It wasn’t like me – leaving my Grandmother’s birthday gift to the night before. Work had been so busy the past couple of weeks, I hadn’t gotten to it until now.
Finished work at 5:30, ate dinner quickly and put the baby to bed, and went to Costco. Costco felt like the apocalypse. Skids full of grocery items pushed together, creating a barrier to all aisles except for groceries. No getting a dog bowl to replace the one the baby had broke this evening. No finding a book to read to get one’s mind off things. No perusing the clothes section for yoga pants or baby pjs. No fresh cut or potted flowers. And evidently no gift for Grandma here.
It jarred me. I had to take a moment to take some breaths in the parking lot before moving on to Sobey’s. There I could at least get my Grandma a bottle of wine and be out of there. I walked around the wine aisles and found the Pinot Grigio she would like. I picked out a cheery, spring bag to put it in – thinking maybe it would bring cheer despite the fact her special milestone birthday would be celebrated with no party, just simply her closest relatives driving by with well wishes. As I was plucking the gift bag from the rack, I heard an announcement that it was 8:00 pm and no alcohol would be sold after 8:00 pm. I literally ran to the cash register, which was right in front of me, and got there before the cashier got off the intercom making her announcement. “I’m sorry”, she said, “It’s 8:00 pm. We absolutely can’t sell any wine even on the dot”. “Are you serious?” Somehow came from my lips. “I’m sorry, that’s the new rule. I made an announcement five minutes ago” came the response.
I didn’t hear the announcement, because I was on the phone with another therapist figuring out yet another referral for a young girl whose referral had already been rejected by multiple therapists. We’re all at our max capacities.
I burst into tears. I, therapist Kayleen, who controls her emotions for every session every day, burst into complete and “ugly cry” tears behind my cheetah-print mask. “It’s my Grandma’s birthday tomorrow. I’m sorry. It’s okay.” came from behind my mask, between shaky crying breaths. “I’m so sorry. You can come back tomorrow at 7:00 am and buy it. I can set it aside for you”. It was clear the cashier felt awful, and I’m sure I’m not the only panicked person she’s seen this week.
They say there’s a first for everything, and I can say that’s the first time I’ve ever had a panic attack in my car outside of Sobey’s over a bottle of wine.
Fat tears flowed, and it was hard to catch my breath. I cried for how messed up this entire thing is. How twisted it feels to have somebody else decide for everyone what is “essential”, when all of these things felt entirely essential to me. How sad I am for my Grandmother not getting the birthday party she deserves, for my son not getting the first birthday he deserved. Hell, for my son still not having met half my friends or family. For all of the occasions celebrated without extended family and friends. For having my maternity leave to come to a screeching halt six months in, because it was more important to me to return to more hours earlier to serve the clients I love so much.
I cried for how much I feel for my clients. Day in and day out, I hear stories of how much this has pandemic affected everyone. Clients’ depression and anxiety through the roof, as they feel as though they’re living a twisted Groundhog Day of events every day. Relatives passing away and having to make the impossible decisions of which family members attend their funeral. People losing their jobs, or businesses they’ve started because they weren’t considered “essential”. Clients being sick and having to go to the hospital alone, with no support system. Couples splitting up, because the extra pressure of the world as we know it right now was too much for the relationship to bear. Clients that I’ve known for years who are now suicidal, and had never had those kind of thoughts until now.
As therapists, we’re experienced in working with these issues. We’re no stranger to them. But generally, we aren’t all experiencing all of the same issues at the exact same time. We are going through a collective trauma, at the same time as all of our clients. I’m currently supervising around 20 therapists in total, and none of us were trained for this. They don’t teach you how to weather a pandemic with clients in graduate school or weekend trainings. Having the perspective of a supervising therapist gives me a glimpse into not only how clients are struggling, but therapists too. In one group supervision session, I asked the therapists to rate their burn out on a scale of 1-10. There wasn’t one rating under six, and most of them were towards the max.
We are part of the front line of this pandemic. We are seeing the first-person impacts this pandemic is having on our society as a whole, and our resources are running thin. We are all squeezing clients into slots we don’t have. We are all saying yes to that “just one more” referral, to lower sliding scale rates for clients even when it impacts our own personal finances, because we don’t want to see anyone go without care for their mental health.
This is a health pandemic. But it is also a pandemic of mental health. We are in a mental health crisis, and we are anticipating the fallout of this to last much longer than the pandemic itself.
So where do we go from here?
I feel pressure to end this blog post with my usual inspirational, positive thought or “thing to do” to help the situation. But the reality is, none of that is going to make this go away. None of that is going to take away the trauma and suffering this past year has caused. And so it is. We continue on, despite the seeming bleakness of things. We do our best to see the ways we still can connect with others, with nature, with ourselves. We FEEL the big feelings that come with this, knowing that they are here for a reason and we’re allowed to have them. All of them. Even the big, fat, ugly tears behind the cheetah mask.
I see you. I’m here with you. And I’m sending you so, so much love, respect, and hope for this roller coaster of a ride we’re all in.