Life, In Person

Starting in June, I began to see some of my clients in the office. A first in nearly 16 months and…wow. My clients are beautiful. That’s what I keep thinking as I sit with them. The subtleties of their eyes and gestures…they way they hold tension in their bodies and catch their breath with emotion…there is so much I miss through the screens. I had one client say, “yeah, I will definitely be coming in person from now on. I get so much more out of therapy this way.” While I cannot say that our conversation that day was qualitatively much different that the ones we had in May, I knew exactly what she meant. The connection felt different. The energy went back and forth with more ease and I could feel our brains mapping each other in a way that is just harder over Zoom. It was just…organic. Easier and more flowing.

            I realize that some of my clients will never come back to my office. The ease of meeting online is a huge plus; no pressure to get a sitter for my couples, the ability to meet during a lunch hour, not having to deal with traffic or a long drive.  I have many clients that I’ve never met face-to-face and as I review the month, the ones who have come into my office are clients I had seen before the pandemic hit. They know how meeting face-to-face felt before and they are the ones opting to make the trek back to the office. We are so happy to be in the room together again that we share many dumbstruck, grinning moments, marveled at the normal feeling so novel!

By now I have many, many clients that I’ve only ever treated online. For them, they don’t know me in the flesh! I’ve only ever been their telehealth therapist. I wonder if the motivation to come in to the office will ever come? We’ve gotten to know each other through the screen and we’re in a therapeutic groove and so, maybe we just keep it this way. That thought makes me a bit sad. 

I think of the couple that murmurs to each other during our sessions while I ask helplessly what they are saying. Or all the times I think that someone has reached over to touch their spouse, but their hands are out of sight. I’m slower to know if my dear clients are tearing up or getting disregulated through the screen as well. I can’t see a jiggling leg or wringing hands or see a quivering lip as easily. And I suppose they are missing much of me as well.

            And so, my field has forever changed. We all now settle for ‘not quite as human’ experiences because we’ve trained ourselves to cope and even prefer them. For now, I’ll keep celebrating the gentle thrill of my in-person sessions and soaking in all the humanity I’ve missed this long year.

Momma Driving Camp

Raising a special needs child (now young adult) is not for the faint of heart. Those in this tribe with me know the worries about the future, the constant questioning of the current game plan, and the grinding heartache of seeing our other children coast through the world with such ease while our special dear one struggles and almost every turn. Now I’m the lady on the Northeast Regional train from New Haven to Baltimore weeping as all the tension drains out of me. I feel like a puddle of goo. I’ve just spent nine days with my daughter, solidifying her driving skills so that she can get to her  job independently. I drove a little hybrid car to leave with her (too small??) and now I’m coming home (too soon??) after covering as many car lessons as I could think of (enough??).

Here’s the insurance and registration

Here’s how to get gas…no, never diesel

Yeah, double parking is technically against the rules…people break that one

Yep, I hate it when you suddenly find yourself in a turn only lane too

Here’s where we’re hiding a key in a magnet box under the car

Here’s how a squidgy works

Here’s how the rear window wiper works

Let’s practice setting up navigation once more

These tags are temporary and here’s how you get the new ones on when they come…never mind, get help on that

Oh no, we didn’t go over how to adjust the mirrors! #*&@!!

Brenna has been living in an independence development community in New Haven for three years and man, was that a game plan I questioned at various points! The place had no system for screen limits and I insisted Brenna have some, leaving our relationship battered. She deeply believed I created the depression she experienced mid-way through her second year. And…maybe I did. That’s all part of it. Constantly questioning the game plan.

But today…today I feel imminently grateful for her program! She is in a job that absolutely suits her, assembling and packaging defibrillators, now part time, but they want her to transition to full time! They love her. THEY LOVE HER!  Brenna and I went over who would take which bills and she can actually pay some! Crazy.

And still…I’m tyrannized by wondering if I’ve done enough, if the plan is airtight enough, if she’s ready enough. Several times in the last couple of days of my visit she said, “I’m going to miss you!” This is after three years of “I won’t miss you. And you ruined our relationship anyway.” and me wondering if maybe I did. Oh, hearing this change…I thought my chest might crack open from the swell inside of blended emotions; love, relief, regret, hope. I can scarcely believe we are here. And…we may not stay here, there have been more twists in the road than I can count. But as for the driving, my greatest assurance came when Brenna said, “the voice in my head that might be God is telling me it’s going to be ok.” To that I said, “sounds like God to me”. Then she wiped her tears away, gave me a rib-cracking hug for which she is famous, and she drove off without me.

Reopening Ambivalence

“If I’m excited about life returning to normal, then why do I feel so tired? I mean, I’m happy but I feel so intimidated!” My client was in tears as she mucked through her confusing mix of feelings

I’ve had a number of conversations with clients this month who are struggling to understand how they can be so happy that there may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel while also feeling so confused and stressed at the prospect of doing things again. I feel it too! I was thrilled to be able to have a backyard BBQ with my small group last weekend (we are all vaccinated!) but I was unaccountably exhausted afterwards! Not only are we out of practice, we have loads of questions to deal with around what is and is not considered safe, what the new rules might be, and how appropriate it is to ask whether folks are vaccinated.

Krista Tippet interviewed Christine Runyan on March 18th this spring and discussed “What’s Happening in our Nervous Systems”. I highly recommend this podcast because she explains so well what so many of us feel right now; tired, foggy, irritable, emotionally fragile…and she validates it as normal. Our bodies have been on long-term alert and we are feeling the cost of it. So, watch yourself if you are tempted to berate yourself or ruminate on why you don’t have more energy. Now you know! And accepting the reason can help you be more kind with yourself.

I encourage us all to be patient with ourselves. Re-entry will be a journey and our bodies are still stressed from the long months of being on edge. And consider all of the events of the year that pulled on our nervous systems! Not only the threat of the virus, but all the strain of being separated from loved ones, a national reckoning with racial injustice, an unprecedented election year, and now Derek Chauvin’s conviction of murder while news continues to pour in of shootings and death. We are more than a little frayed.

Christine Runyan suggests that we periodically breathe in and exhale slowly for a long time. I tried it and found it to be regulating, like she said it would. But it also felt like I was cleansing my insides. That exhaling for a longer time felt somehow fitting, as if too much junk had gotten tied up inside. We’ll be metabolizing the impact of this year for a long while yet. Sometimes all you can do is breathe.

Click here to hear Christine Runyan’s podcast.

Excellence in the Clutch Shot

Saturday night’s game between Gonzaga and UCLA may go down in history as one of the best basketball games of all time. Well-matched teams, both playing excellently and a magical shot in the final second of overtime by Jalen Suggs, a freshman.

            There is a camera angle where you get to watch Jalen’s face as he prepares for, executes, and then reacts to his shot.  He is full focus, eyes on all that matters, the basket. He seems oblivious to all the movement around him and I’m guessing that all the many years of practicing such shots comes together in this concentrated moment. A perfect jump, perfect release as the buzzer sounds, a perfect bounce off the backboard and in. He was in a state of flow, in the zone, everything coming together at the right time.

            It inspires me to see human excellence like that. The talents of a person honing in when it matters. To hear the commentary, you hear the respect the experts have for both teams, how much of the outcome was tied up in who won the final possession. But Suggs was able to capitalize on it and take our breath away.

            Joyous excellence. I can only hope for moments like that to touch all of us as we take a risk, make a crazy shot and see that all of our hard work, learning, and giftedness come together to make something happen. What can we learn from Jalen Suggs to help our moments of excellence come to life?

  1. You have to be willing to miss. Jalen took a shot that easily could have missed the basket. It was shot from very far back and no one would have faulted him if the shot had landed a hair in either direction and bounced off the rim. But he tried it, knowing it could go either way. He put his everything into the attempt.
  2. Excellence comes from practice. Jalen and all of his teammates practice every conceivable scenario for the endings of games. It reminds me of the best moment of a therapy training program I’m in where we role play our most difficult clients and consider the most effective way to interface with them.
  3. Find your talent. Jalen Suggs is doing something he is really, really good at. He’s found a talent in himself and developed it. Don’t stop growing and nurturing and developing your own talent! We can all have moments, for most of us it won’t be about basketball though. It will be about OUR thing. The thing God put in each of us that we do especially well.

We have always loved the Zags in this house. My father-in-law and nephew both went there and my husband, from Spokane, always had affection for his local team. We’ll see if Gonzaga’s perfect season ends perfectly with the NCAA Championship. If it’s up to Jalen Suggs it certainly will be.

Vaccination Superhero

It felt very strange to be in group 1a, lumped with medical workers when I compared myself to those I deem to be essentially essential. I hadn’t seen a client face-to-face since the initial lockdown, and yet the strong encouragement to therapists in January was “Shots in arms! Shots in arms! Get an appointment because shots may go to waste!” And so, I made my way to the fairgrounds, a mix of gratitude and guilt, wishing it were my parents going first, or my teacher friends, or my daughter who has disabilities. It was yet another experience of walking in my privilege, hoping for overall freedom to unfold.

Being vaccinated now feels a little like being a secret superhero, prohibited from using her powers until everyone is a superhero. That seems fitting, really. We cannot live into our superpowers alone this time. We privileged ones who got vaccinated in the early groups must wait and realize that we do not move forward until we ALL move forward. Freedom will come when the vaccine is administered to all who will receive it, and we pray it will be enough of the population to bring us to safety. So much about this pandemic has been a group effort.

The place I got my shot was massive and unbelievably well organized. They were set up for hundreds more to be in line than were there when I came for my appointment, but the seamless process awed me. The number of workers there made me wonder at the cost and organization of this effort. So many people spending entire workdays making this machine work. How many?

I remember going to BWI, our local airport, last July as we made our annual trek to vacation in my husband’s part of the world, braving the risk for the sake of some sense of respite and normalcy. All the parking lots but one were closed. Entire sections of the airport were partitioned off, empty with chained gates over the storefronts. So many employees not working! An airport so busy every parking lot occasionally completely fills around the holidays, now functioning at what? 10% capacity? So many people displaced as I went on working, my life relatively unchanged. Guilt and gratitude, side by side.

I wept that day in the airport as I wept in the fairgrounds, waiting for my shot. I was having an experience I knew I would remember forever, yet would wind up being a story like nearly everyone will have and that will go into our collective memory of this time. Now I wait, like so many of us, for everyone to become a superhero. Together is the only way forward.