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Disruption in the Time of COVID-19

We decided at the Calgary Family Therapy Centre to begin a series of weekly blog postings on our website to highlight some of the issues and concerns being widely discussed among the families we meet. These are common issues that highlight what’s on the minds of our families as they go through challenging times. (We hope to continue this series even after the pandemic has passed.)

A common theme in our conversations with families during the past few weeks has been how disruptive the COVID-19 crisis has been on many fronts, particularly when it comes to daily routines. Even though families’ routines prior to the COVID-19 crisis were oftentimes troublesome or overly stressful, at least they had a degree of familiarity to them (this reminds me of the idiom, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”). Families now have children staying at home instead of going to school, parents working from home instead of going to a workplace, scheduled events and activities have been canceled, specific times to wake up, go to sleep, and eat have been altered. While all those activities in our lives sometimes have been overwhelming and could have felt like we were on treadmills running too fast, they gave order to our days. Schedules provided patterns that were dependable—we could predict what we were doing before it happened. There was some security and confidence in our lives being organized and predictable.

But with those routines disrupted, all that we had known about how our days were planned in order to get everything done has become corrupted (turned upside down). Subscribing to calendars of activities and a structured life is no longer a “given.” Our routines are now suspended and open for revision.

Families have experienced structural alterations—children who have been absent from home for some time may have now returned. Grandparents may reappear in the home. Initiatives to relocate have been shelved. Our immediate plans for the next few months may have become suspended. Most of us could not have predicted one month ago what our lives now look like, right?

For some this can be a welcome opportunity to no longer be tied to a schedule, similar to what it feels like to be on vacation. Rather than simply being a disruption, this moment can be a useful interruption in our lives-as-usual. This isolation period may be a relief, at least initially. But for some or if this persists, there can be a loss of orientation or purpose. With no set path to follow, there can be a sense of being set adrift.

This moment of disruption in our daily lives of comings and goings came on us abruptly without warning and therefore without any preparation. The unexpectedness of this change may be what makes this feel so particularly disruptive. It may take a while for us to recognize what we “need to do next” and then begin the process of moving forward. Another aspect of this disruptiveness is we do not know for how long this “new normal” will exist. We are told many things—that it is for a few weeks or we may never return to normal as we knew it. So we need to find ways to adjust to new routines for the short time and maybe even longer.

This may serve as an opportunity to begin to create new schedules to follow, to provide new “rhythms” in our lives. This direction may organize our lives with one another in reassuring ways—we know what is expected and when. We can coordinate our lives again in new ways—we can begin again.

Some families have quickly created new routines and patterns and this has become an exercise that enlists everyone in the family to design how their collective days will proceed—who will do what and when. For some this has stimulated a sense of working together and feelings of cooperation have grown. For others, this has exacerbated tensions that were already there. The sense of “being in this boat together” presents us with the chance to pull together to get through this. But for some, the boat we feel together in may seem like the Titanic and we are all feeling a sense of dread of going down together.

We are faced with managing the distances between us and we have the opportunity to construct how these will look—we can work to have them resemble what we had prior to the COVID-19 crisis or we could reinvent something different or new.

Everyone has had disruptive moments in their lives—times when what we had known becomes suddenly altered. These experiences can serve as resources for us to chart our paths through this disruptive time. Our experiences point us in directions to go, and in directions not to go. This disruption may be like no other, but it may also have some aspects that we recognize. Some of the feelings, thoughts, and perceptions may seem familiar. Others around us may also have experiences of going through disruptive times. The very disruption we are experiencing could provide a foundation for the eruption of fruitful conversations with those around us—what has it been like for you? How has it been for me? Could we become interested and curious about what this time is like for others?


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