Oh friends, what a mess this coronavirus is. I happen to be in the epicenter of the epidemic here in Washington State. My therapy office isn’t far from the Kirkland facility where several patients died. At least one of my own clients has a relative in that Kirkland facility’s sister branch—making me just a few degrees removed from the deadly outbreak. And yet no one I know has been officially diagnosed. The therapists at the office where I have my practice are doing as much tele-therapy as possible, as am I. But I am still seeing a few clients in person, with hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes at the ready.
I’ve only ever been enveloped in one other major crisis that verged on this kind of mayhem, and that was the Boston Marathon bombing in April of 2013. That was a terrifying day—when loud noises and lack of information made everyone in downtown Boston flee to safety on foot while trains shut down and the city went into high alert, unsure of whether or not there would more explosions. I remember feeling scared for my own life and the lives of those I knew were near the explosions. I remember the way my body switched into survival mode and problem-solving to get to safety.
This current situation has none of the immediacy of the Boston bombings. Today I sit inside my home, the sun shining in the window, my two little dogs on a time out from an hour of wrestling around and fighting over toys. Today I have ten cans of beans in my cupboard along with two big bags of brown rice. I have enough toilet paper to get me through the month. And I have constant contact through technology with friends and family.
What I don’t have is a sense of exactly what I am to be afraid of or how long to stay in this subdued alert mode. When the bombings happened in Boston, I was walking toward the family meet-up area with the father of a friend who was running the race. My friend and my then husband had just crossed the finish line (a text messaging service kept us abreast of their progress on the race). By the time I was home, safe in my own house a couple of days later, we were able to watch on television as the “bad guys,” the Tsarnaev brothers, were pursued through Boston’s suburbs. I knew they would be caught eventually. I knew the trauma would come to an end—even though, of course, the aftermath would go on and on for some people (those who were injured, maimed, or lost loved ones at the finish line).
But today I don’t have any such assurances that the drama will come to a close. No one does. Today we sit in our homes, possibly even quarantined FROM family members, wondering how long we will be socially distanced from real live human beings.
As a therapist, I find myself in the position of soothing the anxiety of some of my clients, even as my own anxiety is alive and well. In ADDITION to doing everything I am being told to do to prevent the spread of the virus, here I want to offer some of the things I’m telling myself to soothe the frenetic survival activation that threatens to make me spiral into panic:
- People still catch colds. Every sneeze does not mean you’ve been exposed to the deadly virus.
- As with EVERYTHING that is potentially dangerous (driving, having sex, stepping out your front door for any reason on any day), ALL you can do is take the precautions we KNOW lower the risks, and realize that we are not in control of most things on most days anyway. This is not different in that way. Be diligent, and then let the fear sit on the back burner.
- Every big brush with death is a chance to evaluate if you are really living the life you want to live (are you?) and to ask yourself if there is any way to be braver and more committed to your chosen trajectory moving forward (is there?).
- Check on the people you love. Love is a good balm for fear.
These thoughts comfort me. They bring me back to my center. They won’t do me much good if I run out of toilet paper, but….
Stay well, dear ones.