As I write this, it is exactly one year ago that my phone exploded with emails detailing how every organization I was involved with would be closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was terrifying, and if I’m being totally honest, a little bit thrilling to see life as we knew it shift and evolve completely. I sensed that we were a part of history, and that this would be a day I would remember for the rest of my life. As time has moved slowly forward, and we haven’t reached normality yet, I have found myself musing over the lessons we’ve learned during this unique time.
What have we learned?
We are resilient.
Persistence works. We keep on living even in the face of tough things. We can do hard things. We can beat our personal Goliaths. For many, the pandemic has been a time where mental health struggles have increased. Rates of eating disorders have increased, rates of domestic violence have increased. People have lost their jobs and lost their loved ones – the pandemic has been horrifying for so many people across the world. And if you’re reading this, you’ve made it through that. You can do hard things!
We work well together; together is better than alone.
There has been a special sense of togetherness that I’ve felt while we’ve been separated from one another. My parents (who still live in England) have been totally locked down since March of last year, with strict rules regulating when they can leave their house, for what purpose, and how often. They are not allowed to see other people at all. Yet, they reported that there is a marvelous sense of togetherness that they each feel while segregated in their own homes, almost like the feeling that prevailed during the war years of the 1940s. They expressed a sentiment that abounds in the UK is that we humans are stronger than any of these elements that wage against us, and that we will simply be victorious. While we may be physically separated from our loved ones, we can share in that glorious feeling that we are fighting the same battle and will eventually succeed.
We are creative and adaptive.
Look how we have adapted to this situation! We are used to sanitizing everything, wearing masks, and using zoom like it’s all we’ve ever known. We’ve been creative and learned that it’s OK to ask for help to meet our typical demands in an unusual environment. For some that might look like extensions for deadlines, for others that could be changing their job, and for others that could be looking for the silver lining like being able to wear pajama bottoms most of the time.
We need to take care of ourselves, in all ways.
Self-care has almost never been more important than right now. We need to know our own limits and set boundaries that help us to stay sane through these times!
Our thoughts play a huge role in the way we feel and the way we act.
What I tell myself when bad things happen is important. When the clinic closed, think how differently I would have felt if I had told myself “coronavirus is going to infect me and I will likely die” to “what an exciting opportunity this is to live life differently for a short period of my entire life”, and in turn, how different my actions would be.
We are more similar than we are different.
We each are trying to get through this time and keep our loved ones close – that unites us more than our political or religious beliefs may separate us.
How are we different now?
Preparation is important…
otherwise we run out of toilet paper!
Some things are more important than others.
For example, relationships matter…a lot. We have seen how being isolated from one another makes us feel.
Fluff doesn’t matter much; we know more about what is important.
We got down to the basics, for some people that included family, for other people that included having time without work which meant figuring out what are necessities and what is considered fluff.
We are harder in some ways; softer in others.
I would guess we are “harder” in that it would take more to knock us down now; we know we are larger than many trials, and we recognize our own strength in the face of them. Yet, I think we are softer in how we view others’ needs, the suffering of our fellow men/women, and in how we make time to care for our own needs.
What we can control and what we can’t control may be clearer.
We know that we cannot control a pandemic, and we cannot control what our neighbor chooses to do. But, we have learned that we can control our behavior in response to events, and we can control how prepared we are.
Overall, I am so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been one of the most difficult years of everyone’s lives, with circumstances that we will hopefully never have to repeat again. As we aren’t through this yet, keep your chin up, seek help when you need to, and move toward the things that keep you going. We will get through this!
Special thanks to Dean Barley, Ph.D. (the Director of the BYU Comprehensive Clinic) for sharing some of his thoughts on this subject.