This is a bit of a personal reflection.
A reminder to be kind to others.
But just as importantly, to be kind to ourselves.
I remember sitting at my desk in early January, looking at the calendar for the next quarter and getting excited about our 2020 plans. Trips to see family, our honeymoon in Mexico, and my husband’s surprise 40th birthday bourbon-trail trip to Louisville were all carefully planned and in motion. We had just returned to reality after celebrating our wedding, the mini-moon to San Francisco, and wrapping up holiday festivities with our families. 2020 was shaping up to be a great year.
Towards the end of January, we took a fun weekend trip to Florida to celebrate my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. “What Coronavirus problem?” I recall thinking lightly, as we clinked together our bottles of Corona Light at the airport. A few weeks later we were on our way to Mexico, for what would be an incredible honeymoon celebration. At the time, there were only light murmurs of the COVID-19 outbreak in China; it hadn’t yet been exposed as a global issue. At the time we were cautious, but mostly unworried.
After we returned from Mexico in late February, the world began to change rapidly. Reports of deaths in Italy and the UK were making headlines, and it was becoming clearer every day that the virus’s spread to the United States was imminent. It was only a matter of time.
Safety. Social Distancing. Isolation. Fear.
One of the more uplifting moments came early into the year, as we watched a global effort take place to combat the spread of Coronavirus. These were unprecedented times. We worked together to distance ourselves to keep the population healthy, as to not overburden our hospitals and healthcare systems. Viral videos demonstrating our shared experiences, compassion for others, and inventive ways of retaining normalcy kept everyone somewhat sane. Silly videos teaching us how to properly wash our hands and use face masks helped to lighten the mood. Soon, state mandates went into place to keep social interaction at a minimum; we discovered what it meant to be an “essential worker” and navigated the new challenges of working and schooling from home.
“It will only be two weeks”, I remember thinking. Two weeks of isolation and working from home – no problem. I could keep our grocery store runs to once-per-week maximum, and order more take out to support our favorite local restaurants. Working from home will be a relaxing change of pace! No problem, there. Flattening the curve will take a global effort, but we can do it.
We didn’t know what was cresting at the horizon. A brief moment of global unity was disrupted by worldwide fear, panic and political and social unrest. Unemployment records would soon hit all-time highs, and a finger-pointing, cancel-culture would arise in the forms of social media mobs. Some were ruthlessly and unfairly attacked; others were rightfully exposed and forced to make serious changes.
Stress, Anxiety, Despair, and Recognizing Selfishness.
At first, working from home was difficult for me. Despite not being in my usual, structured environment my productivity didn’t drop a bit, and I was able to get more accomplished during the day. With this newfound free time I exercised more, spent more time working on personal development projects (like my Missouri Native Species Collection), and even learned how to cook several new dinner meals. Sure, missing out on in-person conversations and collaboration was noticed, but it was workable utilizing technologies like Zoom and Google Meet. It was only a few weeks into the isolation process that I realized I actually enjoyed working from home.
But as the first few weeks passed it became clear that this was no simple, two-week ordeal. The stresses of life’s new inconveniences began to set in. Fears and anxiety surrounding our social responsibilities became an everyday theme, and the tolls of isolation were beginning to surface. Every single day was a barrage of entirely negative headlines and stories of people being pushed to (and beyond) their absolute limits. Violence was on the rise and it appeared that the collective mental well-being of the entire globe was in decline. Many days were spent selfishly complaining about how the state of the world was ruining my upcoming plans and making day-to-day life so inconvenient. It was easy to become negative and selfish.
It became necessary for me to take a step back and be thankful. Thankful that my husband and I had both retained our jobs while others fell into unemployment. Our families were safe and healthy. However inconvenient it became, we still had access to the material things we needed (though I’ll never forget the days-long searches to find basic things like toilet paper). I began to take week-long breaks from social media outlets and online news digests to curb the anxiety I felt on a daily basis. That practice helped me tremendously.
After three months of strict mandates the restrictions began to lift. Cases were dropping, and businesses were able to reopen. I started the cautious return to my office, while my husband continues to work from home.
This experience taught me what is most important to me. It also taught me what things and behaviors I could leave behind.
Giving ourselves Grace.
We’ve all been rather hard on ourselves this year. We’ve all been working overtime to maintain positivity, to provide ourselves and our families with normalcy, and to be supportive and considerate of our neighbors and fellow man. Some days we rise above and other days, we fall. It is okay to be upset, to cry, to vent – our lives are changing rapidly, and it is difficult learning how to keep up with the world’s new pace. We’re all going to have good days, and some really bad ones. It is okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to ask for help.
We should all give ourselves a little more grace. It’s not easy putting up a strong front when we are unraveling on the inside. It’s difficult being simultaneously upbeat while undergoing immense changes in the way we think and conduct ourselves. We are all experiencing a lot of change all at once – and it is both a painful and wonderful thing.
2020 has been one of the most anxiety-ridden, inconvenient, and uncomfortable periods of my life, but it has also been the most eye-opening and transformative. Disruptions and uncomfortability in our lives can be catalysts for introspection, change, and growth. I hope that you too, can find your own silver linings as you navigate our changing world.
Sometimes, the most beautiful things are born out of chaos.