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July 06, 2021 Mental Health & Wellness

Taking the Mental Health Beat to Another Level

2020 was a year beyond our control

By Joseph P. Beckman

By the time this hits the mail, we will be approaching the one year “anniversary” of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many followers of this column may have COVID-19 readership fatigue. Oh well, like my dad used to say, “Skate on the thin ice, son—it’s the smoothest.”

As we cross into a reopened world, what have we learned about ourselves?

As we cross into a reopened world, what have we learned about ourselves?

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I think, in retrospect, he had an expertly dark sense of humor. That’s for a different time and couch. Here and now, “experts” are all over the map about what 2021 will bring. I am no expert, but we will receive a vaccine somewhere on the “rollout” schedule, though how safe and effective is yet to be studied.

A vaccine is wonderful, but another question to consider is, has the pandemic helped some of us already build up other immunities? By focusing on the potential of a vaccine, are we ignoring or discarding these other forms of resilience that have built up during 2020?

Seeking Serenity?

The year 2020 has been a year beyond our control. If there was ever a time “to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference,” it is now. Serenity may be why I find the uncertainty of this past year “fun” as I reflect at the end of the holiday season. After the dishes are washed, leftovers divided, and short tryptophan-induced naps taken, I am consciously practicing gratitude, an activity that costs us only time, focus, and a practice we all know is healthy for us.

But I Don’t Have the Energy for a 2020 Repeat . . .

Keeping a mental health piece timely was easy before COVID-19. Now I assume that things may change at a moment’s notice in any number of ways.

On the upside, maybe we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Below the ice, spikes in infections have caused many states to put in place restrictions similar to what many of us experienced a year ago. We are all hoping for a return to “normal,” or at least some semblance of “life before COVID.” But what if we don’t?

Four COVID Coping Words: Control What You Can

COVID-19 apparently “runs in my family.” The middle child, a nurse by training who is now on the supply side of the medical profession, came down with it in January. My younger brother, the newest AARP-card-eligible sibling, got knocked down for two weeks after an early March ski trip. I waited until July 4, at which point I did a “Rip Van Winkle meets the incredible melting man” for a month. The data backed that up!

Average time asleep increased by 25 percent. I went three full weeks with a temperature no less than two degrees above “normal.” I even had an eight-hour run where I was between 104.5 and 105.4 degrees. (I had strict instructions to drink a full gallon of cold water every 24 hours and to log the water and my temperature every time I woke and every three hours while I was awake.)

I could control exactly zero percent of the above, except for drinking the water and recording my temperature.

Attitude Is Everything

There was one other thing I could control—my attitude. First, I had to be honest with myself about my capabilities. Then I had to be honest with my colleagues. Then with my clients, and finally, as applicable, with my opponents.

To be honest with myself, I had to admit I had perhaps 90 minutes in the morning and maybe 60–90 more in the afternoon (usually shortly after a nap) when I could function somewhere between 75 and 90 percent capacity. I did what I could during that time, principally phone calls (often with a “second” on the line who was responsible for the write-up after the call) and reviews and comments on colleagues’ drafts of documents.

Next, I was honest (and vulnerable) with my colleagues. This behavior change was tough at times, as “letting go” has not historically been a strong suit. Fortunately, by being vulnerable and acknowledging I was not at the “top of my game,” that made it easier for others to assert themselves and say, “I’ve got this. You rest.” All I had to do in return was take a nap and try not to let their incredible competence leave me feeling alone, unneeded, and unloved (or professionally insecure or something like that).

I wonder if the uncertainty we all have around the still surreal impacts of this virus have opened the door for folks to be a bit more genuine. A bit more vulnerable. A bit kinder to themselves and others.

I did manage to keep a grip on a sense of humor. I have always been the snarky and sarcastic sort, albeit with an increasingly self-effacing streak as I’ve aged. My “COVID brain” gave me the freedom to be perhaps a bit more self-effacing and self-referential than usual.

Perhaps the most shocking realization was how simply “admitting” my condition to clients (and even opposing counsel) created unexpected opportunities for different (and often deeper) personal connections. I was amazed at some of the personal stories about illness (not necessarily COVID-19) they shared, and how folks I only really knew professionally opened up.

What Does It All Mean?

I wonder if the uncertainty we all have around the still surreal impacts of this virus have opened the door for folks to be a bit more genuine. A bit more vulnerable. A bit kinder to themselves and others. I hope this is a silver lining we all find.

The fact remains that there is one universal truth about life—none of us are getting out of it alive. Maybe the sooner we admit that, and the more honest we are about that to ourselves and others, the easier it will become for each of us to “let it go.” Maybe we will appreciate that how we choose to look at a problem has a meaningful impact on what level of power that problem possesses to exert a negative impact on our emotional balance.

So? Come back to the Serenity Prayer. Realize there is not much about COVID-19 that you can control. Recognize the most important thing you can control is how you choose to respond to the uncertainty—whether that is uncertainty about your own health or about the broader impact of the pandemic on your own life. Give yourself the freedom to be vulnerable. To connect yourself to the opportunity to laugh at yourself and your circumstances.

I think perhaps the takeaway from my own COVID-19 experience that resonated most during the darkest times is what I learned thumbing through Reader’s Digest at the doctor and dentist offices of my grammar school years: Laughter is the best medicine.


How can you make lemons out of lemonade?

Another thing this psych major learned from my science brain partner is the value of COVID-19 plasma. It continues to be used regularly in treatment regimes. I’ve been fortunate enough to have given seven times on an abbreviated schedule. If you have COVID-19 antibodies, they will make you a priority and likely get you a “preferred” recurring donation time. It was a bit of a process, even for someone familiar with the blood donation apparatus. If you are a COVID survivor and interested, please reach out, and I will connect you with the (not easy to find) Red Cross office coordinating repeat donations nationally.


Joseph P. Beckman


Joseph P. Beckman is an associate editor for Litigation News.

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