Connection During COVID-19

This week’s blog was written by SCY’s Program Coordinator Kate Spitzer-Cohn. 

When people ask what SCY does, the go-to answer is, “connect, connect, connect!” COVID has, obviously, made that complicated, but like so many of our colleagues, we’ve done our best to work around it—moving quarterly meetings and trainings online, using tools like Mentimeter and Zoom breakout groups to allow partners to engage with and hear from each other, starting our own weekly staff meetings with our usual check-in to preserve some normalcy and connection amongst ourselves. Working with a team whose goal is to bring others together has made me reflect even more on connection—or more accurately, loss of connection—during this time when so many of us are doing our best, within our own circumstances, to isolate to keep our loved ones, our communities and ourselves safe.

Humans are social creatures—we need each other as much as we need food, water, and shelter. Connection is important to our mental and our physical health. Connection is how we maintain resilience and heal in the aftermath of trauma. And yet, here we are—in a situation that threatens both our mental and physical health, in the midst of the collective trauma of a loss of 215,000 family members, friends, loved ones…and we are asked to isolate ourselves from each other as an act of community. It feels unnatural and confusing and wrong.

And this burden does not fall on all of us equally or in the same way—I recently saw a quote (for which I cannot seem to find attribution!) that said something to the effect of, “we may all be in the same storm, but we aren’t all in the same boat.” People who were already vulnerable have been hit that much harder by the pandemic. Systemic racism—leading to disparities in preexisting health conditions as a result of ongoing stress and trauma, disparities in access to healthcare, and disparities in who is considered an “essential worker” and who is able to work from the relative safety of home, among so many other things—means that Black and Brown communities have seen much more illness and death than White communities. People with disabilities and preexisting health conditions—who are already more likely to be isolated due to systemic barriers to accessibility—are at higher risk of harm from COVID. The elderly—especially those in nursing homes or care facilities—are extremely vulnerable. Incarcerated people lack control over their own circumstances, or may be isolated in their cells to protect their physical health, at huge cost to their mental health. Isolation and illness and preexisting systemic trauma compound each other.

And not only are COVID’s effects on many of us unequal, they’re also simply different. Some people are living in households where suddenly everyone is at home—parents, grandparents, kids—and privacy is a thing of the past. Suddenly we are living, working, and going to school all in one space—parents are trying to work and manage kids’ online schooling, kids are trying to adapt to sitting in front of a screen all day without the relief of recess or just moments in the halls with peers, and time and space to turn inwards or maintain non-family connections is scarce. In the midst of juggling all those competing needs, we go into survival mode—it’s hard to maintain connections to ourselves and check in with our own needs OR to be authentically connected to others. We are tired and frustrated and overwhelmed, and it’s hard to be at our best anywhere.

I admit, I can speak best to my own situation—I live alone (aside from the 55 lbs of adorable, demanding, happy-go-lucky 2-year-old dog who is currently trying to shove her head between my hands and the keyboard) and I’m working from home. I have reliable access to technology (except when my internet or the VPN decides to quit on me)—for which I am grateful, even as I find virtual meetings and get-togethers far more draining and far less connecting than their in-person counterparts. I don’t have to worry about access to food or eviction. There is tremendous privilege in that, and it’s still lonely and isolating and hard and exhausting. I’m trying to stay safe, do the right things, stay on top of work, be careful enough to keep my community and my loved ones safe because I’m in a position where I can…and also not stay so isolated that I put my own mental health in jeopardy. I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert by nature, but this pandemic has revealed to me how vital my close circle of people is to my wellbeing—and how much I miss even those more casual everyday connections.

And I’m sure there are so many difficult situations I’ve missed—whether due to structural inequities or personal circumstances or both. We are all struggling—in different ways and to different extents—and yet the thing that makes struggle meaningful and the way we heal is in community…which is the very thing it is so hard to come by these days. The way we express that we care about each other, especially in difficult times, is to come closer together. And yet, in a pandemic where we are trying to protect ourselves and each other, we must do that by staying apart.

What does any of this have to do with SCY? Well, we are focused on youth, on violence prevention, on equitable access to mental health resources, on trauma. This worldwide crisis that we are all going through only highlights how important that work is—all of these issues are only compounded right now. Those of us who were unsafe before are less safe now; those dealing with poor health before are at greater risk now; those of us dealing with economic insecurity now have even less stability; those of us who were isolated are now even more alone…and systemic racism undergirds and runs through all of those issues.

I don’t have solutions—just a reminder to fuel ourselves as best we can to stay in the game. If you can, take a walk. Feel the sun and the wind on your face. Have compassion for yourself and your own struggles—and use that compassion to fuel yourself to show up for others however your circumstances allow. Make a plan to vote. Wear a mask. Remind your people that they matter to you—send a text, make a phone call, write a card, Venmo someone you know is overwhelmed so they can grab themselves a coffee or takeout and a break, take advantage of the weather and see people outside if you can. Take a breath, remind yourself that you can’t do everything, but you can do something—and together (even while we’re apart), those somethings add up.

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