The Covid-19 epidemic has created more clinical anxiety/depression than any other event in recent history, per the Mental Health Organization. They claim that it has affected young people at a higher rate than ever before, and, alarmingly, that those affected are considering suicide at a much higher rate as well. Those young people are young single adults, young married couples, and most concerning, young parents of very young children. I am hoping that the medical and mental health professionals are on top of this, and that they will be prepared to help those in need.
But what about those who are just anxious? Concerned? Maybe even a little panicked? My guess is that the demographic falling into this group is the parents of the school-age children. It’s an educated guess because I’m one of them. And my friends are them.
We have flocked to social media, seeking options, guidance, answers, and only finding rhetoric full of sound and fury, and a whole bunch of opinions… From behind the masks in the socially-distanced lines at the big box stores, we dispense a streaming blend of conjecture, bewilderment, and prognostication. School boards across the country are battered at every turn as they come to realize that no solution is the right solution for all of us. And the anxiety just grows…
But I don’t worry so much about those folks. They’ve been through stuff before. Most of them were going through high school when 9/11 happened. They’ve seen sickness and been sick themselves. They were deciding to start their families as they watched school shootings and their aftermaths. They have made tough decisions about life, and seen the consequences come to fruition. They’ve had to face the challenges of adulthood, and mostly come away unscathed. They’ll eventually be fine.
I worry about their kids.
In a past life I was told to never let my subordinates see me sweat. If there was an emergency it was fine to react, but never run, never show panic. Because when you do, you imprint on those you lead the emergent nature of the situation, increasing a sense of panic and chaos in them, and exacerbating the situation far beyond the scope of the initial problem. When the captain of the ship hauls tail across the deck, it’s time to get into the lifeboats, right?
When we, as parents, exhibit signs of anxiety, our kids pick up on it. They absorb it. They experience it. But they don’t know how to handle it.
As someone who has witnessed the very real effects of mental illness first hand in my life, I have been unsettled by a need to help those kids. At the same time, I have been planning my PGH Santa 2020 season, and the situation has created in me a longing to do something much more.
Over the years I have learned that the first step in dealing with the triggers of anxiety or depression is to have the sufferer focus on the present. Anxiety is fueled by preoccupation with the future. Depression is triggered by an unhealthy treatment of the past. But what happens when the present is actually as terrifying as the past and the future combined? That is when it is important to find an objective or a goal that exists beyond the anxiety-producing aspects of the future. A sort of lighthouse to attain, a beacon to follow. Sometimes it is even a waypoint in the journey one is embarking on, but one that is desirable and comforting.
Imagine a swimmer who needs to swim two hundred yards through shark-infested waters. This seems like an impossibly frightening task. It helps if the swimmer has a team to cheer them on, to warn them when sharks may be approaching, to guide if they are veering off course, and to chum the waters out of the path of the swimmer so they have a straight shot to safety. They still have to make the swim. But imagine that they know that at the hundred yard mark is a raft that will provide safety and rest. And that they can see the raft, can focus on the raft, and be confident that the raft will be there when they arrive. The helpers provide help, but the raft provides hope.
Let’s look at this example as an allegory to what our kids are facing today. The helpers are parents, teachers, counselors, medical professionals, and our educational systems and curriculae. The parents cheer and motivate. The teachers, medical pros, and counselors warn and guide. And the systems prepare the waters for the safest navigation possible. (please don’t get hung up on the crossover functions of all the parties listed–it’s not a perfect allegory…) And the raft in our story?
I suggest that the raft be Christmas.
(There are very deep spiritual implications within such a concept, but I won’t go into those.)
What I will say is that we don’t know what is going to happen in September, October, November, December… we don’t know what we’ll be doing, or what our world will look like.
But we do know that there will still be Christmas… we can be sure of that. Like the Whos down in Who-ville, who taught the Grinch that noone can stop “Christmas from coming, IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same.” It will be Christmas. Despite it all. And there will be celebration. There will be singing. And there will be love.
And there will be Santa.
In the spirit of helping kids through this, and also to help me become better at what I do, I would like to stand on the raft as a beacon, to help bring the children through those uncertain waters! I want to fill them with the hope of Christmas!
I am offering 36 hours of FREE virtual visits with PGH Santa. These will be short, but impactful visits. Our conversations can be about anything; mostly we’ll just talk about what they want to talk about. The calls will be positive, encouraging, and the children will know how proud Santa is of them. But the impact on their psyche will mostly come from the simple association of Santa with that which is sure to come. That which will bring joy. That which will bring peace.
I am scheduling these starting Wednesday, August 19th at 6pm, and anticipate wrapping up by September 9th. Each visit will last between 8-10 minutes. Mom or Dad (or both) must be there. I can visit with siblings together if desired. The visits can happen on the preferred devices and platforms of the children. And they are free. I will accept tips if they feel so inclined, but they are not necessary. I only ask that the parents provide some information prior to the visit by completing a form, and some feedback afterward by completing a survey. I see this as a win-win. I get to practice connecting virtually, while bringing hope to these little ones.
I really love being Santa.
I am not offering Comfort Calls at this time. Thank you for your understanding.