• Nick Etheridge

Dear Everyone: a letter to those with questions about social distancing


Hey everyone,


What a wild ride this has been. I think many of us have been going through various stages of this process together. As such I wanted to share some of my insights from this whole quarantine thing with you and give some hopefully helpful take aways as we continue moving forward into uncharted territories.

First of all, know that I’m just as weirded out by this. My “expertise” in emotions has not meant that I’m not occasionally panicked or worried about things. I struggle with waves of exhaustion from this vary destabilizing situation.



When this first started, we had a sudden shift in how we live our lives. This left many of us suddenly feeling scared, anxious, uncertain… so there was a huge push to try to maintain a sense of normalcy. We tried to keep routines as they would be. We tried to create delineation between spaces in our homes. We grasped to normalcy so tightly.

So when this reached a month… I felt kind of a collective unclenching. We couldn’t hold onto the old normal anymore. That, arguably, is gone. I noticed this shift exemplified in one main change. It became suddenly okay to say “not good” when someone asked how you were doing. We dropped this pleasantry. For a week or so it was feeling pretty forced “Oh I’m making the best of this, been keeping up with my schedule and just waiting for this to be over, how are you tho?”

I don’t know who the first person was to say “not great” or “i’m really struggling right now” but thank you

We moved into this new place of creating new routines and new structures and new spaces in our homes. I have seen less pressure to learn a new skills or get a 6 pack for when this ends… because we don’t know when that is anymore.


But, then it got warm outside… and it was mothers day… and it’s soft shell crab season here in Baltimore. We felt.. I felt… I huge pull to see people. Winter is over. Our bodies are like plants. They know when the season has changed to spring and we are normally doing. Where it was easier to say that I was staying inside for just a month before… now it’s soooo hard to see an end date.

I knew I was missing people. I am missing people.

I think a lot about the nervous system and its social components. I think a lot about how I miss hugging people, and feeling their presence over zoom isn’t the same. I feel this strain on the daily with all my clients. I have to open up so much more to feel their presence and their emotions. And that’s one thing we all need. We all need to share in that experience. We need to coregulate through experiencing each others emotions and feeling a safe release of our sympathetic energy.

I noticed my own challenge with safety protocols at abut a month and a half in. I started my own questions of how to get around quarantine when I was talking with my neighbors about yard work. I found myself making exceptions in my head for them. I mean they are right there, right? Like… we’ll just co-quarantine. It’ll be fine.

Except one of them goes to work still because he’s in the food industry. Us deciding to do yard work together felt fine for me… but was it fine with my partner who wasn’t present for the conversation? Oo, and what if I want to see my parents at some point.

I also admit that I saw a friend in person, closer that 6 feet, he came in my house, we hugged even… Would my neighbors be okay coming into contact with me now that I’ve exposed myself to additional risk? Would my friend have been okay with this risk, too?


I don’t know more than you about this COVID thing. What I do want to do is share some thoughts on how to act in a responsible way that aligns with my values, and to add to the conversation something I think is missing.

We have to talk about consent.


We have to be asking for it.



What is consent? Well it’s an informed decision to take part in something. That informed part is what’s so important here. The information is about the inherent risk of participation.

When we talk about consent to sex we are talking about an enthusiastic “YES!” in agreement. That yes does not come from an absence of no.

Consent protects and affirms your bodily autonomy and your agency to make important decisions about your life.

Hopefully, you’re familiar with this kind of conversation. This talk with your sexual partner or partners about their sexual history and practices so that you can make an informed decision to consent (or not) to the risk of STIs, pregnancy, hurt feelings, etc.


Here is a great resource from the folks at Planned Parenthood for this if you need some guidance or a refresher.


**Holding space for how uncomfortable this may be. Take a breath.**


Know you probably won’t be perfect at it. That’s okay. There is no perfect version of this conversation where you don’t feel nervous at all and where you ask every single “right” question. You’re never going to know every risk, but the more communication about this the better.

So how do we apply the sex talk to COVID. Well, a very practical example is based on barrier protections. Instead of a condom… are you wearing a mask when you go in public? Have you been in spaces with other people who are not wearing a mask?

You’ll want to know about frequency of involvement with others, any possible “scares” and regular old hygiene. Does your job have you regularly exposed to strangers? How often do you wash your hands? Have you been tested if you think you might have been exposed?

You’ll want to ask AND SHARE about any exceptions made to social distancing. Like I said, I hugged my friend who I saw. If I were to engage with my neighbors, I’m sure they’d appreciate a conversation about how long it’s been since he was over and any possible risks I knew came with that hug. You’ll also want to consider any upcoming plans you have or other people you come into contact with.




And it’s not just about getting history and assessing the level of risk, it’s about talking about what will make the experience better for the both of you. Would you feel more comfortable if I wore a mask? Would it feel safer for you if we stayed outside?

Can I hug you?

These are the same rules. They are just at the forefront of every day now. Which, in some ways, feels like a good thing. It protect our bodily autonomy. We inherently have the right to make decisions about our own bodies. This is one of the things that makes us feel secure.

Again, I don’t want to give official advice about how to do this and say that you should or shouldn’t see another human person or go camping or go to Target. (Follow CDC/WHO guidelines, stay educated on policy changes in your state and region). But think about being exposed a much greater risk than you anticipated.

Maybe it’s in part a personal reaction.. but I would be very anxious. This is scary stuff that’s real. I know I’d be looking at every sneeze and cough very differently for a while.

(Anxiety about this is okay, too, folks.)

There’s a new normal taking shape. Actively participate in its formation.

Feel secure in knowing that you are planning and thinking about your safety.

Be compassionate and considerate of others and their rights to do the same.



Maybe you do want to see someone in particular, so you talk about ways to minimize rise. Get groceries today for two week and then you can hang out after you both minimize the chance of spreading illness… so long as that’s cool with your roommate.

Take control of what is going to happen this summer. We all have at least one traditional cookout right? Make a plan ahead of time to address the risk and to reduce room for worry.

Just because the state says you can gather in groups of 10 doesn’t mean that’s the right decision for you. Just because you’ve been following strong safety precautions doesn’t mean you’re without risk for others.

You can say no, too.

Make a plan where everyone get’s to consent to the risk.

Thanks for reading,


Nick




Wondering how to converse with your community in a respectful, honest, and collaborative way??


Get in touch with Nick: nick@bwellcounselingservices

@4personalwork

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