Alone Together: A Glance into a Therapist’s Window in the Time of Corona

Psychotherapist Jasmyn Rana writes about this time as a ‘mandatary meditation of sorts’ where we are forced to be alone with ourselves.

Most of us have neatly tucked away struggles, hidden below high functionality, and practical intellectual ideologies. All it takes sometimes is a nudge from the universe, an unplanned, unforeseen stressor to push everything over the edge, just enough.  

Usually we find that nudge in the more common hurdles of life. COVID-19, however, opened up a collective stressor that the entire world faced at the same time, some up close on the front line and others removed from a distance.

COVID-19 opened up a collective stressor that the entire world faced at the same time

As a therapist facing her own career battles with the virus (shifting work that once felt impossible to imagine without sacred human presence to merely connecting through a screen) to witnessing other’s emotional responses, it has solidified that even in the face of a shared adversity no two souls are the same. In fact, far from it.

Even in the face of a shared adversity no two souls are the same

At a time when we are both often removed in the safety of our homes but also exposed directly to the crisis through live media, all responses can feel like under and overreactions. Scott Berinato’s article linking our responses to Kessler’s five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – has gained much popularity as a direct reflection of the desperation to understand our own emotional response.  

Scott Berinato links our emotional response to the pandemic to Kessler’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance

For anyone who has experienced grief it is well understood that these stages do not occur in a linear fashion nor are they mutually exclusive. Likening grief to the pandemic is actually the very process of allowing the fifth stage of acceptance to start to occur simultaneously with any of the other four stages one might be experiencing.

This is the act of being able to reflect, identify your feelings and have them validated – the same model therapy hinges on. This tiny yet enormously impactful process is something we often fail to do for ourselves.

Being able to reflect, identify your feelings and have them validated is an impactful process therapy hinges on

There is a relief that comes with giving that emotion a name. But however valuable, I would like to introspect that it can still be far too simplistic. The universality of it is both liberating and limiting, leaving little space for the unique personalized experience, if left unexplored further.  

The most important ingredient is Kessler’s sixth stage: meaning. This was a recent addition after Kessler faced his own son’s loss. I view this not as a way of coping, but an application to each single stage after practicing acceptance. It is the journey of discovering why each specific emotion erupted uniquely for you. However universal, our individual responses are driven from prior experiences.

The most important ingredient is Kessler’s sixth stage: meaning

The lockdown will forever go down in history as a time when we sat in our homes, alone with ourselves. Unable to be consumed by the web of countless manmade social systems. The western era of busyness that has colonized and dominated this globalized world came to a complete standstill, almost overnight. A mandatory meditation of sorts. Time, which has been the most valuable commodity of the modern world, has become vastly accessible.

Time, which has been the most valuable commodity of the modern world, has become vastly accessible

Many flung quickly into a sigh of relief and sunk back into their couches feeling like the weight of the world had been swiftly lifted off them – a sign that we are silent strugglers in the hurried way of life.  And while this was nice and cushiony for some, many started to feel less alone and more crowded with their own thoughts, with no convenient way to avoid them. After all, years of developing unconscious defences and coping skills had not really accounted or prepared for a lockdown. When these copings fail us, it is often a moment of great introspection to wounds buried deep within.

A sparkling variety of different thoughts and feelings emerged for each person who sat with themselves. Those who had traumatic associations with uncertainty found themselves in struggles of sleepless nights or a deep experience of anxiety. Will daddy come home again can be a crippling thought of helplessness when a child has no control. 

Those who had traumatic associations with uncertainty found themselves in struggles of sleepless nights or a deep experience of anxiety

Others who had lived exquisitely planned lives with little room to ever feel out of control dove into well manufactured routines. Eventually questions arose (for the first time for some) why feeling in control had become so paramount to their lives. Others who relinquished control more easily fared a little better from the immediate trauma of unforeseen change.

Some of us who have come to learn and live the mantra that idleness is a sin felt busier than ever. Storage cupboards presented themselves to clean and excessive online work appeared. This nagging voice of productivity can quickly turn toxic under anxious circumstances; some began exploring where it came from.

This nagging voice of productivity can quickly turn toxic under anxious circumstances

For those who grew up in a constant state of anxiety, a comfort in taking a crisis management role emerged. And they fell calmly back into a familiar world they once knew. Others who had mastered the skill of disassociating from a stressor previously in their life felt conveniently numb.

People were met with many intimate questions about the relationship they have with themselves as well as those they were incarcerated with. Home felt safe for many but haunting for those not so lucky. Feelings that had otherwise been pushed aside started to emerge as acute. Couples were left with the delightful or daunting task of acknowledging their disconnect or deep satisfaction upon stumbling on forgotten bonds.

Couples were left with the delightful or daunting task of acknowledging their disconnect or deep satisfaction

Parents were faced with noticing that their relationship with their children was perhaps a direct reflection of theirs with their own inner child; how much space and acknowledgement could be imparted in a moment of crisis?

Some who measured their identity in work and worth in performance felt dumbfounded when it came to a crashing halt. Individuals who felt socially marginalised sighed relief when others could not leave them uninvited anymore. The strugglers of social anxiety felt liberated from the drudgery of human contact and some felt even more connected and at ease with this new illusion of e-contact.

Many found themselves re-connecting with a forgotten sense of what was once important, when all worldly layers are scraped away. Time was spent noticing nature or connecting with children. Lost friendships were remembered. Resentments and longings emerged in the mind and heart, some even sharing words of unspoken love. Existential crises arose. God became alive for many, lost by others.

Many found themselves noticing nature or connecting with children. Lost friendships were remembered

Here in Lahore just two early weeks into the lockdown, it is a rarity to reside alone. And this strange dichotomy engulfs us, of living deeply intimate lives with those within our home, while all external relationships transpire merely electronically. Much of how this will shape our emotional world feels unknown.

There is one thing of certainty, that regardless of what transpired in your lockdown from leisurely time with loved ones, to fear, panic or even conflict, it is crucial to create pause and reflect. If you can work beyond the universality of it, I urge you to find meaning in your unique story, and what your emotions are telling you.

Much of how this will shape our emotional world feels unknown

And as I write, I am well aware that it is still in a time that we have the luxury to refer to this new way of living as one single experience in our lives. The reality is that the duration of this new “normal” is unknown. A wave of excess socialising and dinner dates through screens has quickly caught on.

While children adapt quickly to online teachers, the teacher performs her role alone in her room facing a lens. Dynamic work spaces have shrunk to solo acts. Those of us who had resisted online interactions are cornered into using it as the only healthy means to human interaction. This is just the beginning of the transition the pandemic stands bring to our lives.

When we emerge, much will be changed, most of which is still unknown. So for now I’ll raise my glass to the screen with you and toast to good health.

Jasmyn Rana is a Relational Integrative Psychotherapist, with her Masters and training from Australia. She has spent much of the last decade establishing her own private practice in Lahore. Alongside being a supervisor, she has lectured at a university level, run psychotherapy courses as well as numerous group therapies. Her specialised area of expertise and passion include working with couples and adults. Instagram: @jasmynrana / Email:  jasmyn.r.kh@gmail.com.

 A version of this article was published on Psych Central’s website.

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