“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
– Leonard Cohen
Covid-19 and Disconnecting
It’s been five months since I self-quarantined; ample time for intrapersonal assessments and re-evaluation during these dark times–time for introspection and self-examination—time for self-exploring and self-reflection, and time for re-alignment of values, priorities, principles and the choices we will make.
So, what have I learned?
Much of what I have learned may be due to my age. Approaching my 81st birthday this October and having lived eight decades has had a significant impact on my learnings as well as providing me with the wisdom that comes with being an octogenarian.
I believe these challenging times we have been faced with have given deeper meaning and understanding to what really matters. Now, in the twilight of my life with most of it far behind me, I had an epiphany these last six weeks that gave me insight to the universe. I realized just how connected we are despite the disconnection we are experiencing.
There have been numerous eloquent writings and editorials published by well-known authors, philosophers, psychologists, politicians, educators and more expounding and postulating theories and beliefs on this subject all during these difficult months. They appear to be expressions of visceral and guttural sensations and provocative thoughts most of us have experienced while trying to make sense out of the chaos and crisis.
Now with so much time passed, I have a clearer understanding of how the universe works without ever taking quantum physics nor having any knowledge of quantum mechanics. The epiphany toured through my body syncing with my mind and spirit. It was an exquisite understanding of why things are the way they are and the perfection of it all.
By now you are piqued with wonder and curiosity. I am not convinced that words can fully express the shift to my new paradigm. It may be unique to me, but worth the effort to share, even if it falls short of my experience. I feel blessed that it happened, even if it caused me greater stress than I have ever known. I don’t want to go into details as it will breach confidentiality and unnecessary to deliver the essence. Let’s just say it was very personal, perhaps the only way it could have brought me to my knees coupled with a sense of salvation and clarity.
It happened in perhaps the most beautiful setting imaginable. It was a perfect day. A sunlit, cloudless blue sky seamlessly tinged the edge of the blue mountain ridge. My daughter, Mia, along with my granddaughter, Lili and I were lounging on our condo deck over-looking a fifty-mile view, surrounded by indigenous foliage and native birds chirping while gentle wind whispered through the deepest greenery. Occasionally a hummingbird would flutter by nursing a flower or sip the nectar from the feeder. We chatted, laughed, and sang songs to accompany the exquisite countryside with its euphonious sounds harmonizing with the chimes that clanked along. Our senses were heightened and our mood, joyful. In the lightness of being, we were all enjoying this perfect July afternoon. Little did we know that this picture-perfect summer day was to morph into a perfect storm in just two days.
As the perfect day turned towards dusk, a gentle rainfall quenched the thirst of the deepest greenery reflecting a rainbow that graced the sky, crafting a flawless setting to a glorious day. Vivid colors adorned the heavens across our fifty-mile view, each one radiant and brilliant as if God brushed it with his own hand. It was magical and breathtaking. We stared in awe at the colorful arch against an already flamboyant landscape. Lili, a performing arts major just beginning her senior year and incredibly talented, began singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow as an encore to this perfect day. Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina anytime on that perfect day.
What Suddenly Changed?
Then, without warning Lili became seriously ill and had to be taken to the emergency room at a local hospital. It was not Covid-19, however just as disconcerting and frightening. We all forgot about the perfect rainbow, the sunlit, cloudless blue sky and the deepest greenery. Our full attention was upon my beautiful granddaughter who had an emotional collapse. She was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder coupled with cognitive distortion. The catalyst was most likely the virus however, underlying conditions were waiting for years to emerge.
Juxtaposition to this was that my son, Andy, Lili’s father a physician, had just been tested for Covid-19. He was to receive the results on the day he was scheduled to join us along with my other daughter, Paige. It would have been five days after being tested. He was not concerned as the clinic where he worked often tested the staff as part of their protocol. When the results had not been received as expected, he postponed his departure for the following day. He was anxious to be with his daughter, his only child. Her mother was indisposed and unavailable. We all agreed it was more important that he arrive as quickly as possible. Our attention before and during his presence was devoted to attending to her needs and giving her emotional support. It took all the effort we could each spare, individually and collectively. We were consumed with her intractable night terrors, relentless crying spells and intrusive thoughts. The perfect storm had begun stealthily slipping into the days that followed.
Mia and I were terrified observing the symptoms of Lili’s breakdown, and dependent on an unknown therapist that I chose among many that had been referred by the emergency room physician. Not a psychiatrist, he was uncertain as to what medicine to prescribe, leaving me delegated to find a psychiatrist in South Florida who could follow her with continuity when she returned home. After hours of searching I finally found one that would treat her by telemed. He was as unknown to me as the mental health counselor I chose in Boone. We needed a medical evaluation as soon as possible so the correct medication could be prescribed. I was assisted by a friend and colleague, who found a doctor who would be willing to help us.
I was grateful and relieved that he accepted our request after she interviewed two other physicians who had refused. He spoke to me and Lili briefly by phone and prescribed his drug of choice that she began taking the following day. As in all psychotropic meds, it’s always a hit and miss, so we would have to wait the time needed for the drug to take effect hoping it was the right choice. It would take anywhere from two to six weeks. We made another telemed appointment three weeks in advance with the psychiatrist to assess and evaluate if the prescribed meds were effective, or would need a higher dose and/or additional drugs. We were all in a turmoil, especially my son Andy, who gave little thought to his Covid test outcome due to the urgency of being with his daughter. My other daughter, Paige, joined him, leaving her husband and three children behind to offer whatever support she could give us. Paige is a psychotherapist in private practice, so between her and myself, we were like book ends of emotional and mental support. We had to be cautious not to take on the role of a therapist, as she is family and not our patient. We did the best we could being mindful of our boundaries.
It was the day before Paige, Andy and Lilli would be leaving to go home that he received the news from the clinic that he had tested positive. Both my daughters, my granddaughter and I had been exposed for an entire week, never giving thought that we were at risk. It had been eleven days since he was tested. Needless to say we all fell helplessly into a panic.
Just as we thought it was safe to go back into the water…
My son and granddaughter left the following morning on the 12 hour drive back to So. Florida. My daughters and I were to leave the following day. Although we thought it might be best if we stayed in North Carolina to be tested and quarantined. Paige’s husband was adamant that she return on our scheduled day of departure. He had been a Mr. Mom for that week patiently attending to the needs of their three adolescent children and three dogs as well as his job, remotely. He had been wary of her accompanying her brother knowing that his test results were not yet available. Due to the family crisis he reluctantly capitulated to her desire to support us.
That same afternoon heading into the parking lot of a local grocery store, we heard a sudden jolt and realized we ran over a rock that became lodged under the car. Desperate, we called AAA to retrieve the rock. Saturday, the following day we packed and cleaned the condo preparing to leave the next morning. Later that afternoon we serendipitously learned the brakes on Mia’s car were not working properly. We surmised the rock had been the culprit that caused damage to the brakes, leaving us to wait until Monday to have the brakes repaired thus delaying our trip back home. We decided that since we would need to be tested and most probably have to be in quarantine for two weeks, that we should make North Carolina the official site for our testing and quarantine much to the disfavor of Paige’s husband who demanded we leave as soon as they were repaired.
“What would happen if you became ill with the virus and I couldn’t be near you”? He exclaimed.
“It would be no different if I went home. I would need to be quarantined to protect all of you, so I would have to stay at Mom’s with Mia for 14 days anyway. Besides, would you want to drive 12 hours in a car wearing a mask?”
Once more he capitulated avoiding an argument.
“It’s funny. Your family always thinks I say no and my family thinks I always say yes”!
The decision was made. We stayed!
It would be two days later that we would drive an hour and a half to be tested. The clinic was in a small, innocuous southern town, barren of stores and villagers. It was a rapid testing site that took no time to go through and only a twenty minute wait to receive the results. As our anxiety escalated we found ourselves praying silently in the car until the technician came to us with the results. One at a time we received our results with approximately ten minutes in between before we learned we were all negative. Our sighs were audible among us and we felt a sense of relief for the first time in three weeks.
As Mia backed out of the parking space, we heard a loud crunching sound.
“Oh shit!” Mia shouted. “Now what”?
She had backed into a car that was not visible from her side or back mirrors. The unseen car had not been parked in a parking space, but instead under a tree that was a blind spot to Mia. She checked both cars and fortunately discovered neither had been damaged but the man whose car she backed into insisted that the sheriff be called. We learned that there was only one sheriff in the county so we waited in the hot sun, sitting in the car for more than an hour, wondering if we were living under a dark cloud. Worried that he would find a reason to use this as an opportunity for his own benefit and create a law suit, we were thankful that the sheriff concurred that there was no significant damage and no ticket was served to her. Relieved once more, we drove back to our condo hoping to call it a day.
Could anything else go wrong?
Just as we thought it was safe to go back in the water….
It did. That same evening after I had gone to sleep, unbeknownst to me, my daughters were confronted by a large spider in the guest bathroom. Not familiar with indigenous spiders of the terrain, terrified, they put towels along the bathroom doors to the guest bedroom and foyer, then called the police. Refusing their request to rescue these damsels in distress, they called the fire department only to learn they were closed. The following morning, they called an exterminating company to search for the demon that had entered their domain. The exterminator searched for the spider that was never seen again while he cleared all the other unseen spider webs the girls had missed perhaps for years. This untenable situation caused a post-traumatic stress disorder that forced Paige to sleep on the living room sofa for the next four days until she was convinced it was gone.
The light in the crack
Not unlike the classic novel, Candide, by Voltaire and The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, my experience was similar to the best and worst of times—the essence of life! The worst has been written above; the best was the opportunity for our family, minus my youngest son to be connected on a spiritual journey to support my granddaughter through the worst time in her life. The best was that our energy of love, connection and a sense of belonging paved the way for recovery. The light in the crack was providing a secure attachment.
Although not out of the woods yet, she has a plan of action that we all helped to create and implement. It had been the first time in five months that most of my family gathered around during a double crisis to achieve a sense of connection and healing in the midst of a global pandemic.
The good news!
Soon after Andy and Lili returned home, we learned that a re-test showed that he was negative. A week later, after he had the antibodies test, he shared that he never had the virus. It had been a false positive! Our experience taught us many things, one of the most important is to trust our feelings and have faith that the universe and God, as we know God has a plan, even if we don’t understand it. If Andy had waited for his first test results and learned that it had been positive, our outcome would have been entirely different. We can ask ourselves why it took eleven days to learn his test results when it normally takes no more than five to seven—perhaps a diving intervention?
What to do?
The crucible was choosing: to leave not knowing his test results or staying until they were determined. It was a no win either way. Andy wanted to support his daughter in her time of need. We all considered the risk but chose to have him and Paige drive up together despite the unknown consequences. Had he not, the outcome would have been entirely different.
How many times in our lives are we faced with these conflicts?
Each time we choose, we never know if it was the right choice. We often wonder, what would it have been if we had made the other. We just followed our intuition and trusted our feelings, praying we did the right thing. The lessons learned gave new meaning to each of us. We already knew them but we needed to be reminded once again.
In May of 2019, I celebrated a reunion with my fellow classmates of a three-year master class we all attended together from 2012-2015. One of our colleagues, wrote to us after she returned to her home in Paris. The core of her letter was about a secure attachment. I included her full letter in my book, I HATE THE MAN I LOVE: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success. I dedicated my book to Judith, my kindred spirit. Here is the essence and meaning of her missive:
What is love and what does it feel like to be ‘securely attached?
I am referring to love and secure attachment on an ‘essence or soul level’ rather than on an ‘ego level’.
Feeling loved for who I am, not what I do,
Feeling secure and that someone will protect me,
Feeling able to be vulnerable,
Feeling loving eyes,
Feeling loving touch,
Feeling cherished, adored, unique, special,
Feeling appreciated for my differences and talents,
Feeling accepted when my behavior is different than others.
I would add this:
Feeling loveable and worthy!
This is what we provided Lili during her crisis. The medicine and therapy she will be receiving will of course be part of her recovery. However, had she not had what we were able to deliver, all the medicine and therapy in the world would not have been as effective as the medicine we, her family gave: a secure attachment!
Judith began her missive with the following quote:
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
– Lao Tzu
Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author of I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success
This article first appeared on joanechilds.com. Reprinted with permission.