A Psychologist’s Notes from Quarantine

by Mental Health Blogger David Susman

It seems like day three hundred of the pandemic quarantine. But objectively I know it’s only been about five weeks.

Observations:

Bouncing back and forth seemingly randomly from calm, rational, semi-productive detachment to worry, uncertainty, tears and sadness. The latter is definitely not the usual me.

Spending countless hours at the computer, but grateful for a job that allows me to work remotely. Also grateful for a specific task to be absorbed in: to transition our bricks-and-mortar psychology training clinic to telehealth, allowing our psychology graduate students to continue to provide much-needed psychotherapy services remotely.

Quickly realizing I had not the first clue about how to accomplish said task (above). So off I went to hours and hours of webinar training, reading articles, and accumulating resources from colleagues through emails and listserves. Four weeks later and our telehealth clinic is ready to launch.

Speaking of emails and listserves, Never Have I Ever read so many emails as in the past several weeks! Drinking from a firehose may be the best analogy. Separating the wheat from the chaff is another challenging part of this task. What’s useful and what’s useless?

Despite the love/hate relationship with emails, I’ve come to recognize that technology can be my new best friend, as it allows for social interaction, both verbally and visually, with friends, students and colleagues. My online work calendar is almost as full as usual with meetings, but now each of them is tagged with a Zoom link. Keeping the links straight has also proven more difficult than expected. But I haven’t Zoomed into the wrong meeting yet.

How to handle all the news and media? Mostly by turning it off. Carefully selecting a very few reliable outlets and then limiting my exposure to around 30 minutes total a day.

Understanding that grief and loss are part of my daily emotional diet. Plus a little anger from time to time, when I read about some of the careless and stupid things going on.

But there’s cause for inspiration as well. Maybe it’s just my rationalization, but once I decided this is really all about saving lives (including perhaps my own and my family), I can deal with it. I calculated a weird worst-case scenario in my head. If every single person in the US were infected, about 10 million people would die. Any number less than that is a victory. If we come in under 100,000, while that’s seismically tragic, it’s also a HUGE victory. Our daily actions are saving countless lives.

Not to be political, but I’ve also been inspired by Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky. Every single day at 5:00 pm, he holds a press conference and reassures us that we will get through this together. He shows examples of positive social media and chokes up when announcing the daily death toll. He has been a steady example of compassionate and effective leadership. I’m grateful for that.

The psychologist in me (since I am a psychologist, I do think there is actually one in me) is also fascinated by the largest behavioral experiment in the history of mankind. If the global sacrifices being made don’t convince you of the inherent goodness of humanity, I don’t know what will. That’s gotta be something good to take away from all of this.

Through it all, it’s been fascinating to see how life manages to go on. Babies are still being born, couples are still getting engaged, kids are still having birthdays, and I’m still eating chocolate chip cookies (more than ever).

I’ve also seen how death unrelated to the virus still occurs. One of my best friends and fraternity brothers from college just died suddenly of heart failure stemming from other medical issues. Hit me like a ton of bricks. But my brothers and I rallied, and we had a video call with 50 guys paying respect to our friend. We then compiled a virtual memory board of stories, tributes and photos of our friend which we sent to his wife and kids.

Then there’s all the fallout. All the deaths, the jobs lost, all the proms and graduations that won’t happen, all the sporting events cancelled. And the uncertainty. Will things get worse? When will they get better? Can the economy recover and how long will it take? For now, we just have to accept that we don’t yet know.

I’ve also thought about opportunities and silver linings. Telehealth can open up health care (and mental health care) to people and places that have previously been hard to reach. We can see that we are capable of change, we can learn to be flexible, and we can support and help each other in the spirit of human kindness.

I think this experience also shows us how resilient we are. We can bounce back. It may take a long time. Things will definitely be different. But one day soon we will again shake hands, hug, dance, and come together. The vision of that day will keep me going for now.

Here’s a question: What thoughts and feelings are you having during this difficult time? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter or Instagram, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend.