Too Personal a Tale

Sometime early during the first year of the closing of the society because of the pandemic, I began to have occasional anxiety attacks. The episodes would come sometime after sunset and most typically late at night when everything was quiet, and I had the chance to consider the insanity of what was going on around me in an environment in which time and sanity seemed to have become something entirely different from what they had once been in a mad, but somewhat comprehensible world.

With a graduate degree in counseling and aware of how therapeutic interventions had been distorted by ludicrous theories of human behavior, I was hesitant to seek out help for this battle with anxiety that seemed to be happening all around me in what appeared to be a common happening. I was also hesitant because airing private laundry and admitting weakness is not part of the false “American” myth of rugged individualism and making it alone.

I never went in for a narrative of Dylan’s “too personal a tale,” in a somewhat different context. But, the constant drumbeat of death and the closing down of the society and its resulting demand for isolation of a kind finally took its toll. From New York City, where I had travelled weekly to take care of family business as the pandemic took especially lethal hold, came tales of endless sirens screaming through the night.

Then the real insanity took hold. I used a referral list from Psychology Today to look at the professional biographies of local clinicians and steered far away from those who claimed to offer personal fulfillment and expanding one’s horizons. I had had enough of that glad-talking have a good day rhetoric in the laundering of psychoanalysis US style. They, both the university where I studied and the discipline, filled my graduate program with the language of feelings in working with clients and skewed toward what Russell Jacoby writes about in his seminal work on the history of psychoanalysis after Freud in Social Amnesia: A Critique of Contemporary Psychology From Adler To Laing (1975).

Surface psychology and post-Freudian analysis largely ignored significant aspects of a consumerist, racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynist society. It also usually ignored the psychological effects of a society always on a war footing or fighting endless wars. Poor people were always ignored. The luxury of a talking cure is as remote to millions of people as is a walk on the moon.

The contacts that I attempted to make in the area where I live failed to respond to my queries. I limited myself to those clinicians who steered clear of personal growth nonsense. I searched for clinicians who dealt with issues   related to treating post-traumatic stress disorder, or in common parlance, not being able to cope in varying degrees as the shit of the pandemic hit the fan day after day and the national clown in Washington, DC made anti-science his cause célèbre.

When I did receive a phone call or email, the story was the same: No room at the inn for another client. My least favorite response was from a clinician who agreed to see me, but refused to take health insurance, insisted on a fee of $250 for a clinical hour (fifty minutes), and offered to take $20 off of the fee in what she called a sliding scale. Readers here can see the theater of the absurd coming into play. One clinician said that she would place me on a waiting list and months passed without hearing from her again.

Meanwhile, a clinician in New York, who I knew, met with online clients from many geographical areas in the US, as the guidelines for licensing had been somewhat relaxed in answer to the burgeoning demand for help during the pandemic. That clinician could have spent 24 hours a day trying to meet the demand for help and not have made a dent in those seeking help.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. During the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, a share that has been largely consistent, up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019 (Figure 1). A KFF Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 also found that many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. As the pandemic wears on, ongoing and necessary public health measures expose many people to experiencing situations linked to poor mental health outcomes, such as isolation and job loss (KFF, “The Implications of Covid-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use,” February 10, 2021).

The first injection of two injections of the Covid-19 vaccine provided not only a partial end to social isolation, but caused my symptoms of anxiety related to the pandemic to disappear almost overnight. Not as fortunate were the millions of people for whom the pandemic meant economic collapse, severe illness, and death. How many of those vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic fell into demographics that spelled danger because of previously existing economic and social life circumstances? Untold numbers of the most vulnerable people lived in poverty, densely populated urban settings, nursing homes, assisted-living centers, and veterans homes. The dictates of a top-down economy forced millions of people to work without the luxury of being able to search for emotional support or proper protective equipment. Tens of thousands of deaths, both past, present, and future, result from a thoroughly privatized system of healthcare without a national public health system.

On March 14, 2021, the New York Times reported 533,904 total deaths from the pandemic in the US.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).