May 24, 2021

Thoughts on Reentry Hesitation & Life after COVID-19.

Anyone else having reentry hesitancy?

I have been fully vaccinated, still wear a mask inside public buildings, and still have not been out and about a whole bunch.

I am seeing clients via telehealth, and on the occasion when I go into the office, we all wear masks. The people I am around most of the time are my son, daughter-in-law, her family, and my 15-month-old grandson. I have begun to see fully vaccinated friends one-on-one or those not yet vaxxed, outside, mask on, or at a distance.

I have enjoyed talking to neighbors and seeing their smiles.

When the CDC announced last week that it was safe for fully vaccinated people to go out and about bare-faced, I felt a sense of elation blended with doubt.

I know that science is ever-evolving and what seems like a certainty changes from moment to moment. That certainty expressed by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky was countered by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, who felt the move was premature and could put people at risk.

The intention, it seems, was to encourage vaccination as an important step to world recovery. It would rely on people being honest with their vaccination status. Without making a blanket statement, it would seem that some of those who refuse to be vaccinated may also refuse to wear a mask.

How would we know? I’m not a medical professional, but as a psychotherapist, I am a keen observer of human behavior and motivation. I have heard stories of people out in the wider community who, for health reasons, are refraining.

There are some who want to wait for a few months to see if there are side effects that are more serious than the virus itself. I also know people in my circles who claim that all we need to do is utilize natural remedies, boost our immune systems, and eat in healthier ways, and all will be okay.

They see vaccinations as harmful and discourage taking them. In the extreme are those who see this as a massive conspiracy to rob us of our sovereignty.

Mask wearing and vaccinations have fallen prey to political machination. Even though the former guy (Donald Trump) got vaccinated, following a protracted period of time denying the severity of the virus and then contracting it, many of his adherents decline what could be the key to the freedoms they insist upon.

Republican strategist Frank Luntz spoke to a group of Republicans who had voted for Trump to determine what was at the core of their reluctance to get vaccinated. I listened, fascinated, to an episode of “This American Life,” in which he faced people who steadfastly held their position. It took the data by former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden and the from the heart words of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who recovered from a severe case of COVID-19 that led to hospitalization, to turn the tide and change many of their minds.

I do look forward to gathering in groups, but I am aware that I am a little nervous.

Also, I am noticing that this social butterfly has folded her wings in ways I never thought I would. I still miss hugs but am cautious about sharing them randomly as I had in the before times.

Since 2014, I have traversed the streets in the United States, Canada, and Ireland as a “Hugmobster Armed With Love.” Now, I wonder when it will be advisable to return to that activity. Will I be able to embrace people without wondering if what is essentially life-sustaining (nurturing platonic touch) could transmit a deadly virus?

This was a revelation that came to me this morning. It was a shock since a year ago, I was fantasizing about the first things I would do, the first people I would see, and the first group gathering I would indulge in.

As we are getting closer to the time when we can do the full immersion, I notice a slight sense of trepidation. I don’t experience social anxiety, and prior to the pandemic, I was at ease in peaceful crowds, large and small.

It isn’t that my people skills have escaped me. I still remember how to interact, what to say, and ways to remove the cloth barrier between us. I never felt like the mask was forced on me. Rather, it has always been a chosen safety measure and message of concern for myself and those around me.

I have a wardrobe of them in a rainbow array of colors and designs, thanks, in part, to a creative friend who had to pivot her business to take her cottage industry to another level. “Masked Together” exemplifies my sentiment that we are all in this endeavor together and that if we are to thrive as a species, we need to do it as a community.

I was speaking with someone recently who described feeling uncomfortable with taking off the mask because it was a way of being invisible. We laughed as I said it was the way a little kid hides under a blanket and pretends they aren’t there, as they express in a sing-songy way, “You can’t see me.”

In a recent piece from The Wall Street Journal, entitled “How To Handle Your Re-Entry Anxiety as the Pandemic Recedes,” readers are encouraged to do so gradually and at their own pace.

One of the recommendations is something I encourage clients to do, and I do myself, which is to envision the experience before it occurs, using all of your senses, then being fully present to it while you are engaged in it, and finally recall the experience and savor it.

What will your reentry be like?

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