COVID-19: It's deja vu all over again
In the last week, three of my online therapy clients have referenced the movie Groundhog Day to describe life during COVID-19. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Bill Murray plays a cynical TV weather reporter named Phil who gets trapped in a time loop and has to endlessly repeat the same day over and over again. Once he realizes this is happening and that he is the only one who recalls the previous version of the day and that there are no consequences for what he does each day, Phil has some fun. Eventually, he gets depressed. And eventually he realizes he has to use the repeating day to find meaning, to help others, and make the world a better place. Only when he selflessly helps others is he finally freed from the time loop.
It seems that, in a sense, many of us are experiencing something similar. Being quarantined with very few things to do or places to go, dramatically reduces our range of experience. One day seems like the last. It’s become almost cliché that we don’t know what day it is. Not much new goes on, and we don’t have much to look forward to other than more of the same. This has been going on long enough that we’re over it. It’s very easy to fall into apathy, hopelessness, depression, and self-medication. Mental health professionals around the world are seeing increases in anxiety, depression, addiction, and suicides. Times are very hard, and they are taking their toll.
We Need to Find Meaning in This
But more and more of us are starting to see that we have to find meaning in this, have to make good use of it in order to stave off mental illness and suffering and to come out of this – whenever that may be – without regret about how we used the time. We don’t want to look back on these months – or possibly years – wishing we’d used the time differently or accomplished something meaningful. We know that this will be a period we never forget, and we want to remember it as a time we stepped up, a time when we brought our A game.
Many of my clients had an initial period of unhealthy eating or drinking and are now realizing they need to be healthier as this is going to last a while. Many of us are realizing that the so-called “COVID 15” (pounds gained during quarantine) could turn into the COVID 30 or the COVID 50, which we know is not okay. And being unhealthy just doesn’t feel good physically or psychologically. Using food or alcohol or drugs or porn to get through a brief difficult period is one thing. Using them for months or possibly years is another thing entirely.
My friends and online therapy clients are starting to do more than just the initial yard work and garage cleaning most of us have been doing. Many are returning to hobbies - like playing instruments that they either haven’t picked up in years or had fallen off practicing. I’ve had a number of clients paint or draw or sculpt for the first time in their lives. New hobbies are being developed. A great deal of meaning and satisfaction comes from this.
Most of us know that we feel better about ourselves when we help others, but helping others is tricky during this pandemic. Social distancing makes it hard to help, so it forces us to find creative ways to serve others. I’m finding the flexibility of working from home and the extra time created by quarantining is allowing me to be more giving with my time. Before COVID-15, I was generally too busy to take much time to talk on the phone with potential clients or folks who needed a different kind of help than what I offer. Now I can, and it feels good. Though I want things to return to normal as soon as possible, this is a nice side effect of the pandemic. One of my clients has been making meals for some elderly neighbors. Another is shopping for a neighbor with a disability.
This is the time to accept that the new normal is here to stay for a while. We all need to take steps to find meaning in this - both for ourselves and for those around us.
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