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Thoughts from our Public Member

We all say that it’s important to be mentally healthy. After several months of living under this pandemic, we have had a chance to realize how truly important – and difficult to achieve – mental health is.  What’s a ‘little thing’ is also more apparent. If everyone is on edge most of the time, we really can’t expect others to act calm and considerate all the time, any more than we can be calm and considerate all the time. Self compassion is necessary even more than before.  So we notice who treats us calmly and considerately, perhaps a bit more so than we used to. The mental health providers we know, who treat us and our relatives, are at the top of the calm and considerate list, for the most part. That’s quite a tribute to your training, and your dedication, and we thank you for that.

I have more empathy for those who struggle with mental illness, due to my own struggles recently. Knowing, as I do, that I am luckier than many, I ask myself each day: What’s the lesson for us from this pandemic? The answer will be different for each of us. The challenges are different. Different parts of the country are in different phases of opening up (or closing down?) And the phases can change in a relatively short period of time; no lying back and taking it easy.

I grew up in Manhattan, and have lived here most of my life. Things that I once did without thinking now require planning. For example, sometimes I avoid taking the elevator, rather than getting in with another person, and walk up or down the 6 flights of stairs. I avoid leaving the building through the basement exit; if a neighbor is coming into the building, there is one spot where there isn’t six feet to distance from another person. I have to remember to wear my mask; most of my neighbors are wearing their masks, but not all. Some people wear the mask, then remove it when they are away from others, then forget to put it back on when others approach them. It isn’t like living in a house, where you go to your garage, get into your car, and drive away without meeting anyone else. And this is just the beginning of any trip outside.

We are trying to keep up with doctor visits, which we used to do religiously. Doctors’ offices have largely reopened. But there are still challenges. Not all practices will allow you to show up half an hour early and sit in the waiting room, unless you are visiting a practice that has lots of waiting room space. Some doctors’ offices will give you a ‘Covid quiz’, and take your temperature, before allowing you in. Do they wipe down the examining table where you sit during the visit? Where do you park during the visit? Does it matter if you give your car to a parking attendant, who drives it to a parking spot for you? Do you have to wipe down the steering wheel when you retrieve the car, before you drive it?

Here’s a big question: How do I get anywhere? Do I take a subway, or bus? Or do I walk to where I am going? I used to take the subway most of the time; how do I gauge the amount of time needed to get somewhere when I switch to a bus, or walk? How do I even get there, if I am driving instead of taking public transportation? Where is the nearest parking garage?  I haven’t felt this much anxiety since I was waiting for acceptances from college, during my senior year of high school.  But I am using my DBT Skills. Radical acceptance is at the top of the list, of course. Distracting is also helpful: I don’t watch as much news as I used to. I am reading more fiction than I used to, and more biographies: Marsha Linehan’s Memoir was wonderfully distracting, as I read about someone else’s problems, but more importantly, how she solved them.

One of the reasons that I believe DBT is so effective is that it incorporates a healthy dose of irreverence, which I often find amusing and helpful. So, in that vein, here is my irreverent approach to our current reality:  I’m grateful to COVID-19 because . . .

     I can have lunch with lots of garlic in it, and still go to my two o’clock meeting.

     I am saving all kinds of money: on new clothes, on haircuts and dye. So far, when I wear a baseball cap, no one can see that my hair is coming in mostly white. Fashion hint: hats may           be making a comeback.

     I am reading books I have always wanted to and never made the time to.

     I am attending online programs I never had access to, because now they are available for free, and don’t require me to travel or stay in a hotel.

     I’ve been gardening again. It is fascinating to watch the plants change each day. Lettuce never tasted so good!

     I’m cooking using new recipes. By the time I can invite friends over for dinner again, I will have a whole new repertoire of dishes to prepare for them.

     My husband is teaching me to play chess.

     I am no longer the designated driver; if I want to have wine with dinner, we are already at home.

     (Almost) everyone is wearing a mask, so it doesn’t matter what anyone looks like – you can’t see people below the nose. Makeup is optional.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all took some of this time to figure out what we’ve been doing that is ineffective, and how we can change our behavior. What a wonderful upside that would be to this trying experience!

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