Kelly Grosklags is an experienced therapist who dedicated her practice to minimizing suffering through her work in oncology, palliative care, and hospice. Kelly is a licensed clinical social worker, a board-certified diplomate in clinical social work, and a fellow of the American Academy of Grief Counseling. Kelly now teaches and speaks frequently about end-of-life issues, including care, grief and loss, both in person, on her website, Conversations With Kelly, and on her Conversations With Kelly Facebook page. Her support has helped patients, caregivers, and health professionals cope with depression and anxiety and transform fear into hope.
Listen to the podcast to hear Kelly discuss ways to combat the loneliness and anxiety people may be feeling during this time of isolation and social distancing because of COVID-19, including:
- how to stay emotionally close while being physically distant
- how breathing and living in the now can help ease anxiety
- why taking up a new hobby can be good for your psyche
Running time: 47:15
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Show Full Transcript
Jamie DePolo: Hello. As always, thanks for listening. Our guest today is Kelly Grosklags, an experienced therapist who dedicated her practice to minimizing suffering through her work in oncology, palliative care, and hospice. Kelly is a licensed clinical social worker, a Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work, and a fellow of the American Academy of Grief Counseling. Kelly now speaks and teaches about end of life issues, including care, grief, and loss, both in person and on her website, Conversations with Kelly. Her support has helped patients, caregivers, and health professionals cope with depression and anxiety and transform fear into hope.
Kelly joins us today to talk about ways to combat the loneliness and possible depression people may be feeling during this time of isolation and social distancing because of COVID-19. Kelly, thank you so, so much for talking to us today.
Kelly Grosklags: Jamie, it’s good to be back with you, and of course I have such a deep compassion for the people who are living with cancer, and particularly with breast cancer as well, so thank you for inviting me back.
Jamie DePolo: Absolutely. You were the first person I thought of when we were talking about how people in our Discussion Boards were talking about feeling lonely and isolated. I’m like, “Oh, let me reach out to Kelly and see if she’ll do a podcast with us so we can talk about some of the things that people can do!”
Now, before we start talking about that, I do want to ask you, you recently traveled home from Barcelona, you and your family were in Spain, and you were coming home right when all the restrictions were announced. So, can you just tell us a little bit about what that was like and what you went through?
Kelly Grosklags: Sure, so we actually came home because of that, we cut our trip short. We started off in France, beginning of the trip, and then went to Barcelona, which I’d highly recommend, not at this moment, even though you could probably get it pretty cheap, but I would not recommend, obviously, traveling now, we can’t. But it was a really strange experience in that there was so much panic in France, but not as much in Barcelona at all. There weren’t a lot of masks, there weren’t a lot of things. So actually for a moment, we kind of got to a place where we forgot about it a little bit, which was refreshing.
But then when our president announced that he was going to be closing the borders, our daughter actually came into our room at the VRBO and said — and it was like 2 in the morning — and said, “The borders are going to be closing.” So we got up, and there was so much information, and I think that’s another thing I want to talk about today, is that there’s always so much mixed information when there’s chaos. And so we originally were told we weren’t going to be able to get back, then later found out we could get back if we were Americans.
But nevertheless, we’re home safe, and it was very anxiety-provoking because we didn’t know for sure if we were going to be able to get back. We were able to book a flight. It cost us a lot of money. And when you arrived back in the States, it was still early enough, before all this broke, that there were questions, there were interviews, but there wasn’t screening, per se, which I think there should have been.
Now that we’re back, we are in self-quarantine. We’re in day 9 of it, of the 14, and it’s an interesting feeling, you know? There’s a little bit of, like, we’re kind of plagued with something. I mean, nobody really wants to be around us, nor should they be, but we’re fine as far as we can tell. But even walking in the neighborhood, keeping our distance, neighbors saying things like, “We don’t want to come near you!” And so that’s been an interesting experience, quite frankly, and working in the field of HIV and AIDS in the early ‘90s, these are the things that my patients would tell me back then. That people didn’t want to come around them, they feel like they’re going to catch something just by looking at them or talking to them, and getting a little bit of that perspective, quite honestly.
So, it was stressful, but it’s been more stressful being here than it was being there, because I was living kind of in the ignorance of it at the time. Because Barcelona really wasn’t hit until recently. I mean, Madrid was really hit. Now I know Spain is a hot area. But what’s been more interesting, Jamie, is the experience coming back here to the States.
Jamie DePolo: What do you see? What are you experiencing? What are people saying to you? I know you’re doing a lot of online stuff on your Facebook page, on Conversations with Kelly. What are people talking to you about?
Kelly Grosklags: So, the interesting thing, I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me. So my two areas of specialty are oncology and mental health, and then grief and loss. And what’s been interesting is people that have experienced cancer diagnosis or even any kind of life-threatening diagnosis, or a significant loss, have traveled these waters before. That’s really what I’m hearing from people, they’re anxious about it, but when they take a step back, many people are realizing that they have the tools that they’ve developed already going through the health crisis, going through the loss, that they’re relying on now.
The interesting thing is, though, this is the first time in my lifetime that we’ve all been in the same boat, per se, together. We’re all entering this kind of at the same time here, at least in the United States. But as a world, we’re entering this, we can all relate to it, unlike people living with cancer, unlike people maybe who have had a significant loss, that can be incredibly unique.
And so it can feel really isolating right now, but I also want to reiterate that we are actually in this together. This is truly an experience that probably most of us in our lifetime have never experienced where we can relate to people, and we’re in this. And we’re all impacted maybe a little differently. Some of us are losing our jobs, some of us have another preexisting health condition that’s compounding the fear. But if we step back for a minute, if we can realize that we’re all in this together, I think that in itself can be a form of support.
Jamie DePolo: That’s very wise. I think so, too.
I’m curious, I know you have a lot of experience working with people who have been diagnosed with cancer, do you think that perhaps those people, are they more likely to feel overwhelmed or sad because they’ve got a cancer diagnosis and now they’ve got all this other stuff on top of it, or is it that they’re maybe more resilient because as you said, they do have those kind of coping skills?
Kelly Grosklags: Sure. So, I think it’s a both/and situation here. And when I speak, I’m speaking from, you know, I have a smaller — I don’t want to make this a blanket statement when I answer. But from what I know and from what I’ve experienced in the last week, coming from the people that have reached out to me, many of them are terminal, okay? Many of them are terminal, they’re living with metastatic disease, and they’re not necessarily actively dying, but they’re living with a terminal illness.
So, the interesting thing that has come from those conversations are that yes, they’re scared, but it is more about the fear of not being able to go to their appointments, the fear of will they be able to get treatment, will the medicines be available, is there going to be a shortage on pain medication, they want to be able to see their families. Those kinds of things versus the experience of death. And that’s been really interesting, because I think we all have to look at, what is the identifying fear? What’s our major fear? And then once we identify that, what’s behind that fear?
And so, for a lot of the patients that I’ve worked with, quite honestly, it’s not so much the death. It’s more about between here and the end, what are they going to be lacking? And I think we have to be very conscientious with that and know that people might assume that we’re fearful of death. Okay, that could be one of them. But what I’m hearing a lot from people is more about the lack of being able to be connected, the lack of going to a support group, the inability to get what they need, all of those types of things that are feeling as big, if not bigger, for some of the people I’ve been talking to.
And you know, some people have been kind of flippant and have said, “I’ve been dealing with this for a long time, now it’s just called something different.” Or you know, “We know how to do this,” or whatever it may be. Yes, I’m seeing a ton of anxiety around this because it is an unknown. And I think people have to remember, too, that when diagnosed with cancer, that was also an unknown. And now that they’ve traveled through that, it’s become more of a known. We’re in another time here of uncertainty, but go back to how have you managed your cancer diagnosis, your fear, your concerns with this diagnosis? It can apply to the fear around the COVID-19, also.
We are in a new time, a new thing, so to speak, but we were made for connection, we are resilient, and I think that that is really important to remember. I am actually calling it physical distancing versus social distancing, because I want to make sure that people are physically distant, but they are not emotionally distant. And there’s that kind of thing within social distancing where I think people hear that… We can be creative right now in ways that are social. You know, we are fortunately in a time where many of us have access to technology — I know not all of us do, but many of us do. Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, phone calls, like old-fashioned phone calls, texting, some of these different things, even emailing back and forth. But I want to make sure we are still really committed to being emotionally connected. Physically, we do have to be distant right now, but being emotionally connected.
And so that’s a long answer to your question, but again, I’m seeing a lot of different responses. I will have to say, though, that I have seen many people who have lived with a life-threatening illness be very… It’s just been a very interesting thing for me. It’s actually kind of stopped me in my tracks and gone, oh, that’s interesting. Where people aren’t downplaying it, but they’re saying that they have felt this familiarity that the rest of the world is feeling before.
Jamie DePolo: Yeah. That’s interesting, because there were actually a couple of questions like that on our Discussion Boards where — and I’m going to paraphrase this — a woman said, “You know, now the planet is kind of going through the hysteria” that she felt when she was diagnosed, like this overwhelming, “oh my gosh, I’m going to die.” And after she kind of processed that, and maybe she didn’t make complete peace with it, but she says, “I’m marching on, I’m coping, I function, I live my life,” and right now, it seems like the planet maybe isn’t quite there yet. We’re still kind of in that hysteric mode of, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do, oh my gosh.” And I guess the only lesson, maybe, that I take away from that, not being a professional, is that we will get there, it’s just going to take some time.
Kelly Grosklags: Yes. Yes. We will get there. As with any crisis, there is a peak, and then there can be some settling and leaning into kind of that uncertainty a little bit. But there’s a peak, and there’s a plateau, we might see another peak. And then I do think in terms of diagnostically, our cases, I think, it is going to get maybe worse before it gets better based on what we know from the other countries that have gone through this. But I also think we have to remember that there are things we can do, and we need to do those. And those are things like staying home, handwashing, getting enough sleep. I mean, taking the best care of us that we can, I think, is going to be really important.
And I do think we’re going to get there, and... I know we’re going to get there. I mean, I know this is going to settle. If you think about even 9/11 and how this country has been able to be resilient through that. But I remember very clearly those first early days, weeks, months of 9/11. I didn’t know if we were going to be able to get through it. That’s our American version of, okay, when’s the last time we were all impacted in a way. And we did get through it. And we will never be the same, but that’s not necessarily the goal, is to be the same, you know?
Any time there’s a crisis, any time there’s something that comes in, I will never call it a gift, but there are some opportunities. I’ve already seen people in my own life change around this. They have different perspectives. They have different gratitudes. They’ve kind of looked at the pace of their life and how crazy it was, and what was that for, and really dedicating time to take care of themselves, telling people how much they love them, telling people thank you. Some forgiveness is happening right now because there’s bigger things in the world than holding onto that grudge with your brother about something that happened 10 years ago, or whatever it may be. And so I don’t know when, I just know we are going to get through this.
The problem is right now, there’s so much hysteria in the media. And there’s conflicting information. And so one of the things I really want to recommend to people is find your source that feels intuitively like you can trust it, whether it’s CDC, the World Health Organization, your local department of health, maybe there’s a podcast, program you listen to, and try to funnel it into that. Because I have noticed even when I look at a different channel I’m getting different information, and it’s really creating anxiety and kind of confusion for me. So, I would really recommend, find what feels intuitive. We have to set some boundaries around how much we’re taking in. We’re getting bombarded, and we are not meant for that kind of overload.
This is a trauma. You know, when I was thinking about talking with you, too, I was thinking, “Okay, so you have cancer, COVID-19, and anxiety and depression,” that’s a trio of trauma. That is a trauma to have those things, and I know for a lot of the people it’s bringing up PTSD.
Jamie DePolo: Sure.
Kelly Grosklags: It’s bringing up trauma around that, because maybe with the cancer diagnosis and living with cancer — depending upon early-stage, metastatic, whatever it is — maybe you’ve just gotten in a groove to try and understand it and feel like you’re starting to live your life with it. And maybe it’s just gotten into a groove, and then this comes. It’s really important to acknowledge that. There’s still a lot of therapists that are practicing telemedicine, there’s some practicing therapists still in person. It’s important to find somebody to be able to talk through this trauma experience.
Because we’re all in this, but we’re not all having the same reaction to this, as I would expect. And I think that that’s important to remember. This might be the first time somebody has had their life kind of rattled to this extent. For some people, this is a very familiar rattling, if that makes sense.
Jamie DePolo: Yeah.
Kelly Grosklags: It’s called something different. So, I really want to encourage people, it’s like, there is a resiliency inside you, in all of us. What helped you get through another experience in your life that was traumatic, whether it’s diagnosis, a loss, a relationship break, whatever it may be, and go internal, go into your center, and find those things. Because they can apply and they can help you in this as well.
Jamie DePolo: Yeah. Yeah. That makes. I do want to kind of go down that path a little bit further. You talked about using the internet to keep emotionally close to people, and I know last night I used FaceTime, and I did a workout with four of my other friends, and we were all on FaceTime. And that actually, I felt closer to them than I thought I was going to, so it was kind of cool.
Kelly Grosklags: Yes.
Jamie DePolo: But I know that, as you said, some people don’t have a lot of internet access or it’s limited, so are there other things people can do? Because I know you talked about what helped you in the past, and maybe it was going to a support group, or maybe it was going to yoga. And those things are kind of limited right now, so we have to be a little bit more creative. So what have you been seeing or what would you share?
Kelly Grosklags: Well, it’s interesting, because I know some of the older generation aren’t as comfortable with the internet. And a lot of the cancer and medical kind of organizations and nonprofits in Minnesota, at least, are using virtual support groups, virtual whatever, and those are great only if you have access to it.
I’ve been able to be creative with people. So, if you don’t have access to be able to maybe get on Google Hangouts or a virtual support group, what I am asking is that somebody in that group then call the person. While they’re in the, let’s say they’re on their laptop, they’re in the support group, let’s say one of the attendees doesn’t have access to that, but likely they have a phone. So, let’s call them Jane and Mary. And Jane is at home, and she is hooked up to her laptop, and she is in the virtual support group now. She calls Mary. Mary is on the phone at least — it might be a third layer out, but at least feels connected — and maybe she can put her on speaker, so Mary can at least hear what’s going on, whatever it may be.
I mean, we do have to be creative. And I want to say that if people want to be connected, there are ways. I think there are barriers, but there are different ways. I know there’s been a lot of letter-writing to senior citizens. I think there was even some scare around that, though, about how long can the virus live on these envelopes, and… It’s just so much stuff right now. But that’s another option, too, is writing letters.
I think the thing is, though, is make sure, for people that live alone it can be incredibly isolating. If you know people that live alone, check in on them. If you can be at least 6 feet away, if not even 10, and just have a face to face, like, “Hi!” kind of thing, I mean, it would be a really nice thing to do. People are dropping things off for people. So we’re not having face to face, but maybe dropping off a card or a flower or something. It goes a long way.
And that is the thing that’s going to come from this, Jamie, is we’re going to go back to some very basic kindness that we need in this world. And I think we’re going to go back to some of these basic but very profound acts of trying to connect as humans. And we’ve gotten really complicit, kind of just relying on texting and all these things, and we’re not having a lot of real meaningful connections. Well, now we are. I mean, we’re forced to.
Jamie DePolo: Right.
Kelly Grosklags: We’re forced to check in on each other and be creative. Another thing I recommend around the anxiety and the depression is ask people about their life outside of this virus, you know? Just like when I would work with my patients who were experiencing cancer, we really work on, what are the conversations you can have when you’re connecting with people that are outside of the cancer experience. Because life is happening, you know? Life continues to happen. There are still some joys amongst all this chaos. Maybe somebody got to see their grandchild, or maybe somebody’s child lost their first tooth and that was really fun. Maybe the tooth fairy came to the house.
Whatever it may be, I think it’s going to be really, really important that people try and they’re really intentional about asking a question outside of this or bringing in a story when you’re talking to somebody that has nothing to do with this. Because that’s also going to be a way to kind of tamper down and dial back some of that anxiety.
Jamie DePolo: Yes. Yes. I know. Yeah. I mean, people are still having birthdays. I know I got a lot of joy out of seeing the first bulbs in my garden are blooming, so that was kind of a nice thing. I’ve also been enjoying — I don’t know if you’ve seen it — the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago is posting videos of their penguins, one of whom is named Wellington, walking around the aquarium and visiting the other animals and the fish. So that’s my smile every morning. I check in and see what Wellington is doing.
So yeah, you’re so right. We do have to be very intentional.
I do want to ask, too, about a group that is even more cut off, and this includes my mom. Now, she’s in a care facility. She has dementia. She now cannot have visitors. I’m not quite clear — because I can’t talk to her anymore, she can’t really operate a phone — so I’m not quite clear if she understands what’s going. And that is honestly giving me the most anxiety, because I’m kind of dependent now on just updates from staff. I don’t know if you have any advice on that, because it’s really, really tough. I certainly do not want to see her get sick because that would really be the end, but it’s just really tough to not be able to communicate.
Kelly Grosklags: Oh, it’s so hard. Yeah. So, I’m hearing from that a lot. I’ve actually been thinking of that a lot. I had an aunt that died recently who was like a mother. Now, she was young, she was 65, and she was in assisted living, and we talked a lot about that as a family recently, about what that would have been like, and how scary that would have felt. So I have a lot of compassion for that, Jamie.
And I will say that we have to really rely on these staff members who are very overburdened right now, because when family can’t visit, it increases their amount of responsibility as well. And so I think that’s also something that I know a lot of my colleagues who are working in those facilities are trying to be creative on how they’re going to do updates, and they’re going to have to be much more intentional about their communication.
Now, in terms of what can you do, one of the things I really want to recommend, too, is that… I think another thing that can help people is kind of get outside of their own story. And so can you send donuts, or whatever, something to the staff. Because that is one way that if the staff can feel appreciated, they tend to feel better, they can then provide better care, and right now we really have to thank healthcare professionals. They are working day and night, they’re exposed to a lot of things. But that’s another thing that we can do, is to send things to the staff, and just make them feel appreciated. They’re going to then maybe feel… I mean, appreciation goes a long way. Gratitude goes a long way. And then maybe they’re going to have that energy to be like, “Oh, yeah, there’s a world existing outside of in here, which can feel really chaotic.”
But I think you can also reach out, and you can also ask for things. I mean, I know they’re overburdened, but it is okay to ask for an every-other-day update. Or what can they do? Can they start a Facebook group? Can they start an email group where they’re doing kind of an overall — I know with HIPAA they can’t give specific things — but can they do an overall, “This is the energy in the home today. So far, we don’t have any cases of COVID-19, or we have two.” Because information is what we like as humans. It helps us — even if it’s an illusion — it helps us feel a little more in control and centered. And so if you have somebody in a facility — I mean, I know a lot of people right now, they have loved ones in the hospital, and they can’t visit.
Jamie DePolo: Yeah.
Kelly Grosklags: And they’re doing some FaceTime with the patients so at least the family can see their face, and that’s been helping. And so I don’t know if the care facility your mom is at, if they have an iPad, if they are able to do any of that, I don’t know what the HIPAA regulations are, but you absolutely have a right to ask for communication. And again, I think they internally are figuring out what their capacity is. But they’re going to have to come up with some kind of organized something, because that is a loss for you, and for many people, to not be able to have connections with their family members.
The thing I also want to say to everybody listening, is that yes, we are learning patience through this, and yes, there are priorities that are being done, but at the end of the day, we’re still humans, and we still want to have a connection with people we love. And it’s okay to ask for those things. People may say, “not today,” people may say, “not right now, I can’t do that,” but it’s still okay to ask. And I think that also gives us a sense of feeling like, okay, we’re doing whatever we can do right now.
We need reassurance, right? We need to hear from the staff that today she ate pudding, and she seemed really happy, you know? I think those are important things.
Jamie DePolo: Yeah. No. I agree. Good points. Yeah.
Kelly Grosklags: You know, to really ask and…
Jamie DePolo: Yeah. It’s just, I know it’s tough, especially for people who may have some dementia. Like I said. Like, my mom used to be able to use a phone and now she can’t really, it’s very confusing to her. So, that’s a little tough.
Kelly Grosklags: It is tough, and sometimes they’re wondering why people haven’t come. One of the things I am asking staff to do in the care facilities — and if people are listening that work in facilities and work with people who have dementia — is please show them their family picture. And please talk about their family with the name. So like, “Your daughter Jamie called today, she loves you. We can’t have visitors right now because there’s some, there’s an illness going around, but Jamie called and she loves you,” and show her Jamie’s picture. Show her your picture.
I think that’s one thing, because love doesn’t forget. Love always is in there. You know, even if they can’t cognitively express it, I do know working with hundreds at the end of life who have had some memory issues or even cognitive issues because of the cancer, they can and they will respond in some way to love. Now, she may not be able to look at the picture and go, “Oh, that’s Jamie,” but we want to keep them connected to the outside world in any way that we can right now, and we can do that visually, we can do that through talking to them, whatever that may be. But you absolutely have the right to ask for what you need to have some comfort in this at that time.
And for people that are in the hospital, there may be women and men with breast cancer that are in the hospital right now, and their families don’t have the ability to visit them. Kind of the same thing. As a caregiver, I know that the health care system is overloaded right now, but you still have the right to ask. And you need some reassurance, that will go a long way. You need to make sure that they’re okay, that their pain is controlled, if you can’t speak to them for some reason or they can’t see you. I think that’s really important.
Jamie DePolo: Yeah. I agree. On a slightly, slightly more light note, I noticed on Facebook, you jokingly said that right now people who are staying in, they’re either going to gain weight, they’re going to get pregnant, they’re going to have the cleanest house on the block, or they’re going to learn to knit during all this social, or yes, physical isolation. But seriously, I guess I’m wondering, can taking up a new hobby help if somebody is now working from home, so maybe they don’t have that 45-minute commute, so they’ve got an hour and a half of extra time per day that they’re not quite sure what to do with?
Kelly Grosklags: Exactly. Exactly.
Jamie DePolo: Do you think that can help? Like, it gets your mind off of some of the anxiousness?
Kelly Grosklags: Yeah. Yup. Absolutely. So, a couple of things I know that people can do jigsaw puzzles, and you can still order those online.
I was watching this thing last night from a doctor talking about the boxes of Amazon, that it could be on the cardboard, blah, blah, blah. But like he’s saying, you can’t get it from touching it. You get it from touching it and then touching your face.
So, you touch the box, open it outside, or if you’re immunocompromised, have someone else open it, everybody wash their hands. But I think that’s the thing, is do something that you don’t normally do, because distraction is a very good tactic for dealing with the anxiety, dealing with the strong emotions that are coming up right now.
We’re all living in a moment of anxiety, but for different reasons, right? Some may be anxious because they have children overseas, or whatever it may be, we’re all living with it. But at the end of the day, we can all identify with uncertainty and anxiety. So, distraction. Maybe you do want to learn knitting, jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, reading a book that feels lighthearted. Some people never take the time to sit down and watch a series on Netflix, maybe they’re going to do that now.
I would suggest something that is outside of what you normally do that’s going to distract you. I think it’s a really great thing. There’s some virtual book clubs that are going on that I’ve seen people get really creative, and they read a chapter of a book, and then they meet on Google Hangouts or whatever they do — kind of like what you did with your workout — and they don’t normally do that. They say, I’ve never taken the time to read a book. And so I think that these are opportunities that we have that I think are really important.
But yes, I do think taking up a hobby — and it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Truly, like a family jigsaw puzzle, or even if you live alone, a jigsaw puzzle, or anything that’s going to get your mind off things.
Now, when you’re doing this, I really recommend that you disconnect from TV, radio, media. Because then you’re not really distracted. Then you’re still kind of tuning in, and if you have the TV on, there’s an opportunity for breaking news and all this stuff. And so kind of taking breaks from that.
Some of the people I’ve been talking to, I’ve actually recommended that they set a significant time in the day that they’re going to check in on what’s going on with the virus and with the world, and if you take a few hours break, you’re not going to miss much. The trauma is unfortunately still going to be there, the crisis is still going to be there, but how we handle it might be better if we have breaks from it.
Jamie DePolo: That makes sense. That makes sense.
Kelly Grosklags: Yeah, and it’s kind of fun. You know, like on the chat boards, maybe people want to be posting pictures of things that they’re doing out of creativity. Maybe we even shift the energy a little bit… I know a woman said she learned recently how to groom her own dog, because she’s not going to be able to take the dog out. So she was posting pictures about the horrible haircut, but it made everybody laugh.
And I think those are… I mean, they’re simple yet profound, and you know, my gosh, please, if we can find something… This is a really serious, serious situation, and finding some laughter, and finding some joy, moments of joy. And we may dig really deep within ourselves, and if we’re feeling depressed, we can’t find it within, so we may have to rely on others to bring us some joy.
We’re hearing birds chirping right now in the Midwest. We haven’t heard that for a long time. Everybody is commenting on it, and I think it’s because we have a different perspective right now. This is life. This is new life, spring, things are budding, bulbs are coming up like you’re talking about. I’ve never seen on social media some of these people talk about these things. The cool thing is nature is available to all of us. If you can’t actually get outside, you can open a window, whatever it may be, but it’s available to all of us. And it is one of the antidotes to anxiety, is breathing and getting in nature, which I think is going to be really important.
You know, we are beginning this. We don’t know where we’re at with this, we just don’t know, and that’s part of the anxiety. But we’re going to have to reserve some of our energy, and if we’re using it all up right now in chaos and frenetic kind of energy, I’m worried about how people are going to have the ability to have reserves and keep going through this.
Jamie DePolo: Yeah. That makes sense. Oh, I know I could certainly make everyone smile, because I had to resort to cut my own bangs the other day, and the only thing I can say is thank goodness my hair is going to grow, because clearly I was not cut out to be a hair stylist. But you know, nobody really sees me right now, so that’s all fine.
Kelly Grosklags: Well, maybe you could put a picture up!
Jamie DePolo: Yeah, I could! Maybe. I’ll have to see how my ego feels about that, but…
Kelly Grosklags: Is there anything else that we didn’t get to that maybe you’ve seen on the message boards? I want to make sure I get to… You know, I’m certainly not an expert in COVID-19, but I…
Jamie DePolo: I was just going to say, the biggest thing people are concerned about is, as you mentioned earlier, the availability of treatments and just the general feelings of not knowing, like, “Am I going to be able to have my surgery, am I going to be able to go for my chemotherapy?”
Kelly Grosklags: Exactly.
Jamie DePolo: You know, is reconstruction considered an elective procedure rather than essential? That’s, from what I’ve read anyway, that seems to be where a lot of the concern and anxiety is around it. I don’t think we have answers to that yet because it’s so individualized and it’s on a facility-by-facility location.
Kelly Grosklags: Yes, and so what I think is also important, too, is to remind ourselves to come back to the now, okay, and to be in the now, and right now, what is certain? What do we know is certain in the moment, you know? Okay. I’m sitting here, kind of going back to the senses, but to come back to the now. Because there aren’t a lot of answers in the future, and so I think what’s important to know is that when we’re living too far in the future, we’re going to be anxious. When we’re living too far in the past, we’re going to feel depressed. So, right now, the recommendation for all of us is in the now, what can we do right now to soothe ourselves, to calm ourselves?
There are a lot of questions that people have that of course are very scary: the what ifs, the what ifs, the what ifs. We also know that there is a statistic out there that 85% of what we worry about doesn’t come true. I don’t know how that’s going to pertain to this situation, but I think it’s a good reminder that when we tend to go too forward, we have the worst-case scenario, and that’s how we are as humans. We go too forward, and we latch onto that worst-case scenario. And I think we have to come back into the moment and try to be familiar and grounded in what we do know right now.
At this moment, people may not know if they’re going to see their oncologist. I know a lot of our practices here in the Midwest, we are cancelling any nonessential appointments. So right now, those 6-month checks, those — and I’m sorry, but if you’re living with this, those are really essential to you, okay, and so I know that the language out there right now is somewhat frustrating, because if you’re the one living with it, that’s a really essential appointment to you. But they’re saving it for those people who maybe have fevers, whatever it may be, that it could be possibly life-threatening and more emergent. So, we don’t know the answers, but I think, come back to the now.
Also, it helps a lot if we can verbalize what our fears are. I think that’s where the chat boards can be very productive, if people can get those acknowledged, you know? We also have to be okay with saying we don’t necessarily have the answers to all this. We don’t, and people shouldn’t feel like they have to fix this for somebody. But just really honoring somebody’s fear and holding that space for them can be very helpful, and we can do that on a chat board even with people we’ve never met.
Go back to, what did you need to get support when you were first diagnosed with cancer, okay? When you were first diagnosed with breast cancer — because that’s who primarily is going to be listening to this — or your loved one was diagnosed with breast cancer, what tools helped you to get through the uncertainty and in that fear, and what has helped you? That can apply to this as well, and I think that’s the important part to remember.
Jamie DePolo: Okay. Kelly, thank you so much. I feel like we could talk for another two hours, but I know you have some things to do, so I want to say thank you so much. And I also kind of want to ask you if, depending on how things go and change, maybe we talk to you again in a few weeks, 3 weeks, to talk about this.
Kelly Grosklags: You know, the one thing I do know, Jamie, is that in 3 weeks we’re going to be in a different place. I know that for certain. I don’t know what that’s going to look like, I just know that we’re going to have a little more information. I don’t know where we’re going to be in 3 weeks, but we’re going to be in a different place than we are now. And we’re already in a different place than we were 2 weeks ago in terms of, we know now we have to do this physical distancing, we know that that will help flatten the curve.
I’m also really interested in helping people flatten the fear, because I think that the fear is so justified. I know for me in the beginning, when I first got back from Europe, I felt like I was spinning. I was doing this kind of scarcity thing, like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get, I’ve got to do this, and I’ve got to do that, and I’ve got to make sure this.” And that almost made me sick. And so I think kind of coming back to the now, and that we live in a beautiful community, all of us do, that can be helped, that people will help us. I mean, we see that in the cancer community all the time.
So, I would be happy to come back. I hope this was helpful. Again, I don’t profess to be a COVID-19 expert at all, because nobody really is.
Jamie DePolo: I don’t think we have any experts yet, to be honest.
Kelly Grosklags: No. We don’t. We don’t, but I certainly have lived with fear myself, and catastrophic thinking. And I just know if we come back to the breath and the now, and somehow trusting our own resources, we have to narrow down, who do we trust. We are going to get through this.
Jamie DePolo: I definitely agree. Thank you so much, Kelly.
Kelly Grosklags: Thank you, Jamie.
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