loneliness

Post pandemic CRISIS: The anxiety of reconnection.

The pandemic isn’t quite over, but the rapid vaccination rollout, warmer weather, and dropping numbers of newly diagnosed individuals are certainly offering a new level of hope in the United States. It appears we are entering a new phase which will allow for safely connecting with our peeps. For most, this is fantastic news, but for many, this is a season of serious crisis. What is happening? As a therapist, I am here to offer an insider’s view of this emerging phenomenon that has accompanied much of March, 2021.

For the past year, most earthlings’ lives were upended overnight. The remainder of the year was a slow descent into new dimensions of our “inner” worlds, while contemplating what an “outer” world might look like in a post pandemic world. Most envisioned a new world with a built in group of people/friends/partners/community. The new CRISIS for many is the reality that their pre pandemic lives had “simulated community” and not “real community.” Now that the season of opening is really upon us, many people recognize the desperate and inherent need for close social ties. The real question is HOW, WHEN, WHERE to find this community, thus the crisis. It turns out our rugged individualism as Americans led us into a false belief system of thinking we don’t need any real close ties.

Research in the mental health field in the 21st century can be consolidated into three words:

DO I BELONG?

If you don’t believe this reductionist approach to the conundrum of Homo Sapiens, please check out the links at the end of this post from the field of adult attachment. The crisis unfolding is the dawning reality that people simply don’t feel like they belong anywhere, have had a full year of profound loneliness. The great news is this can be resolved, but this shift requires…..risk……vulnerability……quieting down the noise in one’s head, etc….or as we like to say confronting “USA”- things that are Uncomfortable, Scary and Awkward.

Belonging requires many components such as:

  • Identifying like minded people (this means identifying your own wants/needs/interests)
  • Tracking down where you might find these like minded people in your community
  • Making a real plan to gather with these people.
  • ENGAGING with these people.
  • Going back to the same place again and again to join a community.

This combination of steps to cultivate community is so anxiety provoking to many people that it is leading to a real crisis. I have observed so much suicidal ideation and relapses in the past few weeks in my front row seat as a therapist, and am hearing similar things from therapist colleagues all over the world. Once we can NAME this thing and acknowledge the social terror, the suicidal ideation can quiet itself down. This info might be shocking- you might be asking yourself, “Really? Someone would consider suicide over just showing up to make some friends somewhere?” Sadly, yes. Suicide is often a very poor coping tool and “easy way out” of not taking the scary route to confronting things that need to be confronted or sorted out. Naming it usually can reduce the power and lure of this kind of behavior/thinking (enlisting creativity into this murky space is hugely helpful). If you resonate with some of these complicated emotions, or are interested in brushing up on this 21st century thinking, here are some excellent guides to assist you on your journey of creating something new in a post pandemic world.:

Unf*ckology by Amy Alkon

Attached by Amir Levine

Popular by Mitch Prinstein

Dr. Omri Gillath TEDxOverlandPark talk on The Power of (secure) Love

Adult Attachment: A Concise Introduction to Theory and Research by Omri Gillath

Porch Portrait Photo Project

IMG_0599 (1)As we entered into our first week of social distancing, I pitched an idea to friends in my neighborhood to take pictures of them standing on their front porches. This project was an instant hit, and is serving many purposes, including socializing with the limitations of social distancing, documenting this experience, and providing a creative activity to connect or reconnect with community.  I invite you to join me on this creative endeavor.

I am hearing about many parts of the world where leaving one’s home is forbidden during this pandemic, and violating this prohibition can lead to jail time or hefty fines. If you live in a place where you can still roam about, perhaps this might be a great project to introduce to your neighbors. Aside from the primary issues around the COVID-19 pandemic, LONELINESS is perhaps the largest issue that will come out of this experience. 28% of Americans currently live alone. While this might have been manageable in our lives just a few weeks ago, this current dilemma of losing all elements of community can be debilitating to many people who live alone. Do you have anyone in your world who might really appreciate you dropping by (from a distance) to take their picture and send them some good vibes?

I am not a photographer, and am actually using an I-phone to take my portraits. The options for editing a photo on any smart phone are so advanced, anyone can take a pretty great photo with this small device. I would also encourage emailing a consent form (I used Google forms to create mine), offering subjects the options of them alone keeping the photo, sharing the photo in your friend group and/or sharing it publicly. Getting consent is essential to this project (especially if you are considering posting any of the images on social media). Good luck and spread the creativity to keep our communities humming along.