Dear Esther,

My husband, Chaim, and I have always loved to travel. We both share a tremendous curiosity about the world and are interested in lands far and near. Thank G-d, we have been able to do a great deal of traveling, particularly since our children are grown and out of the house. We generally take two or three trips a year, which I know is a lot, and I’ve always been very grateful that we’ve had the ability to do so.

It’s a big part of our lives. It starts with the planning stage. We love sitting together, coming up with destinations and planning the dates, the sightseeing, the food, and all the details that go into a trip. It’s an interesting and exciting activity that we shared together, almost like a hobby, as we pored over pictures and reviews.

Then, of course, there’s the actual trip, which is usually a big success since we put so much effort into every detail, leaving no surprises once we arrived. We photograph and video every highlight of the trip, so that once we get home, we can spend hours and hours reliving and talking about the trip and sharing the details with family and friends.

And then the cycle would begin all over again. Sometimes, even when we were still on one trip, we would start talking about where our next trip would take us.

Anyway, I know that we are all missing so much and, in some cases, experiencing some enormous hardships due to the coronavirus, so people reading this column might think that I’m totally shallow writing in about this issue, but I am feeling stressed about how to help my husband.

Though I miss the traveling and the planning and the memories associated with it, I’m fine. Chaim, on the other hand, has been like a caged animal for a while now. He seems so restless, like he’s ready to jump out of his skin. Even before he retired, his job required a lot of travel and running around. It’s what has kept him invigorated and in some ways alive. It’s very hard for him to sit home, without his usual running and going and, equally important, planning. Even when we used to travel, we were always on the go. We never vacationed in hot spots where he would just lie on a lounge chair and read a book. Chaim always had to be on the move. At the very beginning of COVID he was doing OK emotionally, as he was so busy researching ways to stay safe and stocking up on all kind of vitamins and cleansers, etc. But as time went on, Chaim started becoming more and more depressed and really hard to be around.

I don’t know what to say to him or do for him. I tell him that things will get back to normal eventually, but, obviously, I can’t tell him when. The tension between us is increasing, as he takes out his frustration on me. He complains all the time, tells me he is going out of his mind, and I don’t know how to learn to live with this new Chaim who is grumpy and ungrateful. We’re both so miserable.

What can I do?

Miserable

Dear Miserable,

This COVID virus has left no one unscathed and has absolutely changed lives — from the very loss of lives to chronic health issues, from the loss of businesses and jobs to other major shifts in lifestyles that may never revert to the way they were in pre-COVID days. For those individuals who fall into these unfortunate categories, the notion that Chaim is having a rough time because he presently can’t travel is probably too much to hear.

However, loss is loss, and though some would scoff at Chaim’s loss, I understand that, for him, his life is no longer something he can relate to. His inability to remain still and calm is probably a problem he’s dealt with his entire life. As you described him, he is a restless soul. For people who are not, it’s hard to understand what that feels like and why it’s such a big deal. But for the person who feels trapped when unable to get out and experience a greater degree of life and all the distractions it offers, it can feel unbearable.

I can easily come up with numerous suggestions of ways to engage Chaim: Pulling out old photo albums and sharing great memories together, encouraging him to take courses online, purchasing books that feature other countries and cultures for Chaim to explore in this new way, finding an online chess partner, and so on. There is so much to access and enjoy from the comfort of our own homes, especially if Chaim can afford to indulge in these efforts. But I suspect that the problem goes much deeper than these practical solutions might address.

What comes to mind is that Chaim is running away from something. Many people who find it torturous to just sit still with their own thoughts are often running from demons they’ve never dealt with, always staying a few steps ahead of painful thoughts that they believe are better off left far behind. If that’s the case, Chaim would probably have a hard time admitting that to himself, let alone to you. But as many of us are discovering our own silver linings during these present nutty times, maybe Chaim could discover, with your encouragement, that for him, a silver lining might be the opportunity to talk to an objective person (Who are we kidding? A therapist) about the challenges he’s been facing while staying home so much. If he agrees to give it a shot, it may lead to some wonderful self-awareness and growth. Or he may just discover that he suffers from ADD and is finally able to put a label to and understand the behavior that has most likely impacted much of his life, for better or for worse.

Finally, wherever Chaim goes with this — because ultimately it will be his choice what to do with his restlessness, despite your encouragement, concern, and love — try to tap into some of your independent emotions that reflect your own thoughts and feelings. Though as a loving wife you will naturally absorb some of Chaim’s struggles, you should leave enough space in your heart for your own happiness. Like most of us who have been pivoting into new opportunities for satisfying lives, find your own sweet spots wherever possible.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone, Zoom, and FaceTime sessions. She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295. 

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