These are strange and trying times. Life has changed in many ways and thoughtful people are wondering what the new normal may be like. I am acclimating myself to the vicissitudes of working in an isolated manner. I can still see the people I interact with, but they are two dimensional often pixelated versions and after a while of staring at screens my eyes grow weary. Let me make it very clear I do not like this new approach for a host of reasons including concerns about security, privacy and feelings of disconnectedness, eye strain, even anxiety that comes from engaging via screens. There are also legitimate concerns that working online dilutes the quality of service delivery, particularly in health and mental health care. It is true that tele-contact allows us to see physical reactions and some emotions so that we see and not just hear but future fears abound that funding will be significantly reduced because, in the view of those determining reimbursement rates, overhead costs are diminished when you work online.
I have observed some interesting phenomena over the last two months. While admittedly anecdotal, some have already made their way into research reports. They fall into three categories, social, emotional and educational.
I have a personal peeve. Please stop calling our behavior Social Distancing. It adds to the sense of isolation that we feel. We are distancing but that is mostly physical. Unless someone is an avowed hermit, we all need social contact. We have found this vicarious substitute for social contact and on some level it does work. Unfortunately, you cannot physically hug and kiss children, grandchildren, parents and friends via zoom. We can emoji that, but humans need physical touch. I don’t know how long it will take to adjust to the limited hugs or how long it will take to recover from missing them.
We can also have “dinner with friends” via social media but there is something distant and lacking when we are not at the same table. Zoom parties are a fair substitute but I hear from many that have attended such events that they miss being physically present.
There are reports that many are experiencing a variety of emotional and psychological reactions to the pandemic. Some of us have gone into a version of Imposter Syndrome mode. The joke among professionals in a variety of fields from health care to the media is that you only wear a shirt or sweater on top but no need for pants. We are playing a role that allows us to not be as professional as we would otherwise be. And while that may help some to diminish the sense of anxiety, it does not work for others. I have seen a significant spike in anxiety, depressive and adjustment disorders either triggered or exacerbated by the pandemic. A shocking recent news item conveyed the horrible suicide of a top emergency room doctor who had been infected with Covid19. This is tragic. She, however, may not be unique. I have seen many colleagues in health care succumbing to the overwhelming suffering and death and limited resources resulting from the Corona virus. I have not heard of anyone else committing suicide, but I have spoken with too many experiencing a sense of pain so overwhelming that they express no hope. I have also spoken with far too many young people experiencing intra-family abuse, emotional. physical and sexual.
And then there is education or distance learning or more accurately being a teacher/parent full time while working full time. Over the last two weeks I spoke with about 20 parents regarding how their children are adapting, well actually, not adapting to online learning. These are parents of grade school, junior high and high school children. I have also spoken with several teachers. Everyone is expressing frustration. There was no time to prepare curricula for the change and no way to help students adapt to sitting in front of a screen for hours instead of in a classroom next to friends and peers. Students are distracted, they play, sing or just shut down instead of listening to their teachers. This is also apparently true for some university level students. A university professor I have contact with wrote “the students in my university classes are almost all choosing to access the content “later” rather than attend live – they tell me that they find it too difficult to find that 50 minutes to sit and listen to class and focus on the video lecture and discussion in one sitting and prefer to access the material later when I assume they can take it in small chunks and probably multi-task while watching lecture videos”
It is no wonder that many school districts are dropping grades for this last semester of this year, while others are ending classes early and still others are considering opening classrooms in the summer to compensate for this valuable loss of educational involvement.
While adjusting seems difficult and troubling I believe in the human spirit, and I do believe that at some point soon there will be a recovery which we can all adapt to rapidly. If you are feeling down, blue or just plain negative please reach out. You can get help to find your internal resilience. There are people out there who will help.