3 Things That Will Help
I just did something I’ve never done before. I turned in my completed draft for the book I’m writing to my editor! It was a momentous thing that was accomplished by a stunningly ordinary click at the end of a very regular looking email, but man! What the attachment on that email represented for me?
I’m not sure why I had this impression that it would be a month or so before my editor got back to me with edits and revisions, but somehow, I thought I’d have this gap-month where there would be nothing to do on this project that has been so consuming for the last year! I could think about things I’ve put off…”Janice, just wait till your draft is submitted” has been a bit of a mantra of late. My mentor group has pressed me, “write your book, Janice, don’t get distracted!” And so I did! And I was expecting this break between submission and the next big effort. But you know what happened? My editor said, “ok, let’s set up a meeting next week to talk about it.” NEXT WEEK?!?!?! What happened to my month? And…yikes, what are they going to say? I suddenly realize I need to be prepared to hear their feedback and actually face what will undoubtedly be another round of?
Does anyone relate to this? I think we have all been expecting that COVID was behind us, that we could forget our masks when we went out, and that we could be confident of in person, indoor stuff happening…I dunno, forever?! But no. We have to re-up our efforts and watch those delicious freedoms get rolled back in order to keep people safe. Not what we were expecting. What do we need to re-up? I was thinking of this in relationship to my book project and three things cross-over.
Hanging onto these things will help us all to come together and re-up for the challenge ahead. Together, we can do it.
Look for my book coming out in the fall of 2022. The working title now is, Living Better: Self-Care for your Inner World.
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.
“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.
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?
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.
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.