As the days passed, the socioeconomic disparities of the pandemic became ever clearer. Friedman offered low-cost services, which meant many of her clients worked essential jobs that put them in danger. Some quickly lost health insurance and child care. Others lived in food deserts, she said, and had preexisting health conditions more prevalent there.
With old traumas and phobias exacerbated, clients were frayed and teetering on the brink. They asked for extra sessions. Couldn't relax their shoulders. Told her they wanted to go to sleep and never wake up.
She taught them deescalation skills to draw them back, like splashing their faces with icy water, or closing their eyes to focus on the sensation of the floor beneath their feet. But when they were worried about loved ones — crippled by the "when-am-I-gonna-get-the-phone-call terror," she admitted to her clients: She was, too.
"Therapists have great practice in compartmentalizing," she said. "But this was simply what it felt like to be a human. No one was exempt from deeper self-knowledge this year."
By late May, coronavirus infections in America rose to 1.6 million. Then the video surfaced of George Floyd's killing, another nerve-fraying moment in a country reeling with trauma. The early-pandemic facade that "we're all in this together," she said, had collapsed.
Friedman, who is white, worried that her presence would feel unsafe to clients of color. A nation's shameful legacy was colliding with its newest danger.
The coronavirus death toll in the U.S. topped 100,000.
She fretted. She stewed. She warmed the oven and baked.