Sunday, March 22, 2020

Coping o' The Week: "The New Normal"

The essay below is from guest blogger Federal Defender Eric Vos, District of Puerto Rico.
 Like all residents of Puerto Rico, in 2017 Eric and the staff of his office were all devastated when the island was slammed by Hurricane Maria. Like all Puertorriqueños, they have spent the last three years bravely picking up the pieces of their lives.
  Eric shared his unique insights on life after disaster with the nation’s Defenders last week. His musings about the “new normal” give hope, in a week when hope is in short supply. 
  With Eric’s permission I am sharing a lightly-edited version of his email to the Defenders, below.


  I suspect many of us and our co-workers are in shock and likely depressed. “This is depressing” is a passive statement and suggests possibly avoiding something. I would simply say, “I am depressed.” 
  If post-Maria taught us anything it was that the “new normal” is close at hand. In the immediate hours/days after the crisis landed none of us were sure if we should scream, shit or wind our watch. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” As has been true during the COVID-19 crisis, the emails were torrential. Delete, delete, delete, delete. Too many voices, too much difference, no firm ground, confusion and no government to help. “People are going to die.” Nothing seemed the same and all I/we wanted was sense of normality. 
  Depression is most debilitating when you feel there will be no letting up of the pain, confusion and disarray anytime soon.
  Thank goodness our staff learned, soon after the passing of Maria, that the “new normal” will soon emerge.  Our collective, soon-to-emerge “new normal” will not be as nice, convenient or as easy as it was a month ago. But it will heal you.
  I humbly share this lesson with you: the “new normal” will indeed emerge. Despite its hardships, it will be predictable and easier to navigate. I know that my immediate depression was lifted and displaced by a sense of purpose and a better understanding of the “new normal” after Maria passed. We didn’t have water, cell, electricity, healthcare, police: you name it. And there was no end in sight. Seven days later, we were in the groove and understood what had to be done, what could be done, and had a sense of what the morning and end of the day would likely look like. It wasn’t a holiday, but it was predictable and manageable – kinda. For many of us, these conditions lasted 4 months and yet, the new normal was manageable.
  I share this with you because knowing a “new normal” will emerge, soon, brings me solace and a deepened sense of hope. I hope it will help those of you in need.
  Last, my biggest mistake, huge, was that I allowed my sense of dedication towards our clients and co-workers to let me ignore taking care of myself. I quickly became exhausted, depressed (even more) poorly fed, etc. PTSD was suffered by the entire island, no one was spared, and I only increased my issues by not taking care of myself. In retrospect, I now understand there was no good reason to ignore myself. What saved me in many respects were you, my Defender brothers and sisters, and my loving staff. To the extent you are allowed to move around, do it. Take a break for an hour, unplug, walk around (the dog if you can), and stop reading about the issues. Make a sandwich, read a book, return to life. 
  We folks in the criminal defense bar are fighters, through and through -- we will quickly charge the ramparts and will keep slugging away for our clients as long as we are able. Please take care of yourselves, in all respects, as you save your co-workers and our clients from unnecessary pain and suffering. I have never been prouder to say that I am one of you. 

Eric Vos, Federal Defender, District of Puerto Rico. 

Posted by Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender, Northern District of California. 
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