Who ya gonna Zoom? Gloombuster!
When older citizens were urged to isolate at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Licensed Professional Counselor Rita Macari began using “telemed”—real-time online telemedicine sessions—to meet with her clients, who are predominantly seniors. Using telemed, the client and Macari see each other face-to-face—live on their computer screens—and talk directly to each other. The sessions have proved quite effective.
“A lot of people now prefer telemed sessions because it’s safe, convenient, and it saves time and money to stay in their homes while talking with me online,” Macari says. Being isolated, fearful, not eating out, not attending church, not going to see movies or sporting events, all have taken a psychological toll on some seniors in Athens. Many of us still can’t go out during the collision of coronavirus with the fall-winter flu season. And some of us may have had to face the lingering aftermath of long-ago trauma we had avoided by staying busy all our lives.
Macari is working with a number of isolated seniors now. Some of them are so lonely they tell her, “You’re the only person I’ve talked to all week.” But Macari is not the kind of counselor who uses “sweet talk.” No way. She is a first-generation Italian-American, raised in Queens, New York. “I don’t mind asking hard questions,” she says.
For some seniors she might ask: “Oh, you bought your son a new car? Yet I noticed you’re still driving a 2001 model. And when was the last time he called you?” Then, perhaps for the first time, seniors might unearth deep-seated resentments they were afraid to share with anyone.
Macari has been at Athens Behavioral Medicine, headed by Psychiatrist Thomas W. McCormack, M.D., since 2012. Prior to that she had been caregiving for 10 years for her aging mother and her husband, who died slowly of A.L.S. (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). After they died, she worked as an addiction counselor in Ocala, Florida, but her son, who lived in Jefferson, Georgia, had a new daughter and called to say: “You’re a grandma. When are you moving?”
She loves to work with seniors because she was around older people all her life. “I love their wisdom. I have learned so much from my clients about how they get through life. Now I’m old and I’ve gained some wisdom along the way that I can share.”
She prominently mentions in her online bio that she is a widow because her client base includes both widows and widowers. “I’ve cried with many women and men,” she says.
The loneliness imposed by the pandemic can trigger painful memories for some clients, from childhood or sexual abuse or other traumatic events that have long been buried. “Trauma is trauma and it lasts forever until you process it,” Macari says. She specializes in helping people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which could date back decades.
“We get triggered through our senses. We smell something or see something on TV that triggers a memory. With trauma, the memory in the brain seems like it’s happening right now.”
As a practical matter, she urges clients in Athens to combat isolation using coping mechanisms such as physical activity, walking outdoors with friends and neighbors, “making sure you get out every single day.” She also recommends OLLI classes or forming “quaranteams” with four to six friends to meet socially in a safe setting such as a yard or patio.
And if depression, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, or panic attacks become overwhelming, Athens seniors could consider telemed therapy to ease the pain.
“I’ve got a huge basket of tools and tips,” Macari says. She often recommends books to her clients. Her favorite, which she calls “the book that changed my life,” is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz.
The Four Agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
Macari loves seeing her clients light up when they suddenly see the truth in such a book.
“My work is my bliss,” she says. “Other than being with my grandchildren, it’s the most rewarding part of my life.” For more information, go to athensbehavioral.com.
Related stories: Tips for conquering loneliness, Older adults showing resilience