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Honolulu Experts Offer Tips and Tales From Their Own Lives for Dealing with Togetherness and Tough Challenges in “Life Interrupted: Couples”

The fourth session in our free talk-story webinar grapples with the dynamics of surviving a pandemic as part of a couple, figuring out strategies that help even as our lives keep changing.


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Showing respect and care for our partners while recognizing that this pandemic is creating anxiety, stress, sadness and depression for everyone can help us all to get through this time together and come out even stronger. After all, it’s not going away anytime soon. A panel of community wellness experts assured the audience of HONOLULU Magazine’s latest webinar that simple habits can help.

 

Marriage and family therapist Kainoa Kāneakua lives alone in Honolulu, while most of his immediate family lives on Kaua‘i. One important piece of advice he has is to “be gentle and kind to yourself and others” during this difficult time. His family is among those who struggle with connecting while not being able to get together in person. He’s also adapting to seeing patients via telehealth. “How do we get together and how do we get things communicated in a way when we can’t be together, because being together is a big thing for us,” he says.

 

Retired Judge Michael Broderick is now the CEO of the YMCA of Honolulu, where the pandemic forced him to furlough 1,200 people. He’s also been married to Nā Mea Hawai‘i entrepreneur Maile Meyer for 36 years and they’ve been together for 44 years.

 

Broderick says he and his wife have very different styles and coping strategies. “I’m cautious and analytical, Maile is spontaneous and carefree, and that showed up in how we [cope with] the virus,” he says. And that prompted hard discussions about whom they would invite over, whom they would visit, whom they would hug, how many people should get in an elevator.

 

With Meyer’s sister and brother-in-law set to fly to Honolulu from Los Angeles, Broderick recalls a tough conversation with his wife: “‘I’m going to go pick them up at the airport,’ and I said, ‘no, you’re not,’ and she said, ‘yes, I am.’ The compromise was that she did pick them up but opened the trunk from inside: “Maile never touches their luggage, they got in the back seat, they all wore masks and Maile never hugged them.”

 

Kathleen Rhoads Merriam has 36 years of mental health experience and has worked in adult mental health since 2003. She treats people who have struggled for years through chaos, mental illness, and often homelessness and substance abuse issues. While many are managing these troubled times well, she’s worried about the lingering effects of the stress on all of us. “Long term, I think we’re in for some trouble,” Merriam says. “There are so many crises in people’s lives that we’re still in shock, we’re still in kind of that trauma phase and so what happens is we just go through the moves because it’s part of surviving.”

 

On a personal level, she and her husband have spent more time together than they have in years even as they worried if his print shop downtown would survive the pandemic, worried about their grandkids on Moloka‘i, worried that she couldn’t visit family in Seattle. “I cherish that time with my husband; it’s actually brought us closer together in many ways,” she says, with them spending more time gardening, putting up bird feeders to watch the birds and cooking together more. And Merriam speaks from a depth of experience and is bipolar herself: “You can bet I’m not going to slight at all my sleep or taking care every day.”

 

Mestisa Gass serves as program director for Mental Health America of Hawai‘i. Living in a household made up of a mix of folks who were essential workers leaving daily while she worked from home taught them all different coping strategies. With so many in the community suffering huge losses, separations, cancellations and more, Gass says, people who felt they generally were doing well were suddenly struggling. “I was reached out to by several people who were very surprised, saying: ‘I don’t understand why I feel so anxious, I’m having a hard time going to sleep. My moods have been really up and down: One day I’m fine, the next day I’m really not fine. I can’t look at the news today, it’s just too much,’” Gass says.

 

Kāneakua says people can recognize that this situation is unfair and difficult and unplanned. “You can help yourself and give yourself options of what you can do now. Until then, it’s going to be a lot of fighting against what you can’t fight against to change in the moment.”

 

When asked for her last word on navigating pandemic life, Merriam chose “hope.” There is hope, there are resources. “I hope after our time together that each person can have hope that we will be stronger, we will get through this and we will be better for it.”

 

Missed a topic? We’ve recorded each Life Interrupted session so you can tune in and listen from your phone, tablet or desktop computer. Find sessions here for Moments, Youth and Sports.

 

And tune in next week live for the final part of our five-part series: “Life Interrupted: Home.” Please register for our free public webinar to join us for Life Interrupted: Home on Zoom or Facebook. Ask questions, be part of the discussion and share what you’re thinking.

 


Tips


  • It’s OK to feel anxious. Ask yourself, what am I grateful for?
     

  • Try positive coping strategies: garden, read, watch a movie, take deep breaths, go outside, move your body.
     

  • Take control of what you can control. Let go of those things you can’t control.
     

  • Stay updated on the news, but don’t overdo it.
     

  • Connect and check in with others by phone, text, video, group chats or texts.
     

  • Remember that we’re in this together, so let’s spread aloha.

 


Resources and hotline


  • NAMI Basics on Demand, nami.org
     

  • Mental Health America of Hawai‘i, mentalhealthhawaii.org
     

  • Domestic Violence Action Center O‘ahu, (808) 531-3771, or call toll-free 1-800-690-6200
     

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE(7233)
     

  • Child abuse reporting hotline O‘ahu, (808) 832-5300, or call toll-free 1-888-380-3088
     

  • Child trafficking reporting hotline, (808) 832-1999, or call toll-free 1-888-398-1188
     

  • Hawai‘i Psychology, hawaiipsychology.org
     

  • ACES Connection Hawai‘i, acesconnection.com

 

READ MORE STORIES BY ROBBIE DINGEMAN

 

 

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