My epiphany about the pandemic: how I experienced passionate feelings for online therapy

Therapy is the pinnacle of awkward. You spend an hour talking about the deepest parts of yourself, to a person you barely know, and then you pay them and carry on with your day. I always leave with the same guilt and self-consciousness that comes with an accidental overshare. Did I talk too much about my childhood? Does she view me as overdramatic? What does she think of my new haircut? I couldn’t imagine undergoing the same process virtually.

Then the pandemic hit. Trapped inside my Oakland studio apartment, I was trying to survive a shelter-in-place order with no clear end date. Devastating news reports, combined with personal pressures, caused a thick fog to enter my head. I was not depressed, per se, but I was closer to an episode than I was far. I knew I needed help, but I had doubts about unpacking my sadness while sitting inside the same four walls that housed it.

Then I decided to give virtual therapy a try.

Exactly one week into the pandemic, I sat in the “kitchen” of my studio apartment, wiping my clammy hands on my jeans and waiting for the therapist to enter the Zoom room. My therapist entered, an older, stern white woman, with her hair pulled back tightly, wearing a sensible floral top – and I wondered whether she and I, a queer, ostentatiously dressed black man in my 20s would get on.

We made small talk at first.

She told me about her own attempts to cope with quarantine by purchasing workout equipment and exercising at home. I showed off the French bulldog I had gotten a few weeks before lockdown.

Then, step by step, she chipped away at the looming problems in my life. The process was so subtle and masterly, that before I knew it intimacy and trust developed between us. I felt she was in the room with me, performing the act of kindness I so desperately needed: listening.

While everyone was using webcams to pretend we were fine, here I could be real

Good therapy means having your problems met with seriousness and compassion, no matter how big or small, mature or petty. My therapist did not berate me for feeling a lack of motivation, or for viewing the pandemic solely through how it was inconveniencing my life. She took notes as I vented, like a student preparing for a test.

“We are going to come up with a plan to get you back to where you need to be,” she said, at the end of our first session. After weeks of flux and uncertainty that was exactly what I needed. A plan.

I left those first sessions buoyed, as if I had gone for a run or danced to my favorite pop song. I was surprised. In my life, everyone was using webcams to pretend we were fine – here I could be real.

I could tell my therapist about how the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor left me feeling untethered. I don’t know whether she could identify with my anxieties, but she could recommend small adjustments to help me cope.

We discussed healthy hobbies to develop during lockdown: establishing a better sleep schedule, and breathing exercises to practice in the morning. Slowly but surely, the fog began clearing from my head.

Two weeks ago, I met with my therapist again. I took stock of how comfortable I had grown logging on, angling my webcam just right and diving into our conversation with ease. I praised the fitness app she recommended last session; she asked how my puppy was doing. As the session came to a close, my therapist beamed. “You just have such a glow now!” She examined my image on her computer screen and nodded once. “I think we got you back where you need to be.”