Coming Back for Change

Do you wonder if we could ever get used to change in a way that causes us to not remember what it was like “before?”

My mind goes back to March, six months ago. Which, honestly, has it really been that long? COVID-19 struck in Montgomery County, and everyone – including myself – began to have to adjust to a life of Telehealth and virtual everything. Initially, many thought that it would “go back to normal” in a few weeks. In fact – and don’t hesitate to raise your hand if this was you – many individuals welcomed the unapologetic time at home. But just as the many homemade meals we all had time to now create, that got old quickly, too.

It began to settle in for children and families that we didn’t know when things would “go back to normal.” Teachers (and parents) were just trying to get kids to the end of the school year after realizing in-person school would not be occurring after a few cancelled announcements of re-openings. Panic had set in as we rushed to anywhere we could to stock up on toilet paper and cleaning supplies. All of the sudden, our temporary staycation seemed it would last a lot longer. Kids struggled with virtual school and parents struggled with how to navigate Zoom and Google classroom, and trying to help their kids while not becoming completely dysregulated themselves. All of the sudden, the bedroom/kitchen/dining room also became the classroom. Mom and Dad became the teachers assistants. Meanwhile, none of us knew how COVID-19 would continue to affect our lives, jobs, financial stability, and more.

Our brains like predictability. When our brains don’t know what will happen next, they fill in the blanks. This is called anxiety. Many individuals who never experienced mental health issues now knew exactly what anxiety felt like. Entire families living in dysregulation equaled a lot of behaviors from kids and parents (and everyone else we would happen to come across) that were way out of character. I worked with many kids (and their parents) on learning new self-regulation tactics that would assist in the acute state of anxiety many were now living in. I worked with parents in providing psychoeducation as to why the information being presented differently was causing their kids’ brains to go, “WHAT THE HECK?” and then completely shut down. We worked individually to create plans unique to that child to keep them regulated. Keeping a child regulated (and ourselves) is pertinent so learning could occur and lessen maladaptive behaviors resulting from dysregulation. Families worked hard to practice skills learned in sessions and with great improvement, reached a plateau of wellness in COVID-19 times.

And then it was time for school to start again. Many kids, especially those with impulse control disorders, found they liked virtual school better because they could self-regulate throughout the day without feeling self-conscious. The schoolyear began, and instead of being equipped with fresh pencils and notebooks, kids were equipped with self-regulation skills, fidget toys, brain break plans, and computers. We geared up again, brushed up on our skills in therapy, and many kids have done relatively well.

Until they didn’t. A similar trend from the end of last school year began, coupled with the challenges of virtual schooling and continued isolation. Even though many kids figured out other ways to socialize with their friends, it was clear that not being around other kids was affecting them in a negative way. And the kids have been the ones identifying the issue.

If we picture a “mental health COVID-19” chart, we dipped from the summer plateau of comfort with concerns about the new schoolyear, rose in the beginning of the schoolyear when we thought we liked virtual school, and have begun to dip again. While this is not the experience of everyone, schools identified the lack of social isolation and virtual learning as a reason to create a plan of safety which would enable kids to go back to school.

Alas, a new challenge of change! While many kids share they want to go back, many are also hesitant for various reasons. These reasons include fears of being exposed to COVID-19 and how it could affect their loved ones, school buildings they haven’t even been in yet (new middle schoolers, high schoolers, etc!), being away from home and family, and how to socialize. Kids are used to being home. They’re used to being with a parent/guardian for the majority of their time. They are not used to socializing with friends and classmates “in real life” like before.

Anxieties surrounding these topics have pulled the rug out, yet again. Resiliency is an amazing thing. I know that kids and their parents can work through the most recent “dip” and become comfortable again with things they had to learn to live without six months ago. I know that adults with no children can also become comfortable again with what they had to learn to live without. You don’t have to do it alone. Therapy can assist in guiding through the process, reviewing coping skills and learning new ones, and reminding you that the strength to persevere has always been within – but sometimes we need a little help.

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