It was two months ago when my family and I were at Portage Tap House having a great time answering questions at Trivia Night. It was so much fun. At the end of the night, the group of us all decided we would definitely get together and compete again the next time. Of course, we didn’t consider the date would be postponed indefinitely. Those were carefree times.

The next morning it was as though it had all changed and we found ourselves having to make a decision about whether or not we would cancel our vacation plans to Florida. All of us had heard or read different bits of news and the idea of going on a plane seemed risky. We debated it at length and went. We washed our hands constantly, wore cloth masks and we each had our own bottles of hand sanitizer. Although we did what we could to enjoy ourselves, it was certainly a different experience then what we were used to. Those were careful times for sure.

Two months later and most, but not all of the people I am in contact with are doing their version of careful. I’m naturally concerned. My friends here in town seemed to be on both ends of the spectrum. There are those who are taking it day by day with a brave face, and those whose lives are upside down and are understandably stressed. I was wondering if my perception of the general mood was in sync with others and so I gave a call to two women who make it their business to help others. Licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) Marie Dexter and Clinical Psychologist specialist, (CP, PHD) Dr. Susan Sanders were gracious enough to take my impromptu call inquiring on their perception of the mindset of our local friends and neighbors.

I first spoke with Marie Dexter about how telemedicine (where you “meet” virtually, and face to face via internet), has changed the nature of her practice. “There is a platform that is confidential that is called DOXYME. which allows me and the client to have a session face to face online and I’m quite surprised, pleased, with the results. I was always one who felt that telephone therapy was unethical because I’m an up-close person.  I like a face-to-face with people, and I feel like the transference, that the personal relationship that goes with the face-to-face interaction is important and I’m finding that with the remote, it’s still there because we are face-to-face and I’m pleasantly pleased that it works so well. I am so not a telephone person, you know. This isn’t telephone. This is truly right up face to face. It certainly is working with the clientele I’m working with.”

LCPC Marie Dexter is pleased telemedicine therapy sessions work surprisingly well.

Not only professionally, but also personally, Dexter has found that technology has helped to bring new and unexpectedly enjoyable ways to communicate. “It’s nice for example Mother’s Day, my granddaughter arranged a whole family gathering on Zoom and it was a ninety minute session and it was wonderful. We were all there, grandchildren, (as many grandchildren as could), and all my children and their spouses, and it was great! For a moment I thought, ‘Oh boy this is going to be awkward.’” It turned out it wasn’t. “After the first five minutes it was as if we were in the kitchen together. It was wonderful. I was so pleased.”

We agreed that just being in the small town of Rangeley has got to be one of the best places for at least the physical distancing part. “Where we are has a huge influence on this, absolutely. We have the natural distance between people. Even the IGA on its best times I have never been face to face and crowded in the IGA and now we are just more mindful as we do our shopping.”

I asked her about how she herself is coping with the situation. “My experience is ‘Okay, what do I need to do to get through this safely?’ We’re isolated here in Rangeley, but even in my life I’m more isolated than most because I’m retired. I do follow certain doctors and I try not to get flooded with just any information on YouTube for example because it could be overwhelming and frightening and so you choose people or websites that you know have the correct knowledge, the correct source, you know. We have to be careful because we can get hysterical. I think that’s how I cope. I cope by informing myself.”

We also discussed how different types of personalities struggle with the isolation more than others. Dexter, “It’s quiet, and it’s hard to deal with quiet. Some people can’t do that. I can. Some people have to be with others at all times. They cannot do quiet and I think learning to do quiet is a skill- to be by yourself and control your negative thoughts and to find constructive things to do. I’m a person that can be alone. I study a lot. I’m a person who is always seeking education and there is so much.” She cautioned, “Again, you have to carefully seek things out because you can waste a lot of time.”

I asked her about how she thinks people in town are coping.  “I think people are handling this quite well, personally. They’re handling it quite maturely. They’re doing what they need to do. It’s a joy to watch families from my window as they take their daily walk. It reminds me that parents everywhere are busy taking care of their little ones and even the bigger ones.  Reminds me of the ducks and ducklings on Haley Pond..”

In response to my question regarding whether or not she would make suggestions of mindfulness or exercise, she used herself as an example. “I have my own meditation every day and I find when I meditate, actually pray, my day is better, it’s that simple, whether it’s meditation or prayer. When you go inside to that quiet place, I think you do have a better day but absolutely getting out and walking.” She happily concluded with a small anecdote, “In fact I’ve had therapy sessions on Depot Rd. A client and I would walk down Depot Rd., and find two big boulders, believe it or not six feet apart from each other! We had our session there but we also got in our hike a half a mile each way! It was a good experience. Hey, whatever works!”

Later that afternoon I was fortunate that Dr. Sanders made time to speak with me. She also has found technology as a good source for communicating with people in that she has been offering weekly five-minute videos on the Farmington Parks and Recreation’s Facebook page. They are called “Mindful Minutes”. At the time of this article, she had just completed her seventh five-minute piece. She explained, “I put them out at Matt Foster’s request to help people understand ways that they could cope with what’s going on and understand what is happening. It’s a whole broad view.”

Dr. Sanders “Mindful Minute” five-minute videos may be found on Farmington Parks and Recreation’s Facebook page.

Without speaking about any of her own patients, Dr. Sanders was able to discuss the community at large and the sometime extreme ends of the spectrum that can run the gamut between anger and compassion. “You can see that there are some people who are very angry because they do not believe that it’s real. Or if it is real, it’s not as terrible as flu- because they haven’t seen it firsthand. They’re angry that their businesses are shut down and their livelihoods are damaged. So, they’re angry because they’re afraid of their losses and that makes sense. And there’s some people that are angry because of loss of freedom. They think that their freedoms are being taken away. Well, that’s another mindset and it’s huge. Not just in Michigan or places that we see people. I saw pictures the other day, North Carolina, people walking around with rocket shooters on their back and with assault rifles- just wanting to walk around with them. It’s bringing out all kinds of fear. Any time you see that it’s because people are afraid. So obviously you’re going to be afraid because it’s an invisible enemy that we know little about or we’re trying to learn about. It seems to cause different symptoms in a variety of people and there is a reason to be concerned about it. So people have a lot of fear. That’s the first thing.”

She continued, “The other thing that’s happening right now in the mental status of the people around our communities in Franklin County is generosity. The most generosity that I have seen emerge since I have lived here sixteen years. I’m sure there has been other times but this, it just brings out the very best in people also. So, people who are coming to the fore and serving one another, making certain people have food, making certain people have masks, making certain everybody’s medications are picked up and that no one is lonely and that the children are entertained. This kind of generosity is a wonderful way to combat the sense of helplessness that we all feel against the Corona virus. So it’s natural for us to feel helpless and what I’ve seen happen here in our county is a huge outpouring of help. And that’s one way to deal with the sense of helplessness is do what you can and that’s what I’m seeing happening. So that’s a really positive thing.” She had also noticed that there has been varying responses to those who are more often struggling with life’s stresses. “People who have chronic mental illnesses tend to actually feel sort of better during these times because it’s almost like now the playing field is level, and everyone is on the same page. So for people with chronic mental illnesses oftentimes they will feel more normal because everyone else is stressed out at the same time.”

She expressed what I thought was a realistic optimism and upward trend in people’s attitude. “But for the most part I see people are doing pretty well. They’re exercising their right to be angry. They’re exercising their right to help and be generous and everybody seems to be working well together and supporting one another. I’ve seen some of the most vulnerable families have risen to the occasion and are working well together. So that’s what I’m noticing. Yes, I’m seeing a lot of fear and anger, and people that are angry don’t always know that it’s because they are afraid, they think it’s just because they’re righteous, but anger is a secondary emotion, it’s in response to something else. There’s a place that people can point their anger and it’s typically right now it’s political and so then it’s just interesting to observe that. In other words psychologically that they feel really angry and perhaps instead of being angry with their spouse, they’re angry with the governor, they’re angry with the president, they’re angry with whoever is out there making this happen, you know is causing this all to happen because that’s how they view it. So, you’ll see the anger is being pointed primarily at politicians, at people in charge, at the governments, lots of anger pointed that way. The anger is grieving, it’s the beginning of grieving. People move through that mindset.”

If you’ve ever met Dr. Sanders then you are probably not surprised she concluded our conversation with notes of positivity. “I am pleased at how many people are coming around that were not thinking this way in the beginning. I am pleased at how people are slowly coming to understand and accept what is happening and people who would normally be stomping their foot are putting on a mask.”

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