Having Difficulty Taking Care of Yourself? You're Not Alone.
Written by: Sam Lenzi, MA, LPC, for Found Space Counseling LLC
It’s mid April 2020, and we are sitting in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The Center for Disease Control recently advised people to leave their homes with cloth masks over their faces, and if you aren’t critically ill the doctor will see you over the phone. When you venture out to pick up some comforting take out food, there is a bright blue, duct tape “X” on the floor. That X is your mark to receive your order from an essential worker, making minimum wage, while maintaining social distancing.
Does the world seem to be in constant crisis and as though we are in a simulation all at the same time?
Maybe you’re stuck in quarantine with family and you’ve lost your job, but it's sunny outside and you can finally wear shorts. Taking a walk outside with a friend couldn’t be such a big deal, could it? The news is relentless, and the messages you get from people in your life range from completely blasé to hysterical with fear.
This is what it is like to live in a state of ongoing crisis.
The mood swings between being on high alert and hopeless about everything is your body and brain’s response to adjusting to a mounting, perceived threat that is also beginning to register as normal. Your physical and emotional secondary response to that is to try to reach a place where you feel safe. “Safe” means different things to different people, but most of us are trying to create that feeling constantly these days. Since all of your best laid plans have been put on hold or cancelled, thinking beyond the next 24 hours seems futile.
Take out the word “coronavirus” to this discussion. Have you ever felt like this before? As though every day is a fresh new hell that you are somehow becoming more and more used to? This is what it can feel like to be continually exposed to trauma over a continuous length of time. When this is what the world is simultaneously experiencing, trauma probably feels like a loaded or overused word. If you don’t identify with the word trauma, maybe words like overwhelmed, exhausted, or “having a short fuse” stand out to you. Maybe you are seeing old bad habits and patterns creep back into your life.
When thinking of trauma you may not self reflect on your internal thoughts or feelings, but of events or situations. Your mind might jump to healthcare workers on the front lines treating those who are sick and dying, a person who has experienced physical violence, or the classic textbook example of a soldier back from war. While those situations are potentially traumatic, the definition of trauma that I rely on as a therapist is ‘any event that a person does not have the resources to cope with’.
The good news in all of this? There is a wide range of responses to this pandemic that I think are completely understandable. In order to reduce the intensity of physical and emotional pain, humans have a tendency to withdraw into themselves, or do whatever they can to escape the current situation and break free. (Anyone else planning a traveling expedition in the post-coronavirus world? I am!) When we are fighting to escape or looking to hide, we will do what we know works best to survive. All that matters right now is making it through one day at a time, and that’s a valid way to cope.
If you’re reading this, you’ve maybe thought that it is time to get some help but that you don’t have the space in your life to do so. What I’ve written about might be part of the reason why because it’s exhausting to reach out to try something new unknowing if the benefits are worth the risk while contemplating risk and reward with every other daily choice. Until the day you are ready to reach out for help try to minimize the loneliness. You can get into a really good video game or puzzle while doing no harm to yourself or others.
That being said, it is never too late or too early to get the support you are coming to find you need.
Sam Lenzi is a Professional Counselor, who lives in downtown Cincinnati, OH, and works with adolescents as a school-based therapist. He treats a wide variety of clients who struggle with trauma, mood disorders, and disordered eating. “Mr. Sam” (as the kids call him) is looking forward to creating group counseling opportunities, in collaboration with Found Space Counseling. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have ideas for groups you would like to see, or if you are ready to work with a talented therapist.