10 Things I've Learned About Myself & Life During The Pandemic
People keep saying, “I want to take a nap and wake up in 2021,” to which I reply, “I want to take a nap and wake up in 1998.”
That was 22.5 years and pounds ago during an economic surplus in the U.S., no wars, and when it was luxurious to fly coach. What else? Oh right, there wasn’t a pandemic either.
I can safely say that I’m not the same person I was compared to March 13 when we went into lockdown. Here are 10 things I’ve learned about myself and life since then:
- I’ve learned that there are no small or big wins. A win is a win. Physically surviving each day of this pandemic is a win. Emotionally surviving each day is a win. Financially surviving each day is a win. Diligently wearing my mask and putting no one at risk is a win. Being appropriately transparent about the size and scope of COVID with my kids is a win. Going on a run is a win. Taking care of my mental health is a win. I must always recognize and celebrate each and every win.
- I’ve learned that people are extraordinary. We’ve seen the best and worst in people. I’ve been floored by how irresponsible some have behaved during COVID--not wearing masks, hosting or attending large gatherings, or hosting or attending large gatherings while knowing they carried the virus. Not to mention political leaders who have condoned such behavior. But on the flip side, there are many people who have and continue to respect the deadly power of this disease and have sacrificed so much not just to keep themselves and their families safe, but to keep me safe, too.
- I’ve learned in this socially distanced-world that we are further labeling people as this or that. However, people are very complex, and they are actually this, that, and the other. I ascribe that to the great Maya Angelou quote: “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” You may have noticed that I’m a little left leaning, but I think the great American tragedy is how fractured we are.
I’m positive that my neighbor with the Trump sign and I can agree that we want our community to be safe, our prescriptions to be more affordable, and our water to be lead-free. I realized that I can always meet people where they’re at, but I will not leave them there.
- I’ve learned that I’m a firm believer in another great quote: Anne Frank’s “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” In spite of what we tweet at each other, how we unfriend each other, how we gossip about each other, and how we can’t fathom how she could vote for that person, I still believe that people are really good at heart. Note that I’m not comparing the pandemic situation in any way, shape, or form to The Holocaust. Rather, I’m applying the spirit of her words to the place we’re in today.
- I’ve also learned that losing my Mom and Dad, especially within three months of each other, are losses like no other. There may be the five stages of grief, but grief happens when it happens. My parents’ deaths were expected, and as much as I forge ahead, there are days when the anvil of grief drops on me with such blunt force that I’m too weary to function. But I’ve also learned to give myself permission to surrender to my grief, even if it means shutting down my computer for the day.
There’s a lot about the pandemic that makes me angry, but ironically, I’m not that angry that it prevented me from visiting Dad before he died or spending more time with Mom before she passed. I guess I have more capacity for acceptance than anger right now. Who knows? Maybe the anger will come eventually. I’ve also learned so much about my parents posthumously through the stories and lenses of their long-time friends, and that’s pretty special, because in many ways, it’s like I’m meeting them for the first time.
- I’ve learned to become more comfortable with ambivalence and the unknown. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I am most at ease when I know the beginning, middle, and end of things. Though it appears for the first time that there’s light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, I don’t know when it will be safe to go back into the water again. I don’t know when I will achieve the peace-of-mind--even after I’m vaccinated--to take off my mask, to fly, to eat inside of a restaurant, to shake hands, or to hug. I don’t know when I’ll feel free again. What I do know is that I am able to sit with this uncertainty a lot better compared to before.
- I’ve learned that the expression, “Keep things in perspective” can be shaming. During a Zoom networking event, I asked someone how their children were holding up when school started, and she said, “I’m not worried about them and their upper middle class privilege. I worry about those in underserved communities who are bearing the brunt of this the most. When my kids complain, I tell them to keep things in perspective.” I didn’t bother asking if she’d asked her children how they were feeling because I already knew the answer.
Two things can be true: people on the margins are hurting the most AND your upper middle class, privileged kids have thoughts and feelings, and they’re suffering, too. That’s having perspective. The self-righteous police are really walking the beat on this one, and it’s aggravating as hell.
- I’ve learned that the term “Stay positive” is tone-deaf. “Stay positive” is losing its meaning to me because human beings are too complex to exist in one emotional state. Having a positive attitude is important. I do my best each day to lead with gratitude for being healthy and having work to do, but I also cut myself some slack because it’s okay to also feel sadness, anger, cynicism, and fear. That’s healthy. If you’re pounding positivity into your brain everyday, then you’re repressing a lot, and that will catch up with you, and it won’t be pretty. There’s enough room in the pool for many emotions to swim together.
- I’ve also learned that I could intersect my passion with my work. Since I started my business, an industry niche has eluded me. My value proposition is that I can write and create messaging that will educate any audience. That will continue to hold true, and I will work with clients in all industries, but my niche had been in plain sight, except I didn’t see it: mental health advocacy and awareness.
The ah ha moment occurred for me when I wrote a blog post about grieving the losses caused by the pandemic. It wasn’t about death; I focused on what we had been stripped of, how for the first time in our lives we couldn’t look forward to our routines and rituals that have traditionally gotten us through the seasons. At the time, no one was talking about this kind of grief. It struck a chord with people and got an incredible response. Whereas I was once bashful, I now speak openly about my mental illness, I’ve leaned all the way in, and I’m creating content that’s making a difference.
- Finally, I’ve learned that it’s absolutely acceptable to eat during a Zoom breakfast or lunch meeting because they’re fucking breakfast and lunch meetings.
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