I Have Your Back

Showing up in the age of social distancing.

Posted Mar 16, 2020

Min An/Pexels
Source: Min An/Pexels

Right now, because many of us are overcome with uncertainty and fear, we are laser-focused on our own needs. Whether we are searching for the last of the toilet paper, fretting over childcare, or dousing the last bit of hand-sanitizer on our hands after pumping gas, many of us are not thinking about others during this global pandemic. And, this is very normal because there is so much to do and so much to cope with.  

But as stressful as it is for us, many others are in worse situations—and they might not have the same emotional, physical, and material resources that we do. Although we might not feel that we have the mental energy to reach out to others during this demanding time, I would like to propose that we can offer our help to one another even when we don’t feel strong. We might not be organized and prepared. We don’t need to be “qualified” or have the answers or have the smarts or the calmness. We don’t have to have the “right stuff” to do the right thing.

And the reality is: We feel less helpless when we offer our help (even if we’re clueless).

As a former rehabilitation counselor—and as a person who has endured hard stretches of isolation in my own life—I know how important it is to make connections with others during times of isolation and drastic changes. And, I also know the common misconceptions that prevent us from reaching out (there are several). So, if we find ourselves wanting to reach out but hesitating, perhaps we are subscribing to one of the following myths:                                                                                                   

Myth 1.  

You should only count on your family and closest friends in isolating times.

Revelation:

Reach out beyond your circle, beyond your “tribe.” It takes a village, a community, a nation, and more to face this pandemic.

Myth 2.

When you feel uncertain, awkward, or afraid, you should not try to help others. You should have your “act together” first. It’s shameful not to know what to say or do.

Revelation: 

We don’t have to have the answers to reach out to each other. This is a messy, unpredictable process in this uncharted territory of facing a new disease that humans have never encountered. Be willing to “think out loud” and join in the conversation. Spontaneous help is better than no help at all.

Myth 3.

If you are well-connected on social media, you always have someone to count on in a crisis.

Revelation:                                                                                                                                                   

We can have 400 friends on Facebook and no one to call. Reconnect with people beyond our social media networks, with “long-lost” cousins or friends from the past (former classmates, alumni, former coworkers, former acquaintances from our faith-based community). Reach out even to those who seem to have a million “friends.”

Once we are ready to reach out to others, we can do so by:

  • Finding a trusted person to talk to, such as a friend, family member, or a compassionate colleague. And reciprocate by offering to be there for them for emotional reassurance and for difficult conversations. Even calling a long-lost aunt or old high school friend can help. 
  • Checking in on a regular basis with those around you. Create routines or schedules for checking in with loved ones, friends, coworkers or neighbors. Check in by texting, tweeting, emailing—whatever works. But check in regularly and often. Take even five minutes by just asking, "How are you coping with all of this? How are you holding up? Would you like me to call you Monday night? Can I help you get supplies or medicines?"
  • Reaching out to others who are more isolated and lonelier than we are. Serving others helps us stay connected.

         Most isolated groups to look out for:

         Seniors, especially those who live alone

         People who are ill or have disabilities

         Adults who live alone or who are single

         Parents caring for children out of school

         Caregivers caring for loved ones with disabilities or illnesses

         Health care providers who are strapped with long hours                                                                    

  • Volunteering remotely. One idea is to ask our local senior center director how we might help, even if the center is closed. If we are already volunteering, we can ask our volunteer manager how we can be of service in other ways during social distancing. Perhaps we can offer to volunteer to work on hotlines, warmlines, or helplines for isolated and lonely people. Resources include the United Way at www.unitedway.org, or www.211.org, or Volunteer Match at www.volunteermatch.org.
  • Expanding our social networks by reconnecting with people we’ve had on the “back burner” for years of our life. Discover long-lost cousins, old high school or college classmates, or co-workers from former jobs. We never know who might need to hear from an old friend, especially during times like these.
  • Help others (especially seniors) use technology to connect with others. Social distancing means it’s time to get creative with the tools available to us, such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and much more. We can use chatlines and group events on Facebook. Or we might use list-serves to organize people who might need checking-in, and various websites such as www.caringbridge.org or www.healthstorycollaborative.org to help us share stories, stay in touch, and problem-solve.  

Now is the time to return to the powerful healing of thoughtful, long conversations using phones or videoconferencing. Somewhere, 3000 miles away, we might rediscover an old friend who would love to be back in touch.

Ironically, this time of social distancing allows us to get closer to others by offering our caring and companionship. We are not so busy and distracted, and our quieter time gives us the luxury of deeply connecting in a genuine exchange of compassion, good listening, sharing resources, stories, and best of all, love.