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Maybe We Should All Talk to Someone

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

The years of isolation, confusion, and fear resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic makes going to therapy an important consideration for everyone.

The early days of the pandemic — remember those? The world seemed to shut down overnight. We feared for our lives as numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths were released daily, each day growing higher, emotionally choking us as we hunkered down in our homes, staring at photos of empty Walmart shelves. Debates over the actual danger of COVID-19 raged as hospital morgues spilled over, quite literally, into the streets, where my local hospital administrators parked refrigerated trucks borrowed from Wawa.

But also: We reached out to check up on friends and family across the globe, sending encouragement and toilet paper memes. YouTube channels like Some Good News and Facebook groups like Bin Isolation Outing sprang up, volunteer organizations were formed, as the best side of humanity emerged to connect us all in humor, hope, and good faith. Pizzas flooded hospitals out of a desperation to show our appreciation for our healthcare heroes. For some reason no one can fully explain, whipped instant coffee was briefly a thing.

The first few weeks of shared confusion, laughter, fear, and memes are long gone. We no longer marvel at the strangeness of masks. We all have had to adjust to this new world, a world that I once labeled, with full conviction, as traumatic. As a therapist specializing in treating survivors of trauma, I used the word knowing its force. But writing this article, I find myself hesitating to use such a strong word, even though I do believe it is appropriate; clearly, I too have adjusted to this new normal.

But living in isolation, in constant fear, with limited outlets — this is not normal. It’s important that we remember that. When a trauma begins, we enter survival mode. Our options are limited: fight; flight; freeze. When a trauma is chronic, we begin to get used to living this way. When you sit in a painful chair for long enough, you adjust. You stop noticing the discomfort. But when you stand up, your body is just as bruised as it would have been had you paid attention to the pain. We need to remember that this pandemic is just as painful as it was a year ago, and we are collectively taking a bruising.

A year ago I posted a piece on this website about the ways I saw people minimizing the difficulties of the pandemic. I ended by saying: “Hopefully, [your life] will stop sucking in this way soon.” Clearly, this has not been the case. I urged readers in that piece to allow themselves the compassion of acknowledging their own pain. For a while, it felt like people were doing that. But with the acclimation over time, I worry we’re forgetting it again. As has been noted by seemingly everyone, the pandemic has taken a huge toll on the mental health of millions. That toll continues to grow, as acute losses have become the chronic background noise of our daily lives. People who have always struggled with a mental illness are struggling more; people who had never before worried about their mental health are seeking therapy for the first time.

"Therapy is no longer a shameful assignment for those with severe mental illness. Therapy is an incredibly useful resource for anyone who is going through a hard time."

In good news, the awareness of mental health struggles, and the resources we have to address them, is growing. With this pandemic, it seems, society at large has begun to embrace therapy in a way that long-time therapists have never before seen.

Therapy is no longer a shameful assignment for those with severe mental illness, and younger generations have already begun to embrace this. Therapy is an incredibly useful resource for anyone who is going through a hard time, or struggling to deal with difficult emotions. Therapy can be used to learn and apply healthy coping skills, or as a way to process feelings around topics that are difficult or impossible to speak about with the people who know you well. We all deal with issues that meet that qualification, and we all have emotions that deserve support and empathy. The opportunity to share your most painful thoughts and feelings with a compassionate, nonjudgmental person is a powerfully freeing, validating, and valuable experience. It’s also, when done right, hard work. Here might be an inappropriate place to use one of my former client’s analogies, but it fits too well not to use: A good session is like a good bowel movement: painful, but relieving.

Research continues to prove the efficacy of talk therapy, and having put in my own time on the couch, I am a strong proponent of using therapy to strengthen and support one’s mental health. Having also put in my time finding myself a therapist who works well for me, I am also fully aware of the many barriers to accessing good therapy. I’ve written a complementary piece to this article, designed to help those who are thinking about taking those first steps to starting therapy. It can be a confusing and overwhelming process, both emotionally and logistically, and not every therapist is the right match for every client. It is my hope that this guide is helpful in breaking down some of the more mystifying and complicated aspects of beginning therapy.

I write this article’s ending from my home office, the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine still tingling in my arm. I’m taking steps to return to in-person work soon, and it gives me hope that the bulk of the pandemic as we’ve known it for the past year really might soon be behind us. But surviving a trauma — or even a stressor — doesn’t mean it’s over. In fact, it is often only once we cautiously take our first steps out of survival mode that we can begin to tend to the injuries that were incurred during an ordeal. Stand up from your chair. Take stock of your pain. And give yourself the attention and care that you deserve to begin to heal.

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