From the Docs

Unexpected Gifts

Thinking back over the course of the last year and a half, I have been struck by the unprecedented times in which we currently find ourselves. As a result of the pandemic, we have experienced uncertainty and worry for our future at both the individual and collective levels. The last 18 months have forced us to come to grips with how little control we actually seem to have, as the COVID-19 virus spread from nation to nation until it reached our shores and then marched across the country from city to city like a devastating and unstoppable wildfire. Today, it would be nearly impossible to find anyone who can claim that they have not been negatively affected by the pandemic, with over 600,000 deaths nationally attributed to the disease according to the CDC and millions more globally, school closures, travel restrictions, lockdowns, increases in depression and anxiety, bankruptcies, career and job losses, and nosediving national and global economies, to name a few. The negative effects of the pandemic are well documented and have profoundly impacted our society.

However, there are two sides to every coin. I believe that while the pandemic has been devastating, it has also shown that it can have a positive impact. It is with this thought in mind that I informally polled my co-workers here at the PSB office to see how their experience matched with my own. It was refreshing and uplifting to hear others share some of their positive experiences and reflections on things that may not have been possible if not for the pandemic. And in opening this topic, I realized that I, too, appreciated some of the very same things my co-workers shared without consciously knowing it at the time. The following are some of the most popular observations, along with my own.

As a result of the lockdown order, we have had the opportunity to spend more time with our family and loved ones. The time saved by not commuting to the office translated to having more time spent connecting with family in new and unexpected ways. Many of us got the surprise pleasure (and, many times, frustration!) of being with our children to see what they experience during their school day. Others talked about finding ways to connect with distant family by setting up regular virtual family dinners or chats that helped them feel closer than ever before. Many mentioned bonding with their families in new or previously “lost” ways, such as cooking together, playing board games, having discussions and just spending more quality time together.

Many have used the time of the pandemic to reflect on the busy nature of life and schedules that existed just a short while ago. When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, all social gatherings, school, after-school, daycare, sporting events, clubs, birthday parties, playdates and casual get-togethers ended. As we approach returning to some semblance of normalcy and the resumption of in-school/in-person learning, parents and families are trying to figure out how to balance the need for extracurricular activities with the benefits of taking the time to rest and take stock.

With a slowdown in our lives, many of us turned our attention inward to find things to do with the increased time on our hands. Many used the opportunity to promote their own professional development by taking online classes or finishing a degree. Others shared that they learned how to cook new dishes, took a deep dive into baking, learned to play a musical instrument (or two) or subscribed to a streaming service to finally find out why everyone was so upset about the final episode of Game of Thrones. I can personally attest to benefiting from my wife’s journey through a seemingly endless run of baking shows to somehow find the perfect recipe for chocolate chip cookies!

The fact that many of us were actually able to do our work and provide individual and couples therapy services while working from home was amazing! The pandemic forced us to change, grow and adapt in novel ways to meet the needs of our Department. The takeaway for me here was that we were actually able to broaden the scope of people we would normally serve by providing services to Department members and their spouses who otherwise would not have sought us out due to the distance involved in coming in for a face-to-face meeting. As a result of switching to a telehealth model during the worst time of the pandemic, we were able to actually add and adapt our services to reach people who almost certainly would have otherwise gone unserved.

While many lost much, incentives were put in place to help get people through some of the worst times. Lowered car insurance rates and premium refunds, cheaper gas, suspended student loan payments, public service loan forgiveness payments being credited during the suspension period, child tax credits and federal stimulus payments, among others, all went toward many feeling that they could get through this difficult and unprecedented moment in our history.

These are just a few of the many positives people have shared about their experience through these uncertain times. To be clear, this modern pandemic has been catastrophic on a global scale and has left a wake of grief and loss. However, tragedy and catastrophe allow for resilience and growth, the unexpected gifts I feel we are always in need of and able to access if only given the opportunity. If you would like to discuss your experience of coping with the pandemic, consider contacting the Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 for a confidential (and free) appointment.