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Hello,ask a therapist

During this time of the year (March/April), I always have excessive problems with my mental health (since about 15 years old, I’m 20 now). In addition to the general time period, I’m also having heightened struggles due to the coronavirus outbreak. I’m feeling displaced due to not being able to return to school and I had to put my pet down. How do I combat both this time and the heightened stressors without being able to go see a therapist or psychiatrist?

-M

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Dear M,

When I read your question about heightened stressors and working with therapists/psychiatrists, what I kept thinking about is that I’m glad you know you’re struggling and could put words to it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with people who hold onto pain without knowing about it. It’s important to be able to know what’s going on and name it.

With that, the first thing I’d like to say is that there are many places that are still providing therapy and psychiatry through coronavirus and shelter in place. There are many healthcare professionals using teletherapy (phone and videochats) to work with people looking for help. To find a mental health professional to work with, you can use Psychology Today for your search. Jewish Family Service of San Antonio also is accepting new clients for mental health services.

Secondly, I’m glad you wrote in. Within your question I’m seeing a theme that’s extraordinarily important to all of us at this time:

Grief.

Grief is happening all the time! Believe it or not, we don’t just grieve when someone dies. When I work with people, I like to be mindful about the fact that we’re always going through some kind of loss. We change from one second to the next every single day, and sometimes I like to stop a session and recognize what we’ve lost in an hour of therapy whether it’s small – like an idea about yourself – or big – like the guilt you’ve suffered for 20 years for not visiting a loved one on their deathbed.

The other thing that came to mind when I read your question is how much loss you’ve experienced recently (with the loss of your beloved pet and coronavirus keeping us out of our regular routines) and over the last five years. I wonder what have you lost and what are you currently losing? I also wonder, how do you let yourself grieve?

Basic Update on Grief

Adapted from Whatsyourgrief.com

When I work with people on grief, the biggest myth that I work on is that there is a single process of grief that everyone goes through. When I think about the loss of your pet, I think it’s important to to recognize and honor what an important place pets have in our hearts and in our homes. They’re there for us in a way that no one else usually is.

I want you to be able to name your grief as a way to honor what and whom you’ve lost. I also want to offer you some healthy ideas on ways to grieve someone who was so important to you during a time where we’re grieving the loss of our every day routines as we shelter in place to keep ourselves safe.

I’d like to introduce you to a process of mourning that was developed in the 90’s by Dr. Theresa Rando (1993, 2013), called the 6 R’s process:

  • Recognize the loss;
  • React to the separation;
  • Recollect and re-experience the deceased and the relationship;
  • Relinquish the old attachments to the deceased and the old assumptive world;
  • Readjust to move adaptively into the new world without forgetting the old;
  • and Reinvest.

I like these ideas of the process we have around loss because it’s important to give yourself time to healthfully experience these six pieces of loss whenever they come up.

For example, when you call your family and friends and they ask how you are, you may say something about how you still miss your hampster or how you miss being able to go to the mall. Often times we’re tempted to make everyone believe we’re okay, but we’re allowed to be truthful and receive support when we need it.

Or if you’re working on reacting to separation, you may need a good, sound cry to be truthful with yourself about how you’re feeling now that you’re living a life without your pet, or without being able to get up and go to the mall when you want to because of coronavirus.

With each of these pieces of the 6 R’s protocol, there’s a way that it can apply to you and your grief.

There’s healthy grief, which is transformative and feels like being true to yourself and the change occurring in your life. A lot of us have trouble with grieving because it’s seen as not okay to be sad, angry, frustrated, ugly, or any other thing that looks bad.

Grief and giving ourselves time to grieve is critical!

Coronavirus and Grief

I enjoyed listening to an episode of a podcast called Grief Out Loud in order to understand more about how I might be grieving the loss of my every day life in the last month. The episode was entitled “Episode 139: grief & coronavirus/covid-19- featuring Leslie Barber” (Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts).

I liked the way Jana DeCristofaro (the host) examined how the grief we’re experiencing now that we’re sheltering in place and social distancing can be similar to how we experience grief when someone passed away. Tragedy has become common place and front and center as some of us watch the news, fear for loved ones, experience struggles with money, and so much more.

It’s Not Always About Fighting Our Feelings

Something you said in your letter, M, seems so important to me. You used to word “combat” when you asked, “How do I combat both this time and the heightened stressors without being able to go see a therapist or psychiatrist?”

I admire that some of us want to fight for our lives and defeat the struggles that are holding us back. In life, determination can be one of the most important traits that carries us through tragedy and helps us survive. However, sometimes in life, the work we have to do is not about fighting or forcing or pushing. Sometimes the work of feeling healthy is working to be open to what we feel and open to our thoughts.

It’s like asking a question – it takes a lot of courage to ask. You can’t fight, but you can choose to hear the answer.

Thank you for sharing and I wish you well in your grief process.

Sincerely,
Sharon

 

Sharon, LMSW, MAT, is a clinical social worker and counselor who specializes in working with individuals needing a breath of insight around trauma, depression, anxiety, other invisible disabilities; people who have experienced or perpetrated domestic violence; young professionals looking for support; youth who are developing their identities; and folks who are experiencing, or would like to interrupt, intergenerational trauma.

 

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