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  • jeniferfoster2

Transitioning out of the pandemic

I was watching a television show the other day that had been filmed in February and March of 2020. (Don’t judge, please – I like watching trashy terrible television). It’s a reality show television program, and it showed the lives of ten different people during that time-frame. But, when March of 2020 showed up, I had a visceral reaction to watching. I could feel the anxiety flood my body: the sense of impending doom, the feeling of isolation and fear. It was an odd experience, and one I wasn’t anticipating (especially watching such a silly show).

This morning, I had a zoom meeting with an associate/friend of mine. I could feel the tension in his voice as he explained that the kids were playing in the other room and apologizing to me for the noise. It made me think of zoom meetings during the pandemic. I remember the first time I saw my student’s messy bedroom. I remember the instrument practice in my colleague’s background. I remember cats coming onto the screen and watching my co-worker’s dog continuously bark because the mailman was delivering a package. Hell, before the pandemic, I didn’t even know what zoom was! Seems shocking now.

One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is how much the pandemic has affected all of us; but, how there is almost this desire to want to push forward to whatever’s next without acknowledging that we all just went through a seismic event.

You might have noticed that I’m trying to host retreats in DC. Part of what has made me want to do this is that the pandemic is a big f*ing deal. I think in March of 2020, we all just stuck our heads down, and tried to get through it. We prayed for survival, as we absorbed work into our home life. We made happy hours with friends over zoom, and helped family members learn to use facetime. We acted as if things were normal as we washed our groceries and fought over toilet paper. We carried on with our day-to-day activities, pushing the fear and anxiety down in order to make space for normalcy. I get the feeling that most people never really stepped back and assessed how much life has changed.

When I think back to the beginning of the pandemic, I can literally feel tension instantaneously. Endless zoom meetings, monotony and fear. Thoughts like, “I don’t want to be around other people.” “I hope my friends and family will be okay.” “What will I do if I can’t get basic necessities?” “How will I cope?”

The pandemic was such a weird time too because it felt exhausting emotionally and utterly boring. Nothing was happening. Until it was. Until George Floyd was killed. Until it felt like the US was being ripped apart by hatred and racisms. Politics were exploding in ways that I hadn’t seen (at least don’t remember) in my lifetime. It felt like the world was on fire.

I remember feeling one day that everything was tenuous and scary, and the next that I was bored and lonely. I remember feeling shocked that my friends who were parents were not only having to deal with work melding into their home life, but also had to be strong for their kids. I remember feeling overwhelmed at how isolated kids must feel – people losing out on birthday parties, graduations, spring breaks, and socialization.

But, what is most shocking to me is that so many people act like life is “back to normal.” What does that even mean? I know that my life is personally nothing like it was in in 2020. I have changed (or at least pivoted) in my career. I have spent almost a year of the past three in other countries. But, more than that, emotionally, I’m different than I was. I’m more patient and understanding. I’m also more thoughtful and grateful. I’m quite appreciative of the pandemic, because it has forced me to realign my life in ways that I didn’t even know I needed. I feel thoughtful about how I spend my time, with whom and doing what. I am also more appreciative of myself. Does that sound weird? But, what I mean is, why should I be putting in 60+ hours into work? For what? When I die, work isn’t going to care. Work won’t be at my funeral. Why should I work so hard while neglecting so many other aspects of my life?

But – what about you? How has your life changed since the pandemic started? Are you happy about the ways it changed? Have you patted yourself on the back for getting through such a difficult time? Have you felt in charge of the changes in your life, or do you feel they simply happened to you? Have you given yourself a break (a real break, not a short little get-away) since the pandemic? Have you given yourself a chance to breathe and take in just how challenging the last three years have been? Have you found ways to separate home and work sufficiently?

We’ve been through something. It was big. It still hasn’t completely been settled how it has changed the world. It is still changing. I see ways that many people are simply trying to get their lives back to “normal.” But, what does that even mean? I see so much exhaustion on people’s faces. I see so many people who simply need a break! Or maybe a hug (or probably both).

It's interesting – in counseling, I work with mental health disorders, substance use disorders and trauma. Now, in the clinical sense, in order for something to be defined as trauma, a person has to have imminent fear of death or bodily harm. So, does the pandemic qualify as a trauma? Maybe. Did you worry you might die? Did you worry that your family or friends might? The fact that the anxiety and fear lasted for a fairly long period of time is significant. Did it put your life in a tailspin? Did it significantly change how you went about your daily life? Then, why are we all acting like life is normal?

In therapy, I encourage people to process the feelings that they have. Not to relive the trauma but think about all the associated feelings. It’s often the feelings that get us stuck. It’s the feelings that make something difficult to move past.

I’m not sure what prompted me to write about this today. Perhaps its knowing and seeing how tired people are, and yet everyone is pushing forward. Life doesn’t have to stop. But, it is worthwhile to take stock of where you are versus where you were in March of 2020. Do you like the direction your life has taken? Have you processed your feelings surrounding the pandemic? Have you congratulated yourself for having walked through such a difficult time? I hope today you find some appreciation for how far you’ve come, and some grace for ways that your life is not as perfect as you’d like.

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” Frida Kahlo.

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