Marriage & Family Therapy

It’s the beginning of week five of being at home and practicing social distancing. Right before schools were supposed to start again after the March holidays (in Hamburg, Germany at least), we got the news that for the next month we will be staying home, working from home, schooling from home, and distancing ourselves from others. Needless to say, my [and many people’s] anxiety went through the roof.

The first couple of weeks were absolutely chaotic and filled with questions about how to manage work and having kids around full-time. Somehow families all around have managed: kids are being home-schooled (or not) and parents are working (sort of).

Questions about health and going out were, and have been, less easy to answer. News outlets are constantly bombarding us with information about the hows and whys of this pandemic. It seems that feeling overwhelmed is the new normal.

Living this pandemic in Germany, however, feels like a ‘good’ place to be at during this situation. There are restrictions in place but life so far seems to be going on as normal as could be.

In Hamburg, we can still go out and enjoy bike rides and strolls by the river and parks, as long as it’s a maximum of two people keeping a safe [1.5 meter] distance from each other. As the weeks go by, the fear that was so present has slowly been loosening its grip. People are enjoying going out and socializing as safely as possible. Families and friends and lovers are out and about in this beautiful city. A few days ago, while biking, I saw a young man and his father rollerskating; and yesterday, in the park, a family with two young children playing ball. Their laughter made me turn around and smile.

It’s strange, observing how people are responding in this situation. Week five of this shutdown is starting, and we have had more time to process this situation. Something that has become clear is that our well-being is not only about our physical health but also about our emotional and mental health,
and that to keep healthy we need each other.

We need affection and touch.
We need to talk and be listened to.
We need to be reassured and comforted.
We need to not be alone.
We thrive in connection with others, and we wither in isolation.

In my work as a therapist in the past weeks, a common thread has emerged: how intense this isolation is being felt. How this social distancing is impacting the core of our being. I feel this myself: the need to look out for emotional solace in the words, sight, and touch of others. I’m blessed to be in close proximity with my children, and having a close emotional connection to loved ones helps in not feeling alone.

But it is not enough.

I crave the daily interactions with the people in the street, on the bus, at my kids’ schools, at work. I crave the sound and the sight of a bustling city. Not having access to that, I fill up my emotional needs through phone calls, video calls, pictures, voice messages — all have established themselves as a part of my daily routine, and they ease the sense of loneliness. Talking to my neighbors from doorway to doorway — always mindful of the distance — helps. It’s good enough but not enough.

And I wonder how we, as a society, are going to come out of this?

I hope that there is going to be a greater focus in nurturing relationships, and in recognizing that in doing so, we are protecting ourselves.

I hope that families continue to spend and enjoy time with each other. That for parents and children, rollerskating on any given day becomes a usual occurrence.

I hope that couples keep on discovering the nuances that make each other laugh and rejoice. That intentionally spending time in each other’s presence becomes the very essence of their connection, and not a thing to schedule only for special occasions.

I hope that we don’t let ourselves be distracted by gadgets and mindless entertainment that keeps us from intentionally connecting with each other: talking, listening, seeing, expressing, receiving affection.

My hope is that we come out of this unbelievable and unprecedented experience wiser and kinder. That our governments and societies allow themselves to learn from this, that the emotional repercussions of this experience are not forgotten, buried under the weight of other equally significant issues.

I yearn to go back to “normal”, I do. But I hope that this new normal includes a closer connection with the people in our lives — both close and afar. In the past weeks, I’ve seen more of my family than in the past years. We are spread out across two continents and three countries, and in a twist of fate, social distancing has given real meaning to the words, “I’ll talk to you soon”.

How surprising it is to realize that there is a silver lining in all of this chaos. Connection is at the core of our human essence, and oh, how absolutely magical is it to be connected.

*Story originally on Medium (