My blog is like a stopped clock after a catastrophic event.
Since my last post in February 2020, I have been working the front lines of mental health from within the confines of my home. Every day has been defined by emotional triage & walking the edge of an ever shifting professional boundary. No matter how hard I tried to maintain a separation of personal & professional, Covid made it next to impossible. I was in session when my elderly next door neighbor was taken away by EMS. The noise of the gurney hitting my living room wall & the shouts of the paramedics shook me. I had to disclose what was happening in a way that wouldn’t exacerbate this particular person’s anxiety. Turns out, I couldn’t. The idea that I could be affected by Covid did not register in the minds of some of the people that I was treating. The unconscious experience of one’s therapist as a separate person never ceases to amaze me in theory; however, the reality of that object relation is that for some I am not allowed to be human.
As the months blended into each other, writing for myself went by the wayside. I churned out endless documentation & case notes. I had a list of blog post prompts that I would look at in my “free” time, but found my creative process hijacked by the clinical & legal language I used on a daily basis. I was experiencing a next level form of writer’s block. Even while in the thick of my graduate program and clinical internship, I always managed to generate new content. It was a form of stress relief. It was a way for my mind to think about something that was of interest to ME. It wasn’t graded or subject to anyone’s rubric. It was something that I did for ME. I realized just how little energy I had at the end of each day to do anything for myself.
As my wellspring continued to dry up, I realized that I was also putting my emotional well being to the side. The series of relationship losses I had experienced throughout this year had to be placed in containers to “feel” at a later date. I didn’t feel like I had the right to experience those emotions in real time when so many people in my care needed me to be present & solid for them. There was also an expectation that I had to have it all figured out & “together” at all times. It was as if my being a therapist made me somehow immune to pain & emotional crises (pun intentional.) I soon realized that many of the people in my life had reduced my identity to just my job.
The irony of my emotional lockdown is that it didn’t allow me to be as effective a therapist. I felt profoundly isolated. There were days where I was unable to sit with people’s complaints without experiencing a level of resentment. I would have visceral reactions to the things I would hear in the “teletherapy room” that stayed with me well beyond the session time. I told my supervisors that I was burning out. They showered me with conciliatory statements that I was doing great work & that I wasn’t alone. They suggested I take more breaks & ask for help. I took their words to heart & did both of these things only to realize that our mental healthcare system is set up to fail clinicians like myself. I advocated for the time off I desperately needed to re-humanize. They say you can’t draw water from a stone. You cannot ground yourself on a pile of ashes either.
The space & time I took off has allowed me to slowly reconnect with myself. I have been doing an immense amount of reflection after opening all those containers & feeling all the feelings in all the ways. The quality of my relationships & the value placed on my time has been heavy on my mind. The pandemic “pause” allowed me to truly appreciate how little of my life I was actually living. The intentions that I set for this new year in the aftermath of 2020’s “great purge” all welcome new beginnings.
Sometimes we need a kick in the heart to remind us that we deserve reciprocity.
Sometimes the ground has to drop from underneath us in order to realize that where we stood all this time is not where we needed to be.
There is no need for me to turn back. I like the view from this new perspective and the ground on this side is VERY solid.