Surviving the Big Transition

By Andrew Lopez, CPS and Darby Gregersen

In the middle of the coronavirus crisis I remember actively thinking that I would be very excited for all this to be over and to get back to normal. In reality the situation is quite a bit more complicated. I didn’t anticipate a number of challenges including the ones created by my own mental health.

One of the big adjustments for me is socialization. I’d gotten used to (for over a year) spending time away from friends and connecting with people over the phone and video chat. Seeing people in person seemed a little difficult at first and took me a while to adjust. I still have to remind myself to engage more often with my friends as I have fallen out of the habit of connecting with friends are adjusting as well and some of them have been really hesitant towards engaging in in person contact. It’s been a struggle though with trust and kindness we are being patient with one another and our needs. During the start of the virus crisis I had been seeing a therapist but this therapist had so many schedule problems and issues with the telehealth services that ended up dropping out of their caseload. I’ve been looking for new therapy services but it has been very difficult to find in-person services. I am deeply hoping that there will be a change in the mindset of some of these mental health clinics and being tolerant of in-person services especially for those who have been vaccinated.

Professionally there’s been some big changes as well. Going back to in person services has created a number of challenges. The first challenge is the schedule changes. For a year of doing telehealth services I didn’t have to travel or planned for the time to travel. Being away from home more often was an adjustment for me and my cat. At first it felt pretty strange to be away from the apartment for so long in getting used to seeing my peers in person. I feel like my schedule has been more inconsistent than it has been in the past and this has led to a great amount of anxiety. In addition there have been changes in my caseload that have thrown in a bit of chaos. I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of professional support from my supervisors and helps to know that my coworkers were also struggling to make the adjustments and this wasn’t a personality flaw on my part. It’s now been a few months since I started doing in person services again, and I still feel like I’m adjusting. I feel like it’s getting better as I go and I’ve been very appreciative of the patient’s my peers and coworkers have shown me.

To give you perspective outside of the Chrysalis staff Darby has provided a summary of her experience dealing with this great transition:

I want to start from March but I would like to include my experience from the start of the decade. At the beginning of 2020, I was very much already in a transition point, working on many long term goals I have had around socialization, relationships, working, taking care of my health and apartment. January and February I kept pushing through what I was working on and making progress. I was feeling confident about it all for the first time in probably years and felt the momentum as I was also finally getting support from different people and services I needed. Then, March came around and as we all know, that’s when things really started to change for most people. My birthday is the first week in March and a few days after my birthday, I went out for dinner with my mom and brother. I hadn’t heard a lot about the virus at this point, I was aware of it but couldn’t have guessed what was coming. While at dinner I found myself listening to my mom getting more serious on the topic of the virus, informing me UW would be shutting down it’s campus soon because of it. Then, within the next week, campuses were sending students home, non essential businesses were closing, the beltline went from bustling chaos to the same energy as a back road.

Within that same week before the shutdown, I met with my Chrysalis case worker for the first time. I was so excited to be getting started with this and on track back to being employed. But obviously, because of the situation with the pandemic, that isn’t quite what happened. I was honestly somewhat devastated. Anxiety and still setting in devastation around the pandemic aside, I was devastated about my own progress. I thought about how hard I had worked over the last near 4 years to get my life back on track and how draining and frustrating it has been trying to find the tools and resources. Here I was, starting to make that progress and feel like a person again, then the shutdown happened and put an indefinite halt, unpassable restrictions, and in some cases just a full stop around the assistance I had in achieving getting my life back.

Throughout the summer, this heartbreak thought storm came back to me often, as did the part of my brain trying to just survive the new situation in front of me. It broke me, my mental and physical health declined as I tried to adapt to the situation. I felt guilty for having all the feelings I did about my personal progress, the world was in shambles and everyone was struggling. Some struggling arguably more and thousands of people were actually dying. What right did I have to panic and cry over losing so much of my supports and resources, as so many were going through the same? And often lost in my head, I did forget that I do have the right to all my feelings. I was extra hard on myself asking why I couldn’t just “get through it” like everyone else. I will infer that I am not the only one that had this back and forth in their head between mourning their life pre-pandemic and being angry about it, and feeling guilty for having those feelings or just telling themselves to ‘buck up’ and face the new normal. Another thought scenario I know kept running through my head was anger and frustration with other people as I would watch the news, peek on social media platforms, hear it from people talking to me, but watching as some people went about their lives like nothing was happening. Positing pictures from parties to instagram and continuing to leave the house for frivolous things. Watching people do that was hard and made it harder in ways to accept what was happening as real; or the opposite that anger that people weren’t taking the situation seriously.

In sharing those feelings in this blog, I am hoping some of my words resonated with people who had those thoughts as well or gave a new perspective to someone. I would like to continue and end this with some of what I experienced in regards to one of my services and how it was affected by the pandemic.

As I mentioned earlier in my writing, the week of the shut down, I met with my Chrysalis caseworker in person for the first time and was going to start to dip my toes back in the employment waters. I have been unable to work for longer than I would like because of both mental health and medical struggles, and at that point I was starting to feel ready in my self and my schedule to reenter the workforce with some support. I was ecstatic to be starting to work with someone from Chrysalis and get this part of my life back on track. Though, since the shutdown happened things had to change with that a bit. We continued to meet through video meetings, we talked about me, accommodations I would need from an employer, what I want in a job, ideas for workplaces I would enjoy and all that good stuff that the case workers of Chrysalis help you with. If it wasn’t obvious in what I said before, I was super discouraged when the shutdown happened seemingly in sync with this step toward progress. Some months into talking to my case manager and the shutdown, I was no longer feeling safe to work again. As much as I long to work again, I had regressed in my own mental health and had grown anxious around the idea of looking for a job during the pandemic. As things started to open up again, with more non essential businesses opening back up, we talked about my comfortability applying to some jobs. I had to be honest with myself and with my caseworker that I no longer felt that I was in a place to work again especially with doctors starting to see people again in person. I had tons of medical appointments stacking up and reclaiming my schedule from me.

This was all super discouraging but we kept meeting, up until a certain point when I and my case manager agreed that it would be the best move to take a break from meeting with each other for a while until I felt ready to start looking into working again. This was hard for me but felt okay, it wasn’t an end, my case manager assured me that she was still there for me if I needed someone and would still be there for me when I was ready again. I wasn’t forced to give up working with someone from Chrysalis, which does not necessarily sound like much but really meant a lot to me with how much I did have to give up in the past years as well as during the pandemic. I still got to hold on to that feeling that I made progress in this area and wasn’t just back to square one with it.

Before we stopped our personal meetings, my case worker did give me some help and support by making me aware of Chrysalis’s consumer advisory committee. She thought it would be a good thing for me as I was in this place of knowing I couldn’t work a regular job, but dying for some sense of purpose and accomplishment somewhere. This committee fit the bill, it only required 2 hours of the month as a minimum, so within my capabilities at the time. I would also be paid to participate in the committee, along with one of their subcommittees, giving me a purpose and something that felt meaningful to fill some of my time with. Thankfully I was accepted into the committee and got a spot in the blog group sub committee, which is the reason you’re reading my words and I am able to share my experience with you. The committee has provided me with a sense of purpose and accomplishment as I finish my share for blog pieces and spend time (over zoom) with the other members of the committee.

Now here we are, a year later transitioning again with all new changes to navigate. Last year my birthday was celebrated on the end of “normal” in a restaurant; this year I was surprised with a trip to Burnie’s rock shop by my boyfriend- this year wearing a mask and following the store’s new capacity limits for social distancing. It was great to get out again and see other people and meander around a store as much as it was unsettling and near scary to do that again. Now we are nearing May and more changes like that are happening, with things opening back up, people getting their vaccinations and social gatherings tentatively being planned, it’s all cause for excitement as well as anxiety. I am sure many people are feeling similarly as they go about handling the changes in our nation, community, and in their individual lives.

I want to end this by saying, all feelings around these changes are okay, and it is okay to take them at your own pace, just remember: “To respect others comfortability around the changes, respect the guidelines in place that allow us to start safely transitioning into some normalcy, and always respect yourself and your pace in these changes.” – Darby Gregersen