We’re In this Together
April 29, 2020
By Scott Williams
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created many changes to the world around us. Most of us have been forced to rethink how we work, live, interact and grow together. In spite of these challenges, Pivot Point staff and families have consistently shared their optimism and their desire to find alternative ways of staying connected: We can get through this, together!” ~ Steve Cunningham
Future generations may very well look back at the first part of 2020 as a watershed moment in the history of our civilization. What we are experiencing right now is unprecedented and there seems to be no guarantee how the future will unfold. This is a game changing moment, and it’s perfectly normal to feel insecure about where things might go from here, about how we will be able to cope, and even about how we will do as staff of Pivot Point.
As a new member of the Mental Health team, I was asked to draft a gentle reminder of the things we likely already know. So while there is no roadmap and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, we do know a few important things:
1. We’re in this together. That might sound cliché but it’s incredibly important to know that our leaders and co-workers are on the same team as we are, and that they will look out for us if things continue to get weird. Humans are built for community and Pivot Point is ours. Steve and Crystal, and the rest of our leadership of Senior Managers care deeply for you and they have your back. You don’t have to do this by yourself. It’s more than ok to reach out to others who have more experience or miles than you do, and to know that we call this the Pivot Point family for a reason.
2. Catastrophizing isn’t helpful. Everyone feels afraid, sometimes. We have all secretly wondered if this is the apocalypse (it isn’t). We have the coronavirus and terrorism and whole host of things that we can worry about if we choose to. It’s very natural to be a little afraid of an uncertain future, or of disease, or of the fact that a couple of times a week an asteroid screams by the earth, sometimes close enough to notice. However, wondering if the world is going to end – or if you’ll be unemployed and destitute next week – doesn’t mean it’s helpful, or accurate, or even rational to worry about it. In counselling, this is referred to as catastrophizing; making a mountain out of a molehill. Humans are neurologically hardwired to go there. So in spite of the fact that more than 90% of things we worry about don’t actually come true, most of us cannot stop our imaginations from going to those dark thoughts.
Many people find it helpful to remind themselves that it serves no purpose to let ourselves dwell on those scary thoughts. There is no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, just frustration and failure. Learning to stop the negative emotional freight train takes practice. No one gets this right away, so give yourself a break and know that you are doing your best, that you are trying, and that those thoughts running around in your head are only thoughts. Remember that negative feelings are like unwanted houseguests; it’s ok to politely acknowledge their presence, but you may also limit the amount of time they stay!
3. You are a professional, and professionals can have doubts too. We all wonder if we’ll fail, and sometimes we do, but our failures are not fatal. If nothing else, tell your client that you are figuring this out too: People need to know we are human, and that we can relate to their struggles. You can be honest, just try not to be needy. Gather your courage and be your best you, even if that is only until you get off Hangouts or back to your car. This is not hypocrisy, it’s tenacity. I love what Malcolm Gladwell says, “Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”
Seriously, you can do this.
4. It’s important to work on your stuff. As we’ve already mentioned, there is no value in letting our thoughts run wild. I have heard those who believe that we should not minimize our emotions, that we should “feel our feelings”. While this is sometimes good advice, it may not serve us well if we are feeling suicidal, for example. There are times when I need to shut the engine down, if for no other reason than I cannot continue to maintain this level of engagement. This, as we’ve said, is a learned skill. Pivot Point’s leadership doesn’t expect us to be perfect, only growing.
You need the right tools. If you go to a counsellor and they tell you that you need to begin by changing your lifestyle (like the doctor who tells you to fight depression by going for a long walk every morning) then consider seeing a different therapist! Real change begins with changing your mind, not your activities or emotions. A counsellor who knows what they are doing will challenge you to deal with your thoughts, show you how to practice taking back control of your impulses, and help you learn to address your dysfunctional coping skills and cognitive distortions.
So let’s all, myself included, remember to pay attention to those scary thoughts, deal with the ones that overwhelm us, remember that catastrophizing isn’t helpful and that the world will not end. Know that if you mess up trying your first video conference (or first anything!)… you won’t be fired. Instead, recognize that the client will most certainly take cues from you as to how they should process their online experience with you, as well as their experience of this pandemic. If we are low-key, use humor and remember to wear a smile, if we are apologetic when necessary but not pathetic, our clients will give us grace… and the space to be imperfect and growing too, just like them.
Pivot Point is known throughout British Columbia as a caring and compassionate group of professionals and that’s what you all know how to do, even when the internet glitches. Remember that people are looking to us for a sense of calm and of hope in this crisis. But also remember that you are awesome, and that your passion will inspire you to do a great job… however you need to connect with them. No one is perfect and we are all just works in progress, so please be kind to yourself and exercise the same compassion and patience with your own challenges that you do every day with the people we serve.
Sincerely, Scott Williams
Scott Williams is our newest addition to the Counselling Team and comes with an extensive history in counselling for trauma, mental health, addictions, family and individual counselling, neurofeedback, and has a deep passion for the brain. When not at work he enjoys writing, good coffee and conversation, canoeing, philosophy and his four amazing grandchildren.