Excerpt from How Are You? Connection in a Virtual Age; A Therapist, A Pandemic and Stories about Coping with Life
by Therese Rosenblatt PhD
We live in the moment now more than ever. That is probably a good thing for our driven society. Before Covid we lived with the illusion of certainty. Now we know for sure that we don’t have certainty. How do we want to live right now, with all the risks, limits, and new freedoms? That is the question we are all wrestling with in this unpredictable moment.
How can we accept and embrace the idea that what I choose now may need an adjustment tomorrow? And that it’s ok. Can we go with the flow? Make our decisions with the current? Resist the urge to force certainty where none can exist?
The decisions we make during this period of reopening and transition will provoke anxiety.
I am not quite ready to go back to the office, to return to practicing therapy in person, in an enclosed, indoor space. As I depart from my pandemic cocoon I am experiencing a return of my old separation anxiety and my usual vigilance around illness. However, I need to ready myself to return especially for those patients who really need the in person contact. I may need to be more flexible around my expectations for practicing therapy. Maybe I can adapt to wearing a mask during a patient session, taking their temperature when they arrive and asking for proof of vaccination. Or not. On the other hand some patients don’t want to depart from virtual therapy. There is no single correct answer. I am checking in with my evolving values, my thoughts, feelings, and needs. This is an opportunity to reassess and figure out how we want to live. The answer will present itself. Having weathered the radical shift to all virtual therapy, I know that I have built the muscle to cope with this new adjustment.
Scientists say that infection rates will go way down and ultimately will be brought under control, similar to the occasional measles outbreaks. They also say that we are unlikely to reach herd immunity for another two generations. We will have significant improvement, but not the total release we had hoped for with the vaccines. We can still live full and meaningful lives. We just have to adapt to the uncertainty and precautions. We adjust to new lenses and see that we will have ongoing opportunities to make change in our lives.
Many of us face decisions about space, for example. To work remotely or not? We may have friends who want to gather indoors before we are ready. We may have children who have been suffering the loss of school in person. New norms are developing as I write this.
We are all coming to terms with what is right for us, within the context of our values, needs, and wants, and making decisions accordingly. Here are some ways to mitigate the anxiety of re-entry and coping with our new normal:
- Get the facts and the science from a source you feel comfortable with—the CDC, your doctor, a reliable news source, etc. Assess the level of risk you are comfortable with and adapt your re-entry one step at a time.
- Set your priorities. Don’t take on all the decisions you need to make at once. If figuring out your work situation is causing the most pressure, figure that out first. Keep everything else at pandemic status quo. If socializing with friends and/or family is at the top of your list. Make a plan for that first.
- Be gentle with yourself. Don’t do what you don’t have to do. I am not ready to eat indoors at restaurants or go to the gym. On the other hand, I do see small groups of friends and family indoors, if they are fully vaccinated.
- Settle into your current plan. Then, do nudge yourself to take a next safe step, even if you are a bit anxious. If you are vaccinated and act as if you are not, you will increase your anxiety level by avoiding too many life activities. Once the science says it’s safe, and you feel some level of comfort, challenge yourself to try a next step.
- In this period of rapid change keep re-assessing the facts and what level of risk you can tolerate without undue anxiety.
The pandemic has driven home to me that our lives are not a dress rehearsal for a show happening tomorrow. At the same time, the enormous changes I have learned to live with over the past many months have been an important rehearsal for the adaptability I need to cultivate as the future unfolds.
We must be good and compassionate with ourselves. We won’t have all the answers right now. We make the best choices and adjust as needed. I have permission to practice therapy differently. You have permission to find your new way of working and being able to readjust as necessary. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to make change, even to re-invent ourselves if we want. That’s what learning is.
Dr. Therese Rosenblatt is an author, psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City and Westchester County, NY where she treats adults, adolescents, couples and families. She is Adjunct Clinical Supervisor at Yeshiva University and Pace University in New York and will be teaching a graduate course at NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis this fall. Her new book, How Are You? Connection in a Virtual Age: A Therapist, a Pandemic and Stories about Coping with Life, is available for order on Amazon.