Posted in Life As I Know It, Soapbox

A Season of Blursdays – Lessons Learned from the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020

I’ve come to think of every day as Blursday, Marchtember Oneteenth during this pandemic. For most all of us, there is life BC (Before Covid) and then this haze of “the new normal.” It has most definitely been a struggle. So much loss, fear, pain, and uncertainty. Maybe all those things apply directly to you or maybe some only to those around you or beyond, but we are all going through a metamorphosis of sorts.

I thought a not-so-brief chronicle of some of the lessons I am learning (so far) through this time might resonate with you. I kind of got on a roll, so feel free to scroll to the ones that pique your interest. Of course, who am I kidding? You can stop reading altogether, too…I never assume I’ve won your time to read my words!

Lessons learned…in no particular order…

I knew marking lasts was important to me, but I never knew just how much. I missed the last couple days of work in March because I had a cold and feared that my symptoms would be off-putting to those I would come in contact with. Those two days were Thursday and Friday. By Monday, the doors were closed. No goodbye to coworkers or taking a moment to pause and consider. Of course, no one knew it would be this long, but I wish I would have had a chance to mark that moment—and others, too.

With word filtering out that schools would probably close soon, my son came home from school that Friday with hopes of being able to record a rehearsal of the play he was lead in that Monday after school to at least have a version of it. But there was no school that Monday, and there was no rehearsal to record. The seniors didn’t know that Friday that it would be the last time they walked those halls that signified so much during this chapter of their lives. It all happened so fast.

My heart aches for them and all that they missed.

I took to keeping a list of “Covid Castaways”—those things canceled and missed due to the pandemic. It’s a long—and growing—list. My son tells me, “Mom, you don’t get to be more upset than me. It’s fine. I’m fine.” I don’t believe that totally, but I do believe that these kids are going to come through this experience stronger and more resilient. But being able to note a last, to take it in before the tide turns, truly means something to me—and now I realize it so much more.

Time does not facilitate creativity in and of itself. When I learned that I was going to be paid for several weeks even though I could only do minimal work from home, I thought, Girl, you are going to kick some serious writing ass…I mean, come on—no excuses, right? My stalled book project would find new life with all the time I could dedicate to it, except…time does not equal creativity or the ability to focus. Discipline, might, but…yeah. Not my strong suit on most things. Especially when…

I recognize just how many layers of anxiety I have. I have dealt with anxiety all my life, but these last few years have piled additional layers almost like sedimentary rock. And just like rock, it is hard to climb out from under. The divisiveness of our country has weighed on my heart in direct correlation with its growth—or at least its “outing,” where things like social media gave hate and vitriol megaphones to use and abuse. But in 2016, that layer hardened into heavy stone. Another layer may be added in November of this year. I’m trying to fight against it but brace for it in hopes that it won’t crush me if it solidifies. Other layers include the pandemic, of course, as well as social injustice, job limbo, financial security, what the future will look like…

Realizing who is truly an “essential” worker has exemplified the reality and unfairness of income inequality. In many ways, this pandemic has highlighted how the disparity of income levels has a reverse correlation to the essential value of the work done. Want to be wealthy? Help the rich get richer. Want to worry about whether or not you can take a vacation, send your kid to college, qualify for a mortgage, or have health insurance? Serve others. That may be what some people call capitalism, but it’s what I call fucked up.

It doesn’t take long for our polarized society to even see something like a pandemic as a divisive issue. One word: masks. Seriously? As I shared on Facebook, here’s the deal with the whole “you can’t legislate my face” mask issue that I just don’t freaking understand…I have claustrophobia and would really love not to wear a mask when I go out in public. But if I did that, it’s not myself I put at risk but YOU. And that makes me slam dunk choose to make myself uncomfortable because it’s worth it. But unless and until that choice is a collective American choice, we are simply prolonging the agony and suffering for everyone. The message that non-mask wearers make is very clear: I care about me more than you…or your elderly mom…or your diabetic kid…or the economy that will continue to suffer as places deal with ongoing sickness and death…or this country I allegedly love so much. And that really pisses me off.

The importance of face-to-face visits, even for this introvert. When I was a kid, Zoom was a TV show. Now it’s how I interact with almost everyone who is not in my house. Optometrists must be making a good buck through all of this. But screens—while better than nothing—do not come close to truly being with others. I pray for a vaccine for many reasons—and one of them is because I’ve got some serious hugging to do when it is safe to do so again.

In the absence of structure, routine is all the more critical. Oh, routine, where art thou? Apparently, one of the best routines I keep is the search for the perfect routine. Seriously—I have scads of notes on attempted routines that will allow me to be at my best…and then never followed. And now? When many life anchors have been lifted? Yeesh. It is so needed. And so glaringly missing. I think I’ll hammer out a new and improved routine tomorrow. That should do the trick.

The mundane matters. BC, I appreciated that my commute was short. If we ever get to AC (After Covid, not air conditioning), I will appreciate that I have a commute. I appreciate running errands now…because I can. Those everyday mundane things matter, and I hope to remember that in the future when I am stuck in traffic on my commute. But Covid has also reminded me of the value of the sun (holy crimony was it a gray Spring!), long walks, quiet time, and just being with one another.

Covid-19 isn’t our country’s only pandemic. The murder of George Floyd has incited not only protests but conversations…and helped bring to the forefront an ongoing fight—a long, arduous battle—for justice and equality. There is much work to be done. No one is “immune” from racism. There is no vaccine. And the more we can have the necessary, tough “come to Jesus” (literally…in terms of how he treated all people) conversations, the closer we’ll come to curing this cancer that is crippling our country.

Saturation and emotional exhaustion are the enemy of empathy. We can only take so much, right? But what if it just keeps coming? There is so much to worry about and be angry about… and to feel. It’s overwhelming. And sometimes that can result in shutting down for a bit. Sometimes we need to step away for our own mental health and catch our breath. The danger comes when we shut out. Empathy is one of our greatest tools in bridging divides, and if we lose that…well, let’s just not find out, okay? Let’s recharge and not retreat.

We are in this together…but very differently. My family has been blessed with the ability to stay home and work. But I know people who have continued to go to work every day because of what they do. And then there are the multitudes of people who lost their jobs. All such different experiences.

My family has been blessed with health. I know others who have had Covid, though I know no one personally who has died or lost a loved one from it. But as of today, over 143,000 American families unfortunately know exactly what that is like.

Yes, this is a collective experience, and some of the stories we will tell one day will share those common threads. So many more, though, will be stories that only we can share. What will the moral of those stories be? Only time will tell…but I pray that they show what we have learned from this…and from one another.

“…in the long run there is no more liberating, no more exhilarating experience than to determine one’s position, state it bravely, and then act boldly.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Posted in Life As I Know It, Soapbox

Because a Paper Cut Hurts, Too

This pandemic is an evolution in many things—plans, treatments, predictions, messaging—but I see one consistent byproduct: the conflicted feelings of comparative suffering. All of us have lost something, but there are those who have lost everything…and that can make us feel guilty about mourning our own losses.*

My dad died shortly after I turned 21, and within a year or so, one of my mom’s friends lost her husband, too. My mom invited the friend over to offer some support and their conversation left a lasting mark on me. It was where I learned how “at least” is rarely the start of a helpful comment when it comes to support or empathy.

My mom was attempting to connect with the woman by telling her that she knew some of what she was going through because of her own loss. “But at least you had a chance to say goodbye…” was the friend’s response. You see, my dad had died after a struggle with cancer. The friend’s husband had died in a tragic crash. My mom was taken aback by the comment and tried to “defend” her own loss, “Yes, but I also got to see him suffer for months…”

It was the strangest damn thing. An effort to comfort and support became a grief ranking. Frustrating…but very human. Turns out we humans are a very frustrating bunch.

But being aware of this tendency helps us to tame the comparative suffering beast a bit. Recognizing it and then reminding ourselves that both “sides” are true allows us to both feel for ourselves and others. Everyone’s pain is their own.

When the reality of school closings and events canceled started to take shape, as a parent, my heart immediately started breaking. The death toll from the coronavirus felt very distant at that point, but my son’s losses were right in front of me. He is an involved school kid, and he lost a lot: concerts, competitions, a play that he was the lead in, and a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Iceland with his buddies. In fact, I started a list of “Covid castaways” to chronicle all the “misses.” The list grows every week.

When I first talked to him about these things, I started to choke up. “Aw, Mom—you don’t get to be more upset than I am…don’t worry, I’m all right,” he comforted. But I think his seeing my acknowledgment of the pain helped him. It is a sad thing, and he (and we) are not being selfish to feel badly about it.

It is our immediate instinct to downplay the loss because we know others have it so much worse. Death. Illness. Job loss. A missed school play seems so trivial in the light of these losses…but it still hurts, and the hurt is valid.

Everyone’s experience is differently the same… we are home and isolated doing what is helpful but doesn’t feel helpful at all. Not when there are others who are doing so much more and suffering so much more. Whether we are worried about our financial futures or are mourning the loss of a loved one, the spectrum of anxiety, loss, and hurt is vast. Yet we are indeed all in this together.

It is only when those of us on the “loss spectrum” don’t honor or acknowledge those further down the spectrum that the embracing of our own feelings can really turn into a negative. Our pain may be all that we feel firsthand, but it doesn’t mean that it is the only pain that exists or matters.

It really boils down to two things:

  1. No matter what degree of pain you are going through, it matters, and you should acknowledge it and feel it while at the same time validating those who are dealing with what we understand as more pain and honoring that but also understanding that that doesn’t mean your own pain isn’t painful nor is anyone else’s because all pain is painful.
  2. #1 applies to everyone.

Simple, right?

This pandemic has been a huge exercise in learning that feeling for the losses of others does not mean we have to deny our own losses. Nor does feeling our own pain take away from our capacity to be empathetic and supportive. The more we strive to understand it all, the better we will come through it.

And wouldn’t it be great to come through it having learned to be kinder and more caring to one another?

A girl can dream.

*Please know that the above rambling does not constitute my thinking I am an authority on any matter. If you are interested in reading more on this subject from actual experts, Brené Brown and David Kessler are great resources.