Waiting on the World to Change: An Open Letter From a Therapist in Response to COVID-19
Image: 50/50 (2011)
This letter is to current, former, and future clients/patients. To those considering asking for help. To those on a waiting list for services, maybe even from long before this started. To everyone struggling. To everyone who may struggle later. To everyone waiting on the world to change ---
I see you.
I see you responding to the way the world is right now. I see your worry about your depression worsening due to increased sadness and decreased positive events. I see your stress and anxiety increasing due to job and financial uncertainty. I see your fear about your anorexia or addiction thriving from the isolation, lack of regular support, and exposure to articles about managing "quarantine weight gain". I see the sensation of being trapped exasperating panic attacks and PTSD symptoms. I see your worry about the combination of stress, lack of routine, and disruption to care triggering episodes of mania or psychosis. I also see your hesitation to seek in-person support due to the health risk or not wanting to be a “burden.”
I see your financial struggles. Your worries about your business, career, and supporting your family. Your frustration of wanting to work but being unable to. Of not wanting to work and having to. Your struggle to navigate online learning or work. Your parenting and co-parenting stress. Your questioning of continuing with plans for pregnancy/adoption, work, or relationship changes. I see your difficulty balancing work and/or school and home life. Your frustration that expectations for your productivity haven’t been adjusted to accommodate the surreal situation
I see your disappointment about disruptions to graduations, jobs, birth plans, weddings, and other events. Your concern about losing more things to look forward to.
I see your difficulty reconciling frustration and gratitude. Your guilt about feeling irritated over "minor inconveniences" or feeling annoyed with family and roommates. Your apprehension of being tied to an environment that isn’t supportive or safe for you.
I see your loneliness. Your increased hopelessness and feelings of pointlessness. Your heightened health anxiety. Your heightened existential and death anxiety. Your anticipatory and disenfranchised grief. Your grief over changes to quality of life. Your grief following the loss of loved ones, who you may not have been able to say goodbye to. I see your trauma from working on the frontlines. I see your fear resulting from being physically stuck in an abusive environment, or working as an essential worker, or needing to attend the hospital for ongoing medical care. I see your worry for others in these situations.
I see your longing for your family and social connections, and your struggle with the ambiguity of return to normalcy. I see your worries for your friends, partners, family, neighbours, coworkers, strangers, and humanity as a whole. I see your heightened empathy, helplessness, and guilt about “not doing enough.” I see your anger with the systemic, economic, ableist, and legislative policies and actions that have contributed to this situation.
I see your frustration with the platitudes about “learning about yourself" and “darkness to appreciate light” that are circulating. With the expectations for “doing something with this time” that minimize both the strain and the influence of privilege.
I also know there’s so much I don’t or can’t see and will never be able to understand.
I wish I could do more. I wish you could drop-in to make an appointment or speak with me, because I know reaching out and emailing isn’t always comfortable or accessible. I wish we could talk in person, because I know talking over the phone can sometimes be anxiety-inducing and limits what you can say depending on your current options for privacy. I wish we could meet face-to-face, because I know the nuances of building rapport and comfort aren’t the same when communicating virtually. I know that these methods of communicating or accessing resources create additional barriers for individuals with visual and hearing impairments, and learning and other disabilities. I know not everyone is comfortable using certain technology and that not everyone has access to this technology. I know some people just need in-person support.
I wish I could offer more than platitudes and words of encouragement. I wish I could advocate more and help directly remove stressors or address the policies that have placed you in a position of helplessness. I wish I could provide more than just virtual sessions and links to community and internet resources.
You deserve more than this. You deserve more than phone apps and guided meditations and online programs. You deserve timely care and minimal disruption to the care you’ve already been waiting for.
You deserve the continuation of the treatment plan you’ve worked so hard on, or the therapeutic relationship you rely on. We might say that not much has to change in terms of this, that things can continue close to normal, but I know it doesn’t feel this way.
I wish we weren’t in this situation. I also know that “we” aren’t exactly in this situation. I know some of you are and will be disproportionately psychologically, physically, and financially devastated by this. I know “we” collectively didn’t enter this pandemic on equal ground. That “we” all weren’t already struggling with mental or physical illness, job insecurity, and/or financial stress.
I know “we” all aren’t impacted the same by social determinants of health and healthcare, including race, disability, and income distribution. I know “we” all aren’t facing a harder time due to social marginalization and systemic discrimination. I know everyone’s stressors are not the same and everyone’s “other side of this” isn’t going to look the same.
Yes, we are in a unique situation when it comes to counselling, where there is an element of shared trauma due to me experiencing the same event. But I know we may not be experiencing it the same way. I know I am speaking to you with different levels of privilege. I don’t want to imply assumed higher levels of privilege in myself or assumed suppression in clients, but not acknowledging potential inequality seems disingenuous and isn’t going to allow us to connect in the way we need to right now.
I will continue to support you in the best way I can right now.
If you want us to connect over some of those elements of our shared vulnerability, then let’s do that. If you want words of encouragement to spark hope and awareness of your resiliency, I’ve got those. If you absolutely don’t want these and want me to turn my intensity down a notch, no problem. If you want to vent and swear about the situation and unfairness of it all, let it out. If you want to express your dark thoughts, deepest fears, or minor inconveniences, they’re all valid. If you want to focus on problem-solving and coping strategies, I can guide you through that. Most importantly, tell me what you want and need. Maybe you don’t want to have to do this right now. Maybe you wish I intuitively knew what to say and what to do. That all us mental health professionals just got it. Trust me, I wish this too.
While we are all waiting for the world to change, I get that our worlds and changes don’t and won’t look the same. But while we are waiting, just know that us mental health professionals do see you and we are still here. We are waiting to help you however we can, when you do reach out.
Title lyric: Waiting on the World to Change (John Mayer)