Pandemic Ponderings Part 3: Lessons and Loss
*This post was planned and outlined prior to the death of George Floyd and the civil unrest that resulted. On June 1st I made a very public statement about that situation on my business facebook page. Follow the link if you’d like to read it.
I just checked and I’ve only been at home for 89 days (as of this writing ) even though it feels like 1,642. Many of you have gone back to work, some never stopped working, some are unable to return just yet, and some of you are working from home for the first time and your home isn’t set up for that. Add to that the lack of ability to just get out of the house and go somewhere for a while, and the fact that some people are caring for elders and/or children 24/7 now, with no school and the extra vulnerability the elderly faced either on their own or in nursing homes. Whew. We’re all dealing with a lot.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned a lot about myself, my family, my neighborhood, and my extended network of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues during the long days of lockdown.
Whenever I reflect on the past 3 months, the first things that come to mind are the losses. Not just mine, but everyone’s. Every single person has lost something, even if it’s just a sense of normalcy. Some have lost more than others, but it’s not a contest. And it’s sure not a contest anyone ought to set out to win.
I often find myself grateful for my losses, no matter how painful, because I know they could have been much, much greater. A slightly different decision a decade ago or 9 months ago could have resulted in my being in a much different situation right now.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these losses in particular:
- Identity – Without work, many of us feel incomplete. Many of us feel like we don’t even know who we are because our work comprises so much of our identity. We might want to work on that as we move through the pandemic and try to find a new normal on the other side… whenever that may be. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all cultivate a deeper connection to who we truly are at our core. It won’t be easy and it won’t be pleasant, but none of this pandemic stuff is easy or pleasant so what better time to get messy with ourselves than when everything else is messy too. That said, if you’re too busy just trying to survive or keep the kids or elder parents alive, that’s ok. Those things must be a priority.
- Income – As I write this, something like 40 million people are unemployed. Many of them, for one reason or another, are not eligible for unemployment. In some areas of the country, people who were eligible applied for unemployment back in April and still haven’t seen a dime. Without money, it’s impossible to survive in our society. Every day, I read about more local, regional, and national businesses that are filing bankruptcy or simply announcing that they won’t be re-opening. Many of those business owners and their employees are now without an income. With fewer businesses re-opening and some, like restaurants, re-opening at 1/4 or 1/2 capacity to abide by public health measures, that means fewer jobs are available for those who are looking for work.
- Healthcare – Because health insurance is tied to employment in this country, most of the unemployed people now have no healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic. As we used to say in college, “That’s FUBAR’d.” (F**cked Up Beyond All Recognition – don’t ask me why we put the d on the end. I don’t know; we just did.)
- Security – Without jobs or income, paying for housing and food is impossible. When food and housing are insecure or unstable or non-existent our very survival is at stake.
If you think these losses are causing a sh*t ton of stress, you’d be right. In normal times, I help people release and manage their stresses. But these are not normal times and these stresses, while very common right now, are not normal for our society.
If you’ve experienced one or more of these losses, please know you’re not alone and it’s not your fault.
Lessons From the Stay-at-Home Couch
As I said in the intro, I’ve learned a lot during this forced downtime. Here are the highlights:
- Alone time – If you need a lot of “me time” to feel centered and peaceful, or to just feel human, you probably didn’t get enough during the lockdown. Or you got way too much. I’ve heard no one say that they got just enough me time.
- Together time/socializing – If you need to spend a lot of time around other people to be happy and energized, you probably didn’t get anywhere near enough. Or, if you had a fuller than normal house, you might have gotten way too much or the wrong kind of together time. Even my fellow introverts (many of whom are more introverted than me) have said they’ve missed the need or ability to cancel plans. Sometimes making plans is all the togetherness we introverts need, but it does make us feel connected. So even we (or most of us) didn’t get enough socializing.
- No one is immune to depression – High levels of stress can cause situational depression and a lot of us experienced some form of it during lockdown. It might look like being unable to log off social media or stop playing the games on your phone long enough to clean the thing that disgusts you every time you see it. It might look like not being able to problem solve, or having memory issues, or having trouble finding the words you want. It might manifest as binge watching a bunch of shows you don’t really like, buying a bunch of stuff you can’t afford or don’t need, reading everything you can find on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, avoiding all mention of the virus, or sleeping a lot more or less than normal. It also might manifest as numbing yourself with alcohol and/or marijuana (only in states where it’s legal, of course), not returning phone calls and texts, or not initiating contact with people you normally stay in touch with like friends, family, clients, and colleagues.
- Anxiety can affect anyone – You know what I said about high levels of stress and depression? Well, the same is true of anxiety. Many of us experienced some form of situational anxiety, especially as employment situations and finances became shaky and changed in negative ways. It often showed up as us taking charge of something, or everything – we had zero control over the virus so we were gonna make sure we had control over something, dammit. It might have taken the form of rearranging all the kitchen cupboards, decluttering or cleaning the entire house top to bottom, completely re-doing the landscaping, or micromanaging the running of your household.
- We are more resourceful than we thought – After the initial shock wore off, most of us found that we were able to make do with things we had or could get vs how we did things pre-pandemic. Many of us found we were craftier than we thought (not me, but many others) and made our own face masks. We found that we didn’t need a gym to work out in, we could find other cheaper and available alternatives for working out. Some people finally planted a small vegetable garden in their yard or a window box full of herbs. Some people went online and learned new skills, or worked on starting or growing a meditation practice.
- When push comes to shove, even the luddites can learn a little tech – For the last 3 months if you’ve wanted to see friends and family who don’t live with you, you’ve needed the help of technology. Many an adult child managed to teach their luddite parents or grandparents the basics of how to use Zoom or FaceTime to keep in touch with them. (One friend of mine even wrote a very funny poem about it.)
- ZOOM is simultaneously the devil and a god-send – Honestly, thank god for ZOOM (and GoToMeeting and all the others). It’s allowed thousands of people to continue working from home during the pandemic instead of going into the office like they used to. It’s also caused a huge number of new memes about people who didn’t quite grasp how it worked. And, let’s face it… it also made for some very funny (albeit potentially embarassing) video footage of some of those people. But… if you’ve been on a ZOOM call in the last 3 months you also know the frustration of people who don’t mute themselves (or even know how to), have their computer (and it’s camera) set so that everyone is looking up their nose, don’t realize they have to unmute themselves to talk, or any number of other frustrating scenarios.
- Cooking and eating are a balm – There’s no doubt that people have been cooking and eating a lot differently (read: more) during lockdown. Most of us have been cooking more as a way to save money in uncertain times, but I think there’s more to the pandemic food phenomenon than that. If it were just that, there wouldn’t have been such an explosion of the hashtags #pandemiccooking and #pandemicbaking on social media. Food has a way of making us feel comforted and nurtured whether we’re preparing it, eating it, or both. I think if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us weren’t getting enough comfort and nurturing pre-pandemic, so when we all found ourselves faced with overwhelming uncertainty we flocked to the universal source of both: food.
I want to end with one last lesson:
We can do hard things – Thanks to Glennon Doyle for that mantra. If you haven’t read her books or don’t follow her on social media, you need to. I’m just saying. We are stronger than we thought and many of us learned that, or are starting to learn that because of the pandemic.