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Voices from Shelter-in Place

  • Category: COVID-19
  • Posted On:
Voices from Shelter-in Place

As a psychologist, I have the privilege of clients letting me into their lives and sharing their stories with me. For the most part, these stories don’t overlap. Maria’s kids don’t show up in Joe’s story. The shake-up at Joe’s company isn’t part of Catalina’s story. Then every once in a while, there is a big event, like a presidential election, and all my clients talk about it.

But no event has been present in every one of my clients’ stories and hung around so long like COVID. There are some ways the virus seems to have affected my clients universally. For example, for most of my clients, COVID-19 has been the source of worry. They worry about catching the virus themselves, and they worry about family members catching COVID - especially older family members.

But more than the similarities, what has struck me are the ways the virus has shown up differently in people’s lives depending on their circumstances. For example, many clients have mentioned feeling more lonely during shelter-in-place, but for people who live alone, this has been an especially difficult time.

One client in her 60’s who is retired and lives alone has struggled with lack of human contact as well as boredom throughout shelter-in-place. She felt disappointed when her son cancelled his yearly visit to see her. “Every year my son comes to visit me from Arizona where he lives for Mother’s Day, but this year he doesn’t feel safe travelling. I was really looking forward to seeing him.”

Another group of people who have had it extra tough are clients who are caring for loved ones. “My wife has dementia and she is not ambulatory,” a client in his 70’s told me. “We have a caregiver who comes to the house in the mornings on weekdays, so I can get some respite. Since late March, I’ve been doing it all on my own. I am exhausted.”

Parents too have found themselves without their regular support system. A single mom of three girls ages 6, 9, and 13 described herself as feeling, “burnt out and a little claustrophobic, without me going to work and the kids home from school.” At the same time, she said, “I feel closer to my kids than I have in a long time. We’ve been going on walks as a family and just talking.”

Another client lost his wife to cancer in December. “You see on TV that people can’t be with their loved ones in the hospital, or that they can’t go to the funeral. I was lucky not to have that happen to me because my wife died before this COVID thing. But I’ve been grieving alone since March. I talk to my kids and grandkids on the phone, but it’s been really hard not seeing any of them, not having any of them to give me a hug or hold my hand.”

A number of clients have expressed frustration that older parents won’t listen to shelter-in-place rules. “My dad told me he’s going to do what he wants,” a woman in her 40’s told me with a mix of exasperation and admiration. “He said, ‘I’m eighty. I’ve had a good life. I’m going to do what I want and if it gets me, it gets me.”

As with most things, even it seems, a pandemic, there is the lighter side: One female client reported, “I feel a little guilty saying this, but as an introvert, shelter in place has been good for me. I don’t feel the pressure I usually do to get out and socialize all the time.” Another man said he missed seeing his co-workers, but didn’t miss his commute and found himself more productive working from home. And then there is Zoom. “I can’t stand Zoom!” a man who works in sales told me. “I have Zoom meetings all day. Then my friends want to meet for a virtual cocktail hour. Enough Zoom already!”

As you can see, experiences and motions are highly variable. If you would like to speak with a behavioral health therapist, please contact your PrimeCare Salinas, SVMC Women's Health, or SVMC Diabetes & Endocrinology Center provider for a referral.

- Dr. Noah Bruce, PsyD