Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Fall 2020

What’s Going On Behind the Mask…

Monica Baskin, PhD, SBM President

Monica Baskin, PhD, SBM president
Monica Baskin, PhD
SBM President

In my last message, I encouraged you to join to Let’s Go All IN: INclusion, INnovation, INfluence. As the theme for my presidential year, I am thrilled to see how so many of our members and partners are diving right in to make a difference in our field and the larger society. I look forward to seeing, learning, and sharing more about what SBM is doing in each of these areas over the next several months.

This quarter, encouraged by the writing of Dr. Matthew Whited, I decided to embrace the idea of non-academic writing as a chance to show our vulnerability. So I have chosen to “lower my mask" and share with you a bit of introspection as I have tried to navigate my professional and personal life over the past few months.

Several who know me might describe me as strong, poised, approachable, insightful, assertive, intelligent, strategic, wise, even-tempered, and a problem-solver. In fact, I asked a few friends and colleagues to describe me in three adjectives and these were their actual words. While I am sure they were too polite to describe any of my negative attributes—and I certainly did not ask for input from my 16-year-old daughter—I suspect that most who have interacted with me in recent months see me as someone who is fairly well put together. In reality, on more days than I care to count, just under my cotton mask lurks a carefully crafted expression designed to hide the sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, and fear that has gripped me the past few months.

During this season, I have attended multiple virtual and socially distanced funerals, agonized over whether to choose all virtual, blended, or in-person school for my teen, struggled with whether my family would travel to visit my mother and in-laws who live in another state, missed communications because of the exponential increase of emails in my inbox, and attended an average of seven Zoom meetings per day. I have also managed to keep a pleasant tone as I responded to countless requests to conduct diversity trainings or speak about racism in my non-diverse circles. While I likely smiled, nodded, and laughed a time or two, the multiple pandemics of COVID-19, racism, and anti-science have depleted my physical and mental health. Like  Dr. Crystal Lumpkins shared, this time has led me to a new consciousness of the challenges of multiple identities (African American, woman, wife, mother, researcher) while navigating systems plagued with bias and the need to rediscover why I do what I do.

While this season is not yet over, I want to share with you two wellness tips I have implemented to strengthen my resilience during this challenging time.

  • Be Kind to Yourself. This is not the time to scold yourself for what you didn’t do or what could have been. You deserve a bit of grace. Make the time every day to do something that heals your soul and gives you energy. Whether it is listening to your favorite playlist, meditating, drawing, mindful movement, or (my personal favorite) putting together a puzzle, make sure to take a break just for you.
  • Check In On Someone Else. No matter how things may look on the outside, there is usually more going on behind the mask. Physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 is evidence-based and necessary; however, disconnecting from social networks can have devastating and long-term negative effects. As my pastor reminded me just a few days ago in his sermon from Genesis 2:18, the first problem in the Bible that God solved was that of solitude. Be sure that those around you know that they are not alone. Call, send a text, email, or send a card to let your friend, family, colleague, employee, or [insert relationship here] know that you are thinking of them and ask them the following questions:
  1. How are you doing?
  2. No, how are you really doing?
  3. Did you just lie to me?

And if they open up and share what is really going on behind the mask, take a page from the playbook of frontline peer supporters and be present and listen