I was in my third virtual session with my client when she let out a long sigh.
“I just haven’t done any of the things I swore I would if I had the time.”
Just then, our time was up and I felt plagued all week by the last sentence shared between us. I wasn’t sure if I was experiencing countertransference, a phenomenon in counseling where the therapist projects his or her own feelings unconsciously onto the client.
Part of me wondered if my aversion to what she said was because she reminded me of myself. We ended our session and I opened my desk drawer. Neatly folded in the same place it had been for a month was my to-do list. But what I couldn’t put away in my drawer was the immense amount of guilt I felt for having not completed anything on it during this time of great pause.
In my supervision group later that week, I brought up the session with my client and the feelings I was having toward her “lack of motivation” as I deemed it. My supervisor and supervisees listened intently. When I finished talking, one supervisee admitted that they themselves were struggling with a similar inner critic. The voice inside their head telling them they weren’t “doing enough.”
They encouraged that I hear my client out and bring this up in the next session. Tuesday was coming around sooner than I was ready for, and admittedly, I felt more nervous to enter into our online session than usual.
After settling in and taking a few deep breaths, my client admitted not knowing where to start. I suggested we return to where we left off last week. Pandora’s box was unleashed, and with it, something beautiful and cathartic flowed from her. She spoke of what many of my clients are expressing during these times—feeling lonely, anxious, bored, and overall uneasy. Specifically, this client said that she mostly wanted to stay in bed and eat. We spent the session exploring her new normal and when we ended, she called the whole mess “an unfortunate situation that nobody can hide from.”
In supervision that week, my colleagues were as interested in what came of our session as I was. In fact, some of them were facing a similar battle with their clients.
“Is it possible to feel as productive as we used to?” I asked after giving the session summary to my group.
“The reality is we are all doing more than we used to,” my supervisor said.
For everyone out there who wishes they could accomplish “more,” I’ve crafted a list of six things we have already completed during quarantine.
#1. We have eliminated distractions.
In this scary time, there’s some beauty in the reduction of distractions. This is not to make light of the financial heartache we’re experiencing, both people and their businesses, but human beings have an opportunity in this unprecedented pause to look inward while our outward distractions shut their doors on us. There has been a bewilderment in society for this reason. Many of us escape to pubs and restaurants, gyms and spas, but where are we forced to look when there’s nowhere to go? Inside. The elimination of distractions can be celebrated as an accomplishment for human beings. For us to have finally taken time to be with ourselves with less distraction, even if it was government sanctioned.
#2. We have learned new coping skills.
In an interview with 10News, psychologist Dr. Michelle Carcel says:
“Here’s the thing, humans are resilient. We have made it through a bunch of different, terrible things in our evolutionary process and we must remember that.”
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was quoted as saying, “What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.”
Even if you believe you aren’t handling these times perfectly, you are making it through. You are maneuvering financial, emotional, and physical stressors on a global level. You are standing up against a power out of your control and remaining strong. These times provide tool chests of coping mechanisms that we can learn from and strengthen for future situations. I would say that you are learning an invaluable lesson in simply coping.
#3. We have built a greater community.
In a time where we can’t see our friends and family face-to-face, many have resorted to online platforms to create and maintain relationships. Zoom, Webx, Facebook Messenger, and Houseparty all have multi-face video call capability and people are taking advantage of it.
According to a Venturebeat article, “Zoom’s daily active users jumped from 10 million to over 200 million in 3 months.” It is hard to compare in-person contact with a screen, but many of my clients have shared that in this time they have reached out to people who, in their ordinary life, they wouldn’t have “had time for.”
I see a community building in the midst of this moment. I have experienced firsthand mass Zoom calls that would have never been suggested before COVID-19, and I see an archaic desire in people to build in numbers. To create a greater community. Let us not negate the power of people in a time of shelter in place and focus on how we can build despite perceived limitations.
#4. We have learned to trust the greater powers at large.
For some, this means leaning on religion. For others, it’s the first time in a while they’ve taken advise from their government. While conspiracies continue to be created, consideration from the CDC is being practiced. Everywhere you go, people wear masks and gloves. At first glance we could see this as dehumanizing, but rather, it’s a demonstration of the care we have for ourselves and others. We have entered into a space where we turn to our government and we are putting our trust in them.
I have come to believe that when we relinquish our judgement and prejudice for the greater powers at large, we find and develop compassion for the systems we live under. When we have compassion, we are able to critically think about the structures we have in place without hate. In short, I believe our reliance on our government this time is helping in some regard to mend our fragile relationship. In the future, this will be the landing pad we will have for more constructive conversations.
#5. We are reading more.
Right around New Year’s, many of my clients shared that they’d like to fill their coming year with more reading. I often note down goals, resolutions, and aspirations for further exploration in subsequent sessions. Recently, I brought this forward to one client, mentioning that they had probably accomplished this during quarantine. They responded with “probably more Facebook posts.” But my argument was that while it may be more Facebook posts—articles like these, or statements from the World Health Organization—they were reading more.
It’s a nice reminder to give yourself credit for the little things you are doing more of. And less of. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day; small movements toward larger goals create accomplishments. Maybe if you feel inclined and inspired, order a new book—but if not, acknowledge that you are reading more in many ways.
#6. We have gained appreciation.
Celebrities were mostly featured on tabloids months ago. Now, it is nurses and teachers. We had it in us, didn’t we—appreciation for these essential employees. But no better way to practice gratitude than through deep reflection of what we have to be grateful for.
Every day, thousands of men and women go to their essential posts and protect the people. Thousands of volunteers from businesses to individuals have given back to these workers. We have grown, I believe, in our collective appreciation for people in these positions. Gratitude is something I suggest as a practice to all my clients, and during a pandemic like this, it’s easy to find in ourselves. I am, in this moment, grateful for the stranger reading my text. How special it can be to have the time to say thank you.
In later sessions with my client who felt she wasn’t doing enough, we redefined what “enough” meant. She described how, in one day, she “did absolutely nothing” and what an accomplishment that was.
The conclusion is: you are accomplishing more than you think. Celebrated now are the silent victories taking place in your home and your life. You don’t need to learn a new language, pick up an instrument, or rearrange your house to realize that change is being made, both in and out of your control.
Remember—the next time you gawk at something on that list that you haven’t done, remind yourself of all of things you are doing during quarantine.