Carolyn Hax Live: It's okay to hate Zoom

Apr 24, 2020

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your comments about her current advice column and questions about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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It's Fried-day! Hi.

My 70yo mother with hypertension and COPD isn’t social distancing and I’m sad and angry. That’s all.

It is, isn't it. I'm sorry.

This is turning into a massive exercise in letting go.

 

I've been working from home for over a month now.. I really didn't expect this to continue on for so long and I am feeling my productivity and motivation slip. My partner works in the ICU and we are lucky to not have too many covid19 cases but we both have been very careful. I work in a small office and I think I would be able to maintain a 6 foot distance between others but we do have a shared kitchen and bathroom space. I am the only one in the office that has been working from home and I feel like a slacker because of it. I don't know what to do here. Keep trying my best and stay home and try extra hard to get everything done or just go into the office and be super careful?

You're home due to your partner's risk of bringing the virus home, yes, and therefore your risk of taking it to the office?

If that's the case, then your productivity is secondary and you're doing more for your colleagues by staying home.  

It's normal for your productivity and motivation to slip here--both given the dreary circumstances and the fact that you're new to working from home. I made the transition years ago, willingly, and it's not an easy adjustment.

But this is what you're being asked to do now, so you will find a way to do it, because that's what we do. You may never be thrilled with how well you adapt. The fact of adapting itself is something to feel good about, though. You got handed something really difficult and you're managing, and you're doing it for the good of others. Thanks for that.

My retired wife and I recently did a 'drive-by' happy birthday for a nephew's child. Chatting from a respectful distance, he mentioned that he thought the virus concerns were over-blown and that they might stop by our house for a visit soon. Being older, my wife and I intend to distance ourselves from groups into the foreseeable future. What's the best way to respectfully decline friends or relatives 'stopping by' unannounced at our doorstep in these time?

Open a window that's six-plus feet from your doorstep, say hi, and that you miss them, but you're not seeing people in-person right now. You don't need to be any more respectful than that.

This letter really resonated with me because I am definitely the "planner" in my group of friends. With my old group of friends from a prior town, I planned and organized all our group events - weekly trivia, beer festivals, book club, you name it - and sometimes it felt like kind of a drag, but overall that group was wonderful at expressing gratitude and appreciation for my role planning everything. Once I moved away, they mostly stopped hanging out as a group because I was not there to plan events, and even now, years later, they tell me how much they miss me being there to get everyone together. I know the letter seemed to be more about one-on-one interaction, but chances are your friends are just wired differently and it doesn't occur to them to reach out first for any number of reasons (just like it does not occur to my old or new groups of friends to plan a group event). And maybe your friends are not as vocal, but their willingness/eagerness to get together when you initiate contact certainly suggests they are grateful to you for taking that step.

I appreciate your perspective, thanks.

Hi Carolyn, do you have any advice for helping a normally very forward-looking person survive this time? My plans for this year included three things I was very excited about: a half-marathon in a beautiful city (canceled), a summer trip to visit relatives in Sardinia (canceled), a big professional trip (postponed for now but probably canceled). My loved ones who seem to be thriving during this time have one thing in common, which is that they get a lot of enjoyment out of their daily routines of reading and taking walks through the neighborhood. I guess I am just a more goals-oriented sort and I was running on the anticipation of exciting future plans. Now those are all out the window and it feels like there is nothing left to enjoy. What can I do to fight this silly feeling?

First of all, stop dismissing it as silly. You feel it, it's hard, it's worthy of at least your respect. Feeling the grief you feel instead of pushing it away is sometimes the one thing you have to do to get unstuck.

Second, I urge you to apply this respect to the way you're living now, and recognize you need to satisfy the planning/anticipation side of yourself, even under these plan-resistant conditions. 

Third, start planning--even if it's just putting things together that you don't actually book. Or, training for something you don't know exactly when you'll be able to do. 

Third (a), realize when this kind of planning only makes the itch feel worse, and switch to something utterly absorbing (or as close to it as you can get): A really well-written TV series comes to mind, because there's anticipation built into that. Same with good books. If you have art/craft skills, a project can absorb you, too.

One more thing. There may (seem to be) nothing left to enjoy, but that's now. There's a later coming. Not knowing when that is doesn't mean it's never. So it might be helpful to channel people who have put up with deprivation of one kind or another and come through the other side. 

I live in the same neighbourhood as my friend's grandparents and the rest of their family (including my friend) lives a few hours away. I offered to do their shopping when the pandemic started. The issue (maybe non-issue) is that their grandpa is still going out and doing errands at what seems like the same frequency as when things are normal. I call about twice a week, sometimes more, to see if they need anything from the store and they have only needed stuff from me once. Both of them are in their eighties and the grandma told me in March that each time her husband goes out and does the shopping, she hopes it will be the last time he goes out. She has very limited mobility, whereas he is quite active. He's a semi-retired doctor who now works remotely, and is the sort of guy who still drives even though he can only see out of one eye. It's not my family, so I don't want to meddle, but my friend's sister thanked me for helping them out and I didn't know what to say, since I've hardly done anything besides calling. The grandpa is stubborn but would likely listen to his son (friend's dad), so I'm debating saying something to my friend since she and her family might be under the wrong impression that I'm regularly doing their shopping. Can you offer any perspective? I don't want to add to anyone's stress right now.

I think in these situations, when you're not sure how involved to get in someone else's business, the easiest decision is to share bare facts when invited to. So, your friend's sister thanking you was a chance to say, "You're welcome--I haven't really done anything besides call, though." That's something you'd presumably say any time someone thanked you for more than you actually did.

They can do with that what they will.

I'm sure your friends appreciate how conscientious you are.

Hi Carolyn, thanks for the twice a week chats. My mother is a worrier. She likely has treatable anxiety but refuses to take medication because "it's a mother's job to worry." I have an autoimmune condition that I have not told my mother about but my partner knew. My partner and I broke up in February and I was furloughed this week from my job. An uncle and a cousin just died of COVID and my mother wants me to travel home to the funerals. How should I handle this? My mother knows nothing about these changes in my life but I don't want to expose myself to COVID just to keep up the appearance that everything's fine.

Oh no, I'm sorry for your losses.

And for your mother's stubborn insistence on discomfort.

Even if you didn't have an autoimmune condition, though, the funeral would be a nope. The message from public health authorities still seems consistently against travel. Say you're heartbroken to miss it and don't discuss/explain yourself further. 

I'm surprised an anxious person who sees it as her job to worry is even considering a gathering right now. The virus is hitting family groups hard when they gather. 

Six weeks into this, I can say with certainty that I hate Zoom. It exhausts and drains me in ways in-person meetings don't, and I find it awkward for social purposes, too. But when a group organizes a weekly chat (My mom's side of the family. My dad's side of the family. My college friends. My work buddies), I don't know how to say no. For in-person events, I'd just say, "Sorry, can't make it!" and leave it at that. But now it feels like there's no excuse for not making it. I don't have to leave my house! Everything else has been canceled; it's not like I might instead be heading to a yoga class. Do I just say, "I love you guys, but I hate these chats"?

Sure, say that. And/or cut out of them early. And/or do every other one so that the number of weekly Zoom gatherings is cut in half. 

I'd say just to wipe them all off your calendar, but given the so many different varieties of desperation going around, I think it's generally a good idea for groups to try to meet each other partway, just so no one is left with nothing in the way of a lifeline. 

I never realized how radically different my husband and I viewed housework until the quarantine stuck us in the house 24/7. My worldview is, two people sharing a living space should pitch in equally. His worldview, it turns out, is, "I'll clean things when the dirt bothers me; you clean things when the dirt bothers you," and--lucky him--the dirt never bothers him. He'd be happy to clean the bathroom only after a month's worth of grime had accumulated, but since I'm bothered after a week, I'm...always the one cleaning the bathroom. We've fought endlessly about this. He thinks I'm "unfairly holding him to my arbitrary standards." I think he's using his dirt-tolerance as an excuse to let me pick up all the slack. And frankly, what bothers me most is that he'd rather let me be unhappy and stressed than spend 20 minutes a day doing the dishes or running a vacuum. This feels like a big issue. Is it a big issue, or are emotions just high because they're high for everyone right now?

Well, emotions are high, but this is a huge, often marriage-ending issue.

That's because doing all the housework is flat-out miserable when there is an able-bodied person just sitting there watching you do it. Not bothered *at all* that you're doing everything.

This is usually the marriage-ending part. How can someone who loves you be okay with leaving things around for you to clean up, knowing it demoralizes you? No hired housekeeper can fix that one.

That's something you're going to need to say out loud.

Plus, he's arguing in bad faith. He'd never say to you, "Go do all the housework for me"--right? (If he would, then picture me backspacing all of this to type, seeya!) But he's holding to an argument that means you do all the housework for him. His position is intellectually dishonest. It's bad faith.

So please spell this out for him--even chart it if that's what he needs. "If I always clean when dirt bothers me, and you clean when dirt bothers you, and I'm bothered weekly, then you're never bothered. Ever. And therefore you never clean"--because there will only ever be a week's worth of dirt anywhere. 

Then present to him the version that would be (more) fair: Left to your own devices, you'd clean weekly. Left to his devices, he'd clean every four weeks.

Therefore, he needs to clean the bathrooms once a month. Otherwise he's taking advantage of you.

From there, you can either learn to live with a two-week cleaning cycle and alternate the cleanings, or you can clean extra as a concession to your own preferences.

Either way--of he won't play, then that's the problem, not the different standards.

BTW a lot of people in this spot find some relief by assigning chores based on wants/needs. If there's something he doesn't mind, does well, or has to have done for his own needs (laundry, e.g.) then that's his new job in your house.

Not perfect, but it's a start.

My friend "Chloe" was raised to be fairly independent (as was I), but she married "Joel," who is very traditional and likes to wax poetic about how important it is for the husband to provide so that the wife can focus all her attention on the home. I suppose this is a valid setup that works for some people, and Chloe seems happy with him, so be it. Except that for the past five years or so, with Joel's urging, Chloe is actually becoming sort of an MLM queen. My disdain for that industry aside, I find it really strange that spending several hours each day working on building her MLM cred somehow does not count as "work." She knows not to bug me about sales or try to recruit me, but the entirety of her social media presence revolves around what looks to me like a regular job. My question is how to respond to Joel when he inevitably (and frequently) goes off on one of his self-congratulatory diatribes about how wonderful to have his wife home and what an incredible feeling it is to provide for her and their child.

"Okay, Joel." 

There's no winning this one.

Except maybe with the dawning that your friend has gone the way of so many friends, down a path that reveals more about how you differ than about what you share.

Do keep an eye out, though, if you can, on your friend's well-being. People who brag about their primacy in a relationship are often not just blowhards, but also abusers in training--especially if something dents his ability to provide, and suddenly he has a cherished and deliberately crafted self-image he feels he has to maintain. Can go sideways fast.

Dear Carolyn, I’m not even sure what to say as I write this. I’m a mental healthcare worker and I’m struggling. A brief survey of my friends and colleagues in the field and we’re all feeling pretty isolated and unseen. It’s not really about the recognition, most of us understand that mental health isn’t something sexy or something that people routinely want to see or talk about. But I need to admit that I’m really worried about what an already overburdened mental health care system is facing during and after this pandemic.

Most of us are able to work remotely, which is wonderful for the physical health and safety of ourselves and our families. I’m also appreciative that I can still generate income right now.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel like we’re in the trenches too. I’m seeing signs of burnout in myself and my friends/colleagues that are not being consistently recognized. When I’ve made very real attempts at getting myself therapy, and/or medication, I need to get through this, I’ve been unsuccessful. And talking to anyone outside of my field, even those who are close to me, the message i’m receiving is that “we’re all going through a rough time right now“ or “that’s the job you signed up for”, or “just have a glass of wine”.

I can’t help but think that the message we as a field have put out there is that therapists aren’t supposed to need/talk about requiring support, which is absolutely not true! We can’t absorb and carry the problems of the world alone., especially right now. I think there is a fear in the field that if we are viewed as needing help, then we can’t be providers of help and consequently people won’t feel comfortable getting help of their own.

That’s ridiculous, right? we need to support each other in this, no?

Carolyn, I sit in a room in my house for 18 hours a week talking about COVID anxiety/angst, and healthcare trauma. I try to support the person/family who is stuck in the house with an abuser. I worry about the patient I spent years stabilizing that’s relapsed on drugs or gone off their meds. I try to calm the patient who had OCD or agoraphobia before this, and has since deteriorated. In my not-small-not-big community, there has been one death from suicide and one death from drug overdose daily since the pandemic started (which equates to roughly the same number of deaths as COVID-19) and no one is talking about it-the mental health crisis!!!

I cry when my shift is over, then suck it up as best I can so that I can take sixteen steps into the next room and be a decent mom and wife. I’m starting to feel a bit hopeless myself because I just get the feeling that people don’t “get it” and it’s our fault for making the world see/feel like we can absorb everything without requiring support for ourselves.

Who is going to take care of us after we’re done taking care of everyone else? I can’t be alone in this thinking, right? - Invisible

You're not alone in this thinking, no. And i'm sorry to hear you're so burned out.

If it's any consolation at all, from where I sit, no one is taking therapists for granted. No clapping in the streets, but a million private thank yous. I also don't think therapists--or profession, any groups, for that matter--are expected right now not to need anyone's help. 

Someone wrote to one of these chats (I only saw it after I finished) to ask what happens to "ring theory" (LINK) when almost everyone is in some form of distress--and it was a great question, maybe THE question. What happens when a larger crisis puts almost everyone at the center of their own smaller crisis? How do you dump out when all dumping is, by definition, in?

Here's what I've been thinking about that, and maybe you can do better with it: The people who feel able, accept the dumped-out pain. The people who don't feel able, dump out their pain. It's kind of a free-for-all of unspoken agreements, like an emotional honor system. "I'm okay now, what have you got?" "I'm not okay, I need some help."

You, as a professional helper, have a "Dump your pain here" sign out 18 hours a week. That means you need to let people know you will need something to restore you outside those hours. Whether it's from someone directly or just in the form of time for  you to restore yourself. With all of our regular systems shut down, we have to get comfortable with asking for things we need. Maybe you won't get the right words from people (pretty crappy responses, IMO, sorry bout that), but maybe shift a level out and try to enjoy someone's company for what it is.

Something else to think about. While a lot of therapy is about helping people be okay with things they can't change, you're still probably used to being able to offer solutions, or at least help people find their own ways to solve things. Now, there's not a lot of solving to do--it's more about fortifying, sympathizing, persuading people to hold together until their usual forms of relief are available again. That's a hard switch to make, especially while you're in the position yourself of feeling worn down and needing new forms of relief. 

I'm guessing a bit here, obviously. But if that is how you're feeling, then would there be any relief in just naming this for what it is? Mentally rewriting your role as one of giving people a place to catch their breath, one hour at a time till we're through it?

This doesn't help with the pain of seeing your patients give up their hard-won ground toward health, which sounds so upsetting--but, too, your help is what got them to a strong starting point. Imagine if all this hit when they were in the condition they were before they were in your care.

You do what you can, what we're all doing.

I'm clapping for you here at my desk.

 

 

My wife's job has been eliminated in the time of COVID-19. I am still working full time and we are comfortable, but our cushion is nonexistent. We put our heads together and redid our budget to account for the new circumstances. One line item we added, at my wife's request, is a "sanity budget," i.e., since she cannot do some of the things she usually enjoys (nail salons, happy hour, movies), she is doing DIY versions instead (home manicures, craft cocktails, iTunes rentals). I am OK with this within reason, but her "sanity budget" has now extended to include fancy makeup products and clothes she will not be able to wear anywhere for the foreseeable future. Am I a jerk if I veto some of these purchases?

Focus on the sanity and the budget, not the stuff it buys. So, if the $$ is more than you're comfortable setting aside (or on fire), then revisit that and cap it at a non-insomnia-inducing amount.

If the money's the same and you're just balking at its use, then I'd drop it. 

Dear Carolyn, My husband and I (mid/late 40s, no kids) are both still working outside the home, albeit very carefully and in isolation. He outearns me by a lot, but I like my job and it is important to me to hold onto a bit of money of my own (just something my mom always taught me). But my husband now wants me to quit my job, which he feels is introducing unnecessary risk due to the very brief and marginal interactions I have with others there. For the first time in almost a decade of marriage, he has started talking about my job as if it's some pet hobby of mine, versus a legitimate career and source of income. In other words, he thinks that now is the time to eliminate everything that isn't financially necessary to our lives, even if it benefits us in other ways (like my sanity and happiness and spending money). Am I crazy and selfish to push back on this? If I ask him to drop it, he will; I just want to get an outsider's perspective on whether this is a totally unreasonable ask.

It's a reasonable ask. 

It's also reasonable to say you see this not as a little extra cash but as part of who you are. It's part of a fulfilling life. 

It's a bummer this needs to be said when a high salary presumably would have meant you didn't have to, but the more important thing is to make sure you say it now.

BTW, this doesn't negate the risk-reward conversation. I think it's appropriate for people to talk about these things, to see whether any of their choices warrant another look. What I'm saying is the job isn't (just) about money for you, and his treating it that way means you need to make that clear in the course of the conversation.

I know there are a lot of people hurting out there right now, but you deal with a lot of sadness, so I wanted you to see something happy: My daughter was born right before the world shut down. After a month of paternity leave, my husband's working from home. His company is being really flexible with work from home, and his boss is completely fine with him stepping away for a couple of hours a day to help with the baby or our two year old twins. I don't know how I would have handled him going back to work so soon; instead, I have several extra weeks (months?) of him at home and another adult. It helps that he's an extraordinary parent. This had been a huge blessing for us. Just wanted you to see something happy today.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the work you do. I finally met (via Zoom) with my counselor last week after putting it off for fear she was overbooked with people whose needs were greater than mine. It was so incredibly helpful, and I really needed it after completely breaking down at work (from home) the week before. I hope you are able to get the support you need to refill your cup, because those of us who were struggling with mental health issues before COVID are struggling more than ever, and we need you! <3

This is so great, thank you, and I'm happy to pass it along.

I hate Zoom too. I have to use it a bunch for work right now, so I was struggling with all the "fun" zooms people want to do- holiday gatherings, birthday parties, brunches, etc. It really helped to shift my perspective from "these are something I'm doing for fun" (since they're not fun for me) to "these are things I can do for people I care about during this weird time." Not in a martyr way, just as a focus on what the actual goal was. During less weird times, it'd be like picking a friend up from the airport or something. Enjoyable as a way to connect and help rather than the activity itself being innately enjoyable.

Perfect analogy, thanks.

I wish that I could help you, or at least a quiet walk outside. You are doing vital work, work that most of us cannot do. I have been concerned during this rough time, about those who suffer loneliness, and other things because of this **** virus. Thank you for being there.

Also my pleasure to post.

This jogged something else loose--the utter freakishness of everyone-in-isolation lifestyle means just about everyone is feeling unseen (literally!) and unappreciated. It cracks the door open to the awful question, what are we doing this for again? And by "this" I don't mean the isolation--we've got a handle on the "why" there, for sure--I mean the work. Why are we ____ [employment here] when at the end of the day we sit alone in our stretchies so we can sleep (badly) and do it all over again. It really has thrown into stark relief for me that the reason I've worked all along--in school as a student, at summer jobs, as an adult full-timer--is to make sure the rest of my life has an engine.

Waiting around while "the rest of my life" is on hold is a new and strange kind of exhausting.

I just focus on the fact that "indefinite" and "temporary" can both be true at once.

 

 

The LW said, "When I’ve made very real attempts at getting myself therapy, and/or medication, I need to get through this, I’ve been unsuccessful." Can they elaborate? What are the roadblocks? Maybe we can offer suggestions.

I always wonder if it is appropriate, especially during these weird/stressful times, to ask my therapist if she's doing OK. Is it?

Boundary problem, I think--but saying thank you and that you understand this must be a really hard time for her? That's a nice gesture.

Never, in a million years, would I think lesser of any therapist who was also getting help. Applause from my desk, too, for all of my therapist and other front-line friends. I'm so grateful.

Can that LW and I be friends??? I could have written that letter this morning -- same thing: best friend is suddenly traditional, goes all MLM, etc. (Also my friend went hardcore religious, too.) It hurts a lot to see a friend I thought was really similar sort of veer off into this weird, gender-traditional territory she never occupied in our youth. I feel like I've lost her. So thanks for the advice, CH; applies to me, too.

So I tell folks my old computer cannot deal with it (which is actually true), and so ask for the call-in. All Zooms have a phone option, and it is FAR less taxing.

My late husband and I came to a mutual agreement based on what he actually would do. It sounds bad but if it involved any sort of machinery, he'd do it. That meant he did all the vacuuming, did the laundry, and once we got a dishwasher, did the dishes (we had kids to do dishes for years). He also ran the lawn mower and leaf blower. The one non-machinery involved chore he liked was dusting which I never figured out but accepted with gratitude. I cleaned bathrooms, kitchens and floors plus did all the cooking and most of the grocery shopping. Was it totally equitable-probably not but it worked for us.

Would setting up a standing date solve some of your problem? Nobody has to initiate every week/quareter/year. Only the one who had a reason for dropping out would have to propose an adjustment. Easy for both you and friend.

Clever fix, thanks.

This is response to Wednesday’s chat about the writer who was judging her friend who got Covid. A close friends relative just died of covid. They stayed at home other than a trip to the grocery store once a week. They most likely got it there since they and spouse were always at their home with no visitors or other trips. So please don’t judge.

This is terrible, but important to see, thank you.

Join the session, turn your video off, read Hax or do crosswords while listening and occasionally piping in. Don’t ask me how I know this.

I have to wonder if Chloe's devotion to the MLM industry is her desperate way of trying to make enough money to get out of that relationship.

Hmm. 

I'm not saying I have all the answers (if I did, I'd be Carolyn), but I'm also kind of a planner and all the lockdown cancellations really knocked me off my game for a while. I just looked at my formerly full engagement calendar and it was all crossed out. But then I decided that I could still set goals and make plans—I just needed for them to be short-term and not rely on external circumstances. For instance, I had to cancel several outdoor adventures that I had planned with other people, and I was really wanting exercise, but it's hard for me to just work out for the sake of working out. So I built a pull-up bar and decided that I will finally train myself to do 10 proper pull-ups in a row. I'm only up to 3 quasi-pull-ups, but it's shocking how cheerful I am just to make progress on a goal. I'm also a member of a local recreational group and, since we had to cancel all of our activities, I started a weekly blog focused on improving some sport-specific skills. Again: I am amazed at how much it helps me to have a short-term target for my energy and enthusiasm. That has not only helped me focus my days, but also be more able to enjoy the occasional daydream-planning about future ideas, rather than just get depressed wondering when I'll ever be able to do that stuff again.

Would it be too pushy for the LW to add, "But your Grandpa is amazing. He still insists on doing all the shopping, no matter how much I offer."?

I liked your answer to the woman with the low dirt tolerance. How would you respond to a partner who deliberately sabotages his chores - adds too much bleach and ruins the clothing, for example?

That person is not a partner by any definition of the word. That is someone who adds to your workload on purpose.

Serious hostility problems, too. Wow.

One of the reasons I knew my college boyfriend and I wouldn't last was because his mother was a cleaning freak - vacuumed the whole house every day before leaving for work, and spent her evenings cooking dinners and cleaning. I knew I would never, ever be able to meet the standards he was accustomed to.

Ew. 

Unless he wanted someone who was emotionally present in his life, no? Instead of compulsively cleaning?

 

Don't feel alone! I'm an extreme extrovert that thrives on weekly happy hours and weekend plans. I'm currently miserable stuck at home alone BUT Zoom and any sort of video chatting has not been the answer for me. Its awful and drains the life out of me. I assume this is what introverts mean when they say they hate socializing.

Considering the average profitability of MLMs, it's very likely that Joel is in fact still the only financial provider for the family. Might be some consolation to the OP.

I thought of that, too.

While I sympathize with the OP who is caring at being home, it might help to stop thinking that your outside plans (trips, marathon) do not make you more or less goal oriented than those who seem to be content with reading and staying home. It merely means you might be more solvent, in a different profession, or simply more restless than your brethren. Those who seem to be content with routine may just be coping differently than you are with the current restrictions.

By "arbitrary", your husband is saying that your comfort level and your needs regarding your living space can be ignored because they do not meet some "objective" standard of what is clean enough. In other words, he's saying that your own feelings don't matter because some neutral third party hasn't validated your standards as correct. This isn't about housework; this is about him dismissing your feelings and gaslighting you so that you'll scrub the toilet for him.

Why not just state the facts? "Not much to thank me for. I call twice a week to see if they need anything, but they took me up on it only once."

Retired psychotherapist here. During my L-O-N-G career, I always believed (and still do) that therapists do best when they have had (and likely continue) their own therapy. There would be no way for me to be sure that I wasn't projecting my own issues (and each of us have our own issues) onto my clients if I did not recognize my own issues. So, during a time of crisis (like this), it would be imperative to have my own therapy or at least a supervision group. I know, because my husband (also a retired therapist) and I both continue to be involved with professional online activities, that there are many ways to connect with like minded professionals online. Check it out. Though I have been retired for three plus years and had many years of my own therapy, my own anxieties have risen to their highest in years during this most stressful time. I found it useful to have a phone session with my own therapist, who I haven't seen in quite some time. I see you and I see your hard work and your burnout. Find a way, even though it takes time. It will enhance your very being to nurture yourself. That there is no end in sight makes this especially hard. Best luck.

Thanks for this.

Am I the only one who saw the Peter Bogdanovich scenes in "The Sopranos" as some of the most satisfying? (Melfi's therapy sessions.)

My daughter has worked from home for years. Her suggestion to help with Zoom is to put a post-it over your own image. That way other people see you but you don't have to be thinking about how you look. Clicking on the video button and claiming your computer isn't working right is also valid.

Try also to remember that your partner's idea of cleaning may be different than yours and not to impose your standards on their cleaning job as long as they seem to be genuinely making an attempt. Nothing demotivates faster than being criticized after trying to step up your game. On the other hand, if your partner is just turning on the shower and claiming it's all good because they "steam cleaned" the bathroom, that's another story.

So what are you doing with your new time now, Carolyn?

The pandemic didn't free up much time, it mostly just shifted it. I never cooked before, for example, but now I do every night. Big change around here is there's a 1000 piece puzzle going at all times for when I need to zen out. (I used to go do stuff to clear my head.) I'm just finishing my third and there's a fourth ready to go.

I used to have one going during the summer, but I may never do a puzzle again when this is over.

Hi Carolyn, our wedding was supposed to be this weekend. A lot had gone into the planning and I was really excited about it (we're both artists, it was going to feature a lot of touches that we had designed ourselves), we were going to see old friends we haven't seen in years, and now it's canceled and our local marriage bureau is closed so we can't even get legally married. To say that I'm depressed and upset about this would be an understatement. My intended, on the other hand, is taking a silver-lining attitude toward the whole thing and keeps trying to cheer me up. A few weeks into this dynamic, he has started taking offense at the fact that I am upset about our canceled wedding as though it's a sign that I wanted the wedding more than I want to be with him (which is not true). We are otherwise happy and enjoying each other's company in quarantine, but I guess what I'd like to know is whether I have permission to be sad about the wedding I won't get to have, even if I am lucky to still have the life partner.

Sigh. Of course you have permission to be sad.

And you have my urging to revisit this with your intended, when the time seems right. Kindly, firmly, respectfully say that you appreciate his way of dealing with this is to see the silver lining--and is even one of the reasons you and he are good together (complementary coping mechanisms). However, you deal with things differently, and feel better sooner when you have room to feel bad. So, cheer up efforts *for you* tend to be counterproductive if you haven't first had your grief.

For you two to give each other what you need over a lifetime, you both will need to recognize your differences and find ways to honor and account for them. Sounds as if you're doing well at it already, but getting it out in the open might help.

I'm sorry about your wedding, and hope you can put together something satisfying when this is all over.

Everybody needs to recharge. Including the supporters, but not exclusively the supporters. Athletes can't perform at their best all day; they have to rest. Pilots and truck drivers' "drive times" are limited. And so on. I don't know anyone who doesn't think that therapists (and health care professionals and teachers and first responders and you name it) don't need, and deserve, recharge time.

Well said, thank you.

The friends where one of them died from CIVID but only went to the grocery store once a week and otherwise were completely isolated (as is the case for so many of us now)--do you know if they did or did not wear masks? Cause otherwise, what is left for us to do? That is more than horrifying. It means there is NO protecting ourselves, short of starvation.

I fear you've been given a misleading impression of what's going on. The distancing and masks and etc. are mitigation, not utter prevention, and have always been thus. Just as with just about everything else, there is no 100 percent. There are just ways to boost your percentages.

But please don't see this as a launch point for terror: This is, again, exactly where we have always been with everything. Think seat belts: They're not an absolute assurance of survival in a crash, they just improve your chances significantly.

We are in a phase of meticulous seat-belt use, except in the form of staying home, hand-washing, necessary errands only, protective gear.

another thank you from me! my husband is on right a this moment with his therapist and i know he would not be able to get through this time without her help and support (and i mean that literally. he would be suicidal). I am so grateful because as much as i want to help him, i know i can't. not in the same way. you are so essential. thank you again and again.

Thanks, and I hope you have your "people," too--it's a lot.

If it helps: would it be fair to say you're seeing your most challenging population segment, at their most challenging time? You're mainly hearing from the patients who are struggling the most. You're not hearing from patients who are coping pretty well and may actually be proud of their resilience, resourcefulness, sense of purpose. Whether or not that's wishful thinking, thank you for being a lifeline to human beings who need you on their team.

Makes sense to me, thanks.

make sure to tell that grumpy old fart Gene Weingarten that you like puzzles, just to irritate him.

Tom the Butcher? That you?

It's kind of like hate-watching in puzzle form, if that helps.

 

One separate comment. Of course it "alright" to ask your therapist how they are doing. While I certainly can't answer in detail as I would if I were a neighbor or friend, I can say something, and of course I need to be seen and appreciated. That doesn't mean we are peers, but we are equals. For you to see me as a machine does not help you in your human interactions. There need to be strong boundaries, but not such that I am invisible to you. Our connection is meaningful to both of us, differently, but importantly.

Thanks for that. I just found out that my volunteer trip to Africa later this year was cancelled. And my dad's reaction was "well, that can't be a surprise". But I'm still sad and sad for my teammates who were looking forward to helping the community. And for the people who won't get a house this year. I will "buck up" but yes, give me a chance to work through being sad first.

I'm sitting here, in my office at a psychiatric hospital, crying in solidarity. I've been a psychiatric/clinical social worker for 21 years, and I've never felt as exhausted and worn out as I am now. I'm on the same roller coaster as a lot of people who have written in here over the past few weeks -- one day I'm fine, one day I'm holding on, one day I'm angry and sleepless and fantasizing about mainlining chocolate. Everyone in my department is stressed out, trying to work, taking care of seriously mentally ill people, almost three quarters of whom are over 65. I've written and deleted three letters to Carolyn in the last two weeks with this same sentiment. The same recognition that I'm not on the frontlines in the same way that medical social workers are, much less other medical professionals at hospitals. But also not feeling safe. Not able to work from home. Wondering when the first patient here is going to come down with COVID and what on earth do we do with limited ways to isolate people and people who don't understand what's happening or why we're asking them to put this mask on their face. And I have the same feeling of being unseen and discounted (literally, North Face offered a "healthcare worker" discount that exclude social workers, specifically). I'm going to stop, before I get too far off the rails. But thank you for writing in, and thank you Carolyn, for your thoughtful response.

Thank you for what you do. <3

LW here. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the many wonderful responses. Really...from the bottom of my heart and for the insightful response Carolyn. I think that does put things in perspective. Really needed that. For the other questions....I definitely believe therapists need therapy, supervision, support groups of any kind. I have undergone my own therapy as well, several times as the need has arisen. I think the barriers are the ones that most people find - connection with the "right" therapist, the "right" medication...We are not immune to those challenges just because we are therapists. Also, working in an area where there are less accesses to those services for everyone, it can be difficult and the sudden onset of all this has jarred many of us. Have no fear, I'm resilient. I will reboot, just needed to refill my cup. Thanks for letting me stop here along my journey.

So glad you did. 

Thank you for doing this column. And...thanks to your readers for their input as well. The insights...and perspective...and sometimes distance...that you and your readers provide me are greatly appreciated. I have to actually WORK at being upbeat and optimistic. You guys help. On a regular basis. So, again, thank you.

Yes, so much, thanks to the readers, who always come through and outdid themselves this time.

This post is also a perfect last word, so that's it for today.

Actually, as first typed: Thats it foo rtiodat, which is why that's it for today.

Hope you're able to find something weekendy in the next two days, and I'll type to you here next Friday for sure, maybe Wednesday if I'm far enough ahead on my other work. Bye everybody.

clapping for you right this minute! thank you for everything that you do for your clients.

I'm a social services worker. I have friends in mental health (including one who does mandated treatment for parolees convicted of sexual offenses). Everyone is stressed and burnt out and I am right there with you on feeling worried sick about my friends and professional contacts, and crying when my shift is over. I wish there was an easy answer. I wish a glass of wine would fix it (sidenote - whoever is suggesting that seriously needs to be educated on the stats regarding substance abuse in this field!). The best I've got is this - you have your network, and they have you. So lean on that. Check in on them. Cry with them. Vent to them (within reason). It always helps me when I talk to someone who actually Gets It, much moreso than any other self-care tip out there.

Thank you for all you do. Therapy saved me, on multiple occasions. I've been worried about my former counselor, imagining that she's slammed with anxiety and unsolvable problems right now. I hope there's some way you can take some time for yourself like Carolyn advised. Meanwhile, you are on the front line of our collective sanity and deserve all the accolades you receive, and more. Thank you!

Just for what it’s worth, I think almost every day of how grateful I am to the counselors and therapists whose voices I still here in my head (in a good way!) as we move through these deeply unsettling times. In some ways, you have one of the hardest jobs of all the helpers - because while there are concrete steps to take to reduce the physical risks, the mental and emotional risks don’t go away once we are safely back home - instead, they may even increase, as the news continues to filter in. All of which is to say, you are appreciated, and I do hope you can find some relief - even if it’s only to realize your own limits during a pandemic, even as your clients are forced to grapple with their own.

I'm also sitting here clapping for you! I will forever be grateful to my partner's therapist for all of the tools she provided. He is compliant with his medicine and doing extremely well even given the current state of things. I consider her to be an invaluable resource even though he rarely needs her anymore. I often think of her with gratitude and want to send her a card or a gift or something but then wonder if that breaks patient/client confidentiality rules of some sort. But, seriously THANK YOU. The work you do changes and improves so many lives and not just those of your patients! I hope you find some help in carrying the mental load that you're carrying for others.

My therapist and my dietitian (one of my issues is an eating disorder) have been absolute God-sends during this strange and stressful time. I am willing to bet that most - if not all - of your clients feel the same way about you. Thank you for what you do. You are a hero in my eyes

THANK YOU. Thank you for putting that down in words. I'm also working in the mental health care field and things are for sure hitting very differently right now. Remember your self care, hit it extra hard, tell your family you could use some extra loving, whatever it is that works for you, double down on it. Keeping emotional boundaries now is so hard because we're living through this along with our clients, so try to mentally steel yourself. Thank you for doing everything you're doing - all of us are in this together and the mental health field right now is so, so important. You are amazing and brave. I can't say thank you enough.

My heart goes out to mental health workers - I am so grateful to you. My own therapist has been a lifeline to me at various points in my life; I'm doing paradoxically really well right now (who knew that an actual emergency would teach me just how capable I am at taking care of myself; my anxiety is the lowest it's been in years, if not my entire life, despite the global pandemic), but I'm continuing our weekly virtual appointments because, well, therapy is about the most important thing I do for my health and wellbeing. I always ask my therapist how she's doing, and she's been honest (with boundaries) about how this is hard for everybody (we've commiserated over both hating those zoom social gatherings as well - probably because we both spend most of our day in video meetings for work!), but this chat has inspired me to actually tell her that I'm grateful that she's continuing to see clients during this time. As an aside, I've seen in my social life that my friends in the mental health community are the least likely to get their own therapist - I've been gently pushing some social workers friends to seek help. Everyone needs support!

In This Chat
Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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