the alarm echoing in my mind, makes for an eerie and dystopian scene.

Two people whom I know well, know people who have died.

A flu-like feeling sets in for a few days: low energy and feverish. They seemed to pop back for a day and tried to regain some normalcy, thinking it had passed. Then a terrible upper respiratory infection sets in.

A relatively short time later, they are no longer of this world.

Both were young, with no obvious pre-existing conditions. Others walk around asymptomatic, unknowing carriers of a virus that could either do nothing at all or kill you. Worrisome to say the least. Devastating at worst.

As a therapist, I’ve heard some clients acknowledge the pandemic as “inconvenient.” I’ve also heard things such as “It’s hard to know what stance to take,” and “I’m scared of how long this will last.”

Food is necessary, and I go to the grocery store one afternoon.

Tape is on the floors, measuring six feet apart. Is 6 feet really guaranteed to keep me safe? People are wearing gloves and masks, looking at each other out of the corners of their eyes as they pass each other.

These looks seem suspicious to indicate, “Sorry if I’m walking around you like you might contaminate me.”

The shelves are randomly bare— no beans, no paper products, no fresh meat, no ginger.

I metaphorically scratch my head in solidarity with all of us who are wondering why toilet paper? I am not sure whether I am more concerned about human behavior in reaction to the pandemic than the pandemic itself.

Am I an idiot for even being here? Will this be the new normal? I quickly grab a few things on my list, but the oddness of it all makes me more eager to leave than think about the fact that I will just have to return later if I don’t take the time to make sure we have what we need for the week. 

As human beings, we all can feel anxious—but we need uncertainty.

We try to build routines and develop relationships as a means of coping—but also thriving. Frequently, people who struggle with mood also struggle with maintaining routine and developing relationships.

When an outside force further exacerbates this, we all struggle immensely.

This pandemic offers so much unknown and possible calamity for a potentially very long time, that even the least anxious of us might feel a heaviness in our chests when we contemplate it or try to take in the latest research and news.

We need uncertainty, but this sometimes feels like too much.

We set out to try to control what we can: 6 feet apart, soap and water, hand sanitizer, don’t touch your face. Suddenly everyone is a “germaphobe” and the OG’s, “original germaphobes”, don’t look so paranoid. 

Will this just keep happening? Will social distancing be a way of life?

Are we going to regard all fellow humans with paranoia and fear of getting too close— they might be a carrier? Will we all begin wearing some form of hijab to cover our vulnerable porous bodies?

What happens to playgrounds, mass transit, potlucks, swimming pools, schools and offices? Will this force us into even more of a reliance on technology and social media than we already find ourselves? What will be the consequences and side effects of that?

Maybe, hopefully likely, there will be a vaccine. Maybe the summer heat will scorch it and it will mutate into nothingness in the coming months, never to be heard from again. 

A client said they had heard the pandemic was “God’s way of telling us to go to our rooms and think about what we have done.”

This made me smile on the subject; a welcome change.

So what do we learn from this? How do we live life differently in the aftermath?

We need pathogens to build immunity, so life in a sanitized bubble will do us no favors.

I think this emphasizes the interconnectedness of us all. We affect each other profoundly and undeniably. We all rely on the actions and consideration of others when we are in a crisis.

What hurts me can hurt you, and we can’t turn a blind eye to that or try to intellectually distance ourselves from someone else’s—“the others”—problems.

We are all vulnerable and we are all susceptible. We are all human and we all count on each other in profound ways. Our lack of willingness to give attention to things until they are literally killing us is primitive, naive, and will be our downfall.

Could this be a check to our human hubris and the fact that we are only as strong as our weakest link? No one will be protected by their “importance” or faith when a true reckoning comes.

To take the “go to your room” analogy further: I think this has also potentially provided a time for people to slow down and be reflective. To find other ways to channel energy: into your inner circle, into your community, into the world.

Not through touch or physical intimacy, but through reflection and contemplation. Learn to enjoy the company you keep, without distraction.

It has been said that this is like a form of grief for many people who are struggling. Grieving the loss of safety, freedom, security, livelihood. Grieving for the millions who will die, for the uncertainty and the potential ripple effect it will create.

But grief can spawn hope and a certain acceptance that maybe there is a need for change… Are we really listening to the rhythms of our world?

It may be an exhausted trope, but it bears repeating: lookout for those who have less than you— you never know when that could be you. Be conscientious of the earth and its limited resources.

Pay attention to what is in front of you, to that human who needs you. Take care of yourself: do what cleanses you inside and out, the two are interrelated. Casting blame and shunning others when we are all in this together only slows down healing and recovery.

Separate. Distance. Do it with hope and good conscience.

We are a social species and we are tribal and communal by nature. We will find our way back to each other.

In these quiet and scary times it is only useful to focus on tuning in and taking care of the little world we have around us: cultivate it, embrace it, notice it.

See this as a time to build up your positive reserves. Life will go on, and whether a new normal or the old one, the economy will certainly require our participation again. Do the things you’ve been meaning to or consider doing things just for the sake of making you happy for this time.

A client mentioned they might build a stage to host a “ceremony” for a graduating senior who has had their graduation canceled. Build your own stage. March upon it and think about what you want to be known for. Who are you, really? When the rubber hits the road?

Reflect on how much time you spend distracting yourself or keeping up with the Jones’ or running the rat race. This is a pause.  Consume less, travel less, pay attention to what is right in front of you and see the beauty in its simplicity and its oh-so-lovely inconsistent consistency.

Write, sing, dance, clean, meditate, stretch, move, reflect, rest, cook, exercise, listen, smell, taste, touch, see…feel the absence of everything before. Be grateful for it or realize it wasn’t as important as you thought.

Gain distance: gain perspective.

Distance doesn’t mean isolation. If we all do what we can as quickly as we can and for as long as we can, we will come out of this together. Please stay healthy and well through this uncertain time.

Click here for more content by Rachel Kitson, Ph.D.!

Rachel Kitson, Ph.D.
Rachel obtained her BA in sociology at Brown University, and her doctorate at UNC Chapel Hill. She has experience working in public schools, hospitals, psychiatric and mental health clinics, and forensic settings. Rachel specializes in working with young adults and adults who are navigating interpersonal relationships, managing the stress associated with major life transitions, and striving for balance in their lives. She provides individual, couples, and group therapy. Rachel provides assessment in issues surrounding learning, attention, motivation, mood, and personality. Areas of interest include anxiety, depression/bipolar disorder, diagnostic clarification, males and females with Asperger’s, issues surrounding identity and sexuality, and adult ADHD. Rachel also works with people and caretakers of people with chronic illness. She has experience advocating for her clients in the schools and courts. Rachel utilizes a strengths based and interpersonal approach. Therapeutically, Rachel helps her clients to examine their lives, and cultivate meaningful interpersonal relationships and experiences to enhance their quality of life.

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