In short, a great deal.
Friday March 13th ended up being the last day of school here in Montana, very possibly for the school year. I recall it being a busy day, I got to my office around 950 after the usual Friday morning therapist meeting, and had a session each hour until school got out at 250. I squeezed in an emergency session with a client who was having a resurgence of PTSD-related flashbacks, and on the way out chatted briefly with the guidance staff about how the Friday the 13th superstition was a bunch of crap. Late Sunday afternoon I got word that school would be canceled for the next week, by the end of the week my colleagues and I had official guidelines on doing therapy via Zoom. By the end of the following week the state had expanded Medicaid rules to include sessions over the phone, and we had word that due to reduced clients visits decreasing revenue we’d all be taking a 20% percent pay cut. This past week, week 4, was the first doing distance psychotherapy where my sessions were close to 80% of what they used to be, the first where I was doing my job in the way I want.
Much of the teeth-grinding about schools being out across the US (and, I assume, the world) goes back to all the implicit functions of public education. Being a psychotherapist in a school works both because school is the mechanism of socialization backstopping parenting, and thus the mechanism of stress of children as they begin to find that their upbringing will fall short of what society demands of them. On a pragmatic level, this means that I’m seeing clients who due to family issues probably wouldn’t make it to office appointments consistently. By extension, it can’t be too much of a surprise when many of them have struggled to keep regular Zoom or phone appointments, even in the face of lots of reminders. Some of my families have truly risen to the occasion. One client, still in state custody, returned to living with her mother mere days before Friday the 13th, and has with no external structure logged on to virtual middle school exactly at 8am every day since. Others have foundered; kids waking at noon and doing nothing but gaming and youtube, or parents descending back into substance abuse by means of coping with the anxiety they can’t yet say out loud.
These families, and many of my friends and colleagues, have in my less stressed and myopic moments given me profound appreciation for how little our family life has changed in the past four weeks. We did decide, in the face of my salary reduction and an uncertain future, that M should go back to work. We found ease in her old employer taking her back gladly and in a matter of days, and security in mitigating any financial uncertainty, but also anxiety in that her job exposes her to the general public. So that last few weeks I’ve been waking as usual, or often a bit later, and using that extra rest to manage the many things I can’t control in my professional life. I end work early in the afternoon, so M can go in to her job, and I can take over management of Little Bear, Little Cloud, and their endless enthusiasm for running in circles, noise, and stealing each others toys.
We are happy every day to have a generation background that put us on the path towards stable housing and a healthy, easy marriage. We are grateful for and enjoying more time around each other, having bought a house with generous space and a good yard, and most especially it being spring in our less busy part of the world. This past week the days were sunny and for the first time all year, into the 60s F. With kind weather, daylight until nearly 8pm, and empty public land in all directions the boys and I have been doing just what we would have done normally, except with a start several hours earlier. In the past week we had creek time, canyon time, saw carp spawning inches under our packraft, and I got a bright cold morning to ski a local peak. The small people have each other for company, aren’t yet in school, and as long married, natural introverts M and I feel the social constraints but lightly. If the current state of affairs continued for a few months, I wouldn’t much mind until well into summer.
This is more than I can say for my clients. For most the removal of outside structure has laid bare just how thin and ill-practiced are their internal coping skills. This has cut across class lines, though my more affluent families can more readily purchase external supports (e.g. distractions). It will make good fodder for discussion, with those who survive the closure of their world with their basic needs far enough intact to be able to look beyond bare essentials. My broader concern has in the past week evolved into a certainty; that nationally and globally these months will see an escalation in familial trauma that when combined with academic and social delays and higher levels of disease and death within extended families will resonate for the rest of my life, and likely beyond.
That the Bear and Cloud will likely, hopefully only recall this as a peculiar episode their own kids might read about in history is an object equally of comfort and guilt.