Working in my program right now is like working in a parallel universe. I cannot help thinking that somewhere else in time and space an alternate Dr. Beck is living a life that was just like last year while I am trapped in this unusual “other world”. The problem is that my present world is the real world and the parallel universe of last year is gone forever.
I mentioned this last week to a small group of youth who immediately stopped what they were doing and stared at me.
“You know Dr. Beck,” one of them said, “You’re a psychiatrist. If there’s one thing people count on you for, it’s that you’re sane.”
Nonetheless, I cannot shake the whole parallel universe idea and I find myself thinking about my former reality and trying to decide what qualities from that world should be brought into the present world to make it better.
All in all, wearing masks, being able to have virtual appointments and being more cautious about infection are all good things and these are likely to remain in some form. For example, I cannot help thinking that if we had worn masks more in previous years, a lot of illness due to colds and influenza and other contagious diseases might have been prevented.
At the same time, we have lost each other. Without each other’s company in face-to-face groups, patients are missing out on insights that can only come from someone who is going through the same hardship that you are.
Clinicians are missing out on the assistance and support they gain from each other at lunch hour conversations and in the photocopy room. We are missing out on the exchanges we would have in face-to-face groups that are impossible on Zoom. We miss out on being able to see and hear each other clearly. There is no replacement for being in the same room as someone else and the pandemic has shown us this.
The new virtual world is less personal and that new unfeeling place is what makes me feel that I am in a parallel universe. Even with the patients I am seeing face to face on an inpatient unit or in the school, it is still less personal. Instead of being with families in a room hearing their stories, I am with a youth and their parents are on a computer screen. I haven’t even met the parents of some of my patients and that is very disconcerting. There is something comforting about seeing a youth with their parents. When you see youth in person with their parents, you can see their annoyance, you can catch the sarcastic eye rolls, you can feel the embarrassment a youth experiences when their Mom or Dad says something they specifically told them not to mention.
It is these very personal interactions between youth and their parents that remind me of their love for each other. Discerning those feelings between them – the annoyance, the sarcasm, the embarrassment – tells me that a family has the love they need to help a child to heal.
Discerning that love is harder in my present virtual world. I must return to the universe where love lives as soon as I can.