How Many Coping Mechanisms Have YOU Built During The Pandemic?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“I had another breakdown,” I say, shamefaced.

My therapist, as always, keeps her face neutral. “Okay. What’s bothering you about that?”

“The ‘another’ part.”

“So you feel like you should have only had the one.”

“I feel like I should be stronger. That I should be resilient enough to cope without having shrieking meltdown days.”

“You are strong,” she says. “Really, really strong. But you get that this is a pandemic, right?”

I stammer for a bit. “Sure, but that can’t – “

“I’ve watched you,” she says, her tone low and reassuring. “You got thrown into a situation where the people you loved were in danger of dying, where you couldn’t hug your friends and partners, where all the ways you blew off steam were forbidden to you.

“And you did it,” she continues. “You developed new coping mechanisms. They weren’t perfect replacements, because you were being asked to suffer under a lot of changes, but… you managed.”

“Okay, but then – “

“But then the world changed more – which wasn’t unusual. You had your mother get sick and your daughter move in with you; I had to find a new apartment in the middle of a raging epidemic. Life didn’t stop happening in the middle of all this change, dumping more pressure down upon you. You had coping mechanisms you’d patched into place with little more than duct tape, a couple of spare parts, and pure determination – and then something else went wrong.”

“Okay, but – “

“Then the stress of elections and insurrections, and the winter where you couldn’t even see your buddies outside because it was too cold, and that transition from ‘it’s been a while since I’ve hugged the people I love’ to ‘it’s coming up on a year and there’s no clear end in sight,’ and you know what?”


“You’ve developed a new coping mechanism every two or three months, minimum. You’ve done fabulous. But this pandemic is asking a lot of you, and you’ve been slapdashing repair after repair to make up for a broken world, and it’s time to realize that you crashing from time to time is not a weakness but a sign that nobody – especially you – was engineered to live in a plague.”

It’s then that I realize: I’m hyperventilating. “But some people are coping well – “

“Some people – a lot of people – are coping by going into denial, which is only making it worse. They’re not coping well, they’re coping by distributing their risk among other innocent people. You’re looking your risks square in the face and being compassionate in terms of what you’re willing to give up to avoid endangering other people – and, yes, that empathy comes with a cost.

“You had a bad weekend. I’m not minimizing that. But part of why you had a bad weekend stems from being responsible in the face of immense personal cost, and you’ve been rebuilding yourself repeatedly as your country keeps ignoring the risks, and rather than thinking of yourself as weak I might suggest it’s time to think of yourself as someone who is repeatedly rebuilding their coping mechanisms so rapidly that it’d be more unusual if you didn’t have a couple of bad weekends along the way.”

I sit in silence for a long time.

Then: “Thank you.”

Her: “I’ve been telling people that a lot recently.”

(As usual with me reconstructing therapy sessions, this isn’t the exact conversation, it’s been restructured for dramatic clarity, but the takeaway is pretty much the same.)

1 Comment

  1. PDV
    Feb 9, 2021

    None; I built them years ago. This was not pleasant to do and it’s not particularly pleasant or productive to have them, either, so that’s not a brag.

    My condolences to everyone who’s been catching up with me this year. As my dziadek said about aging: “Sucks, but it beats the alternative”.

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