2-for-1 Mental Health

Photo by Finn on Unsplash

I see a therapist twice a month… vicariously. But I’m not going to let the fact that I’m not the one being counseled limit MY personal growth.

It is my wife, working with her therapist, Michelle, who enables me to improve my mental health 2nd hand. We both enjoy talking about what happened in her therapy sessions, so I show up every Tuesday to get a comprehensive review after each one. So, through my wife’s therapy and self-improvement regimen, I, too, have grown as a human being. It’s 2-for-1 mental health.

Recently Michelle has emphasized the need to pause and GRIEVE for our losses, and the disruption to our lives caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. Unlike people I know, we were lucky to not have to add loved ones to the list of things we’ve lost.  

So it feels wrong to talk about grieving for the missed desert camping trip, the family visit to Colorado, and the summer barbecues with friends when others have suffered immensely greater loss. But Michelle stressed that most of us are walking around without having really addressed what happened to us. She points out that our lives were dramatically, historically disrupted, regardless of whether we lost family members to the pandemic. The world is not as it was, she says, and it would be healthier to acknowledge the changes instead of just muscling through this new life configuration. 

So I’m going to take her advice. What follows is a list of things I will grieve. 

Hmmm. This is harder than I thought. In truth, MY life is actually BETTER than it was. Sure, I was kind of anxious when I was furloughed, but now I’m back to work. IN MY SWEATS. My dress pants and button-up shirts haven’t seen the light of day in 15 months!

And I don’t have to spend nearly 2 hours a day in traffic that – by the way – makes me want to hurt people. I like not hurting people, after all. It’s kind of my brand.

AND I have more money in my checking account because I’m not forking out $200 a month for gas. 

AND people are much more careful now to avoid bumping into me on my walks. AND I talk to my friends online more than I did before. So, for the first time, I’m beginning to wonder if Michelle actually knows what she’s talking about here.

But no. When has she ever been wrong? 

So, what do I need to acknowledge as a loss? Let’s see… 

Ah yes – I should take a moment to grieve over the fact that I did not get to go to my nephew’s middle school graduation this year. I didn’t get to remind him who I am – his uncle – “Your mom’s brother? Uncle Mike?” And I wasn’t able to give him a card that he would not value in any way. 

Wait, that didn’t come out right. I just mean I didn’t get to connect with the boy. I didn’t get to try and have an awkward conversation with him like usual. You know, family stuff. Important. Family. Connections. I just hope I get to remind him who I am later this year.

Hmmmm… What else… 

Oh wait – I just thought of another thing I will miss. Slightly less awkward hugs. So before the pandemic I was always a little bit fumbly about things like whether I should give someone a hug. My inner child definitely wants to hug everyone, all the time. But I know not everyone is into this idea, and I sincerely don’t want to impose myself on others. So hug or no hug? It was always a big question. 

But now it’s super-weird. I have to factor in the vaccination element now, so quite frankly, the inner calculus I face with the hug/no-hug dilemma might just be more than my inner child can handle. At least before the pandemic I could just be awkward. Now it’s REALLY awkward. So let’s take a moment to reflect on this.

Actually, I did think of something that I will truly grieve… I can no longer lick my fingers to more easily open the produce bag at the grocery store. Given the whole pandemic/infectious vectors problem, it is very much frowned upon if you lick your fingers and – you know – touch things. Definitely poor form these days. So I will miss the sweet simplicity of those few empowering molecules of saliva that allow me to avoid spending 5 fucking minutes struggling to open a bag for my goddamned asparagus.

You know – I actually feel better! This really works. Thanks, Michelle! This grieving thing is so cathartic… I wonder if I can think of anything else…

Well, I mean, I guess it was kind of nice to be around people on a more regular basis. But if I think about it – is that REALLY true? What was it about being around people that I liked? 

Free pizza – that’s it. When I worked at the office there was almost always free pizza leftover from some team meeting. Or cookies, doughnuts sometimes even catered food like barbecue or falafel… mmmm. So, OK, it’s not the people that I miss as much as it’s the free food. I grieve for free food.

Wait – am I some kind of monster for grieving for free food?! 

No. If I’m a monster, I’m the Cookie Monster (haha!). The truth is that all that free food wasn’t doing me a bit of good, so let’s just take that off the plate (har har) for now.

Again, there she is, almost on cue, the 2nd-hand voice of my therapist conveniently saying, “It’s OK, Mike. You’re just being honest. Good job.” 

So look, I feel like this whole grieving thing has gone pretty well. It’s really helped me integrate the losses I’ve suffered. I kind of crushed it, to be honest. I feel prepared for whatever life throws my way. I can’t wait to hear what Michelle has to teach me – er us, I mean – next. 

Thanks Michelle!

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