The Masters

By Erica Forest, LCSW

Rodrigo Garcia penned a letter to his deceased father, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in the New York Times on May 6th, 2020, explaining that we were in a pandemic; he wondered what his father would have thought of it. The titles of Garcia Marquez’s most famous books, Love in the Time of Cholera, and One Hundred Years of Solitude, were referenced often at that time. Two months into lockdown in the US, Garcia tried to reflect on what was happening, but found himself coming up short. He wrote:

“A few weeks ago, during our first few days sequestered at home, my head was straining to explain to myself what it could all mean, or at least what could come out of it. I failed. The fog was too heavy… It seems for now that I’ll have to wait for the masters, present and future, to metabolize the shared experience. I look forward to that day. A song, a poem, a movie or a novel will finally point me in the general direction of where my thoughts and feelings about this whole thing are buried. When I get there, I’m sure I’ll still have to do some of the digging myself.”

I remember reading this and feeling comforted that someday, someone might tell us what happened and how to feel about it all.

Listening, recently, to The Light We Carry, by Michelle Obama, I found myself inspired by her attempt to synthesize what she experienced in 2020, and began to do my own digging.

Scrolling through my phone, I found screenshots I took of NY Times headlines that resonated with me in those early days: “It was Just Too Much’: How Remote Learning is Breaking Parents” (8/27/20), “How Millions of Women Became the Most Essential Workers in America” (4/19/20), “Why Did Hundreds of Thousands of Women Drop Out of the Workforce” (10/13/20), “The Pandemic Created a Child-Care Crisis. Mothers Bore the Burden” (5/17/21), And, “The Pandemic’s Toll on Children with Special Needs and Their Parents” (7/27/20).

Like the women cited in the articles, the complete collapse of the child care and educational system as we knew it shook my own house of cards to the ground. My children, and our family’s mental health, needed me full-time. Quickly it became apparent that the squeeze was too much, and most of my working life would need to stop.

I did not, however, relinquish it all. I needed it. The cancer and bereavement support groups that I facilitated over Zoom were essential to my sense of self, and provided perspective to my own suffering, and a balm against my feelings of helplessness.

I held a space for people to come together in their pain, joy, grief, fears, and hopes. In turn, they provided me with an experience of deep human connection around the profound existential questions of life, and healing togetherness at a time when the world seemed to be falling apart.

Over time, group members discovered their continued capacity for connection, the continuity and adaptability of the self, and of the regenerative nature of hope. For me, these groups were the grounding, immutable stepping stones of perspective, presence, and connection through what otherwise seemed like a time of fragmenting self.

Katherine May writes beautifully of the times when we feel we have dropped out of life, and entered a separate space she calls “Wintering”. She writes, “Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, side-lined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider…Perhaps you’re in a period of transition and have temporarily fallen between two worlds.” (May, Wintering, pg. 10).

I read Wintering in the Spring of 2020. May’s words were helpful to me during the eerie shut downs of the pandemic, and to my clients. They also spoke to the feeling I had as a parent whose children’s needs, and the profound misunderstanding we received about them, made me feel doubly removed from the world.

Katherine May gave me another gift during the pandemic, writing also that she was diagnosed with autism as an adult, her neurodivergence missed, or unidentified, her entire life. Through her words, the “unthought known” in my experience as a parent became beautifully clear.

May’s story led me to quickly discover many other people’s experiences of missed autism. As well as stories of parents of neurodivergent children (particularly girls, or AFAB) whose desperate attempts to advocate with medical, mental health, and educational professionals for their children’s needs to be seen were responded to with gaslighting, shaming, and misdirection, with suggestions of “poor parenting”, needing “stronger boundaries”, or “attachment problems”.

As I dove into these stories I understood that there is a giant chasm between the profoundly limited, gendered, “outside-looking-in” DSM diagnostic criteria of autism, and the diverse, full, lived experience of neurodivergent individuals and families.

After many painful disappointments with educators, mental health professionals and doctors who would not, or could not, accurately recognize our family experience, a realization during the pandemic took hold: I already knew what was real, and had the guides I needed to walk my family to a solid, self-knowing ground. We had the voices of the many diverse autistic adults who were openly sharing their life experiences and paths to self affirmation in books, articles, and on social media.

Like Katherine May, these people provided a mirroring, and saved us from the rage of feeling unknowable and unhelpable. Holding them in my mind, my family is doing the difficult work of healing ourselves from the trauma of our own misunderstanding.

As I come full circle to Rodrigo Garcia’s words, I realize that I have emerged from these pandemic times no longer waiting for the masters to tell me what has happened. I am doing something much better:

I am trusting myself to know my own experience. And that is enough.

Erica Forest, LCSW/LICSW facilitates Zoom support groups for parents of autistic children and for late-diagnosed autistic adults.  She has family therapy training from The Ackerman Institute for the Family, and is a 2019 graduate of the Foundations of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Program at WCSPP.  


  1. Erica, thank you for for your beautifully written post. It really reached out to me in its sense of urgency and resilience and boldness. Made me want to look up May’s book, ‘Wintering.’ A sign of Spring. We’re lucky to have you in our profession. Cheers!

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Nina. I appreciate hearing your response.

      I love Katherine May’s work. Her book The Electricity of Every Living Thing is about her discovery that she was autistic as an adult while completing a long hike/walk on the coast of England; Wintering is about those “fallow” periods in life when we need to turn inwards, and rest, and about how people have coped with actual winter and darkness; and her newest book Enchantment; Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age is about her own search for wonder in a post-pandemic world.

      There are many new and wonderful memoirs that autistic adults and young adults have written specifically about autism and their life experiences and perspectives that are so good. I encourage people to read as many diverse autistic stories as they can.

  2. Thank you so much for beautifully and courageous sharing your journey with us. It was painful to hear your first hand account of the excruciating disappointment of repeatedly being failed by the Masters. It’s such an important reminder of the need to genuinely listen and respectfully learn from our patients, as they are experts on themselves.

    Your experiences reminded me of the many accounts I have heard from individuals who have had debilitating physical symptoms that don’t fit neatly into an existing diagnostic category. Sadly, many of them write about having to endure disrespectful treatment very similar to what you described.

    Your family is very lucky to have a mother like you who has been willing and able to bravely battle to get her children the care and education they deserve. Unfortunately, most families don’t have the knowledge, time and resources to advocate for their children. This advocacy involves battling a medical and mental health system which already short changes disadvantaged communities.

    Thanks for encouraging us to trust our own thoughts, feelings, intuition and truth in pursuit of our goals.


    • Dear Rob,

      Thank you so much for your comment and compassionate words.

      It is so meaningful to me to know that sharing my experience has an impact on the way others may perceive and care for their clients.

      Thanking for taking the time to share your reaction to my piece. I am so grateful.

    • Dear Rob,

      Thank you so much for your comment and compassionate words.

      It is so meaningful to me to know that sharing my experience has an impact on the way others may perceive and care for their clients.

      Thanking for taking the time to share your reaction to my piece. I am so grateful.

  3. Thank you Erica for your beautiful post- as I read it I realized that I have remained perhaps too defended and would benefit from re- entering into what the pandemic meant for me and my family. It both feels “too soon” and “as if” it was another time entirely-

    • Susan, I know just want you mean. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Dear Erica,
    It seems to me that what you have offered first to your family, yourself, your practice and now to us/your wider professional community is “masterful”. Thank you for your particular trailblazing with profound honesty, integrity, and openness with struggle, not to mention tenacious pursuit of truth in the face of blatant disregard and so much missed understanding from colleagues. I look forward to continue to learn from you. I suspect you will be quoted in some similar fashion as you have done with those before you. Keep writing!!! Warmly, Ann

    • Dear Ann,

      Thank you so much for your response, and for so often lifting me up with your encouragement.

      It is clinicians and colleagues and instructors like you who remain open to ongoing learning and transformation this work can promote… not just for clients but for the therapists themselves…that makes it such a pleasure to be in community together.


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