2020 was an incredibly trying year. For most of us it was our first pandemic. It came hard and fast with decisions having to be made quickly about our allowed daily activities and how we would be operating as a society. We were thrust into adapting in a constantly changing environment. It was a lot to take in a relatively short period of time.
The pandemic affected our livelihoods, relationships, social interactions, basic needs and well-being. Some of us were fortunate and made gains during COVID-19, some found the change a relief and some found themselves in a crisis in the midst of a crisis. I was on the side of the crisis spectrum due to being pounded by three hard blows. It was one of the toughest years I faced in a very, very long time.
Since my world had been pretty sweet life over the last several years, I may have been complacent and totally unprepared for the proverbial meteor crashing into my personal life. Professionally I can navigate through most crises fairly easy because of my past experiences, my strong team and professional support network, and having an idea of potential disasters that may be lurking around the corner (and having an ad hoc strategy ready to deploy). Yes, of course, the best plan to manage crisis is prevention. But in reality, we have no control of others. If humans are at play here, anything goes. Including a virus being unleashed in the world.
I was so unprepared for what came (likely due to taking many things for granted) that I’m embarrassed of what actually came out of my mouth. I said to a couple people, “this happens to other people, not to me”. My life went into a tailspin with my husband being diagnosed with cancer, my son suddenly struggling and needing professional support and my abrupt leaving of a job I immensely enjoyed due to the travel restrictions and having to respond to what was going on in my household. I was hit where it hurts, badly. Some days were pretty grim because the world was either closed for business or services overwhelmed by the impact of COVID. We were on our own to figure it out.
I am not going to pretend it wasn’t awful. Sometimes you have to state what it was and not fluff it with cotton candy and unicorns. I am going to honor the fact that it was an a sh#tty year. I say ‘was’ because we have passed the eye of the storm but still recovering and catching our breath.
But looking back (even as recent as two weeks ago) throughout these twelve turbulent months, I learned A LOT. Things were revealed and brought out in the open that had to be. My gratefulness radar is now honed onto other things, more important things. I will not take things for granted. There is a reason for duality. Crisis draws out the flaws and cracks but also strengths and empathy/love. Anyone can be a hero to somebody at any time and what happens globally happens individually. I can probably name ten other lessons learned, but most of all I learned to apply the advice I give to others. Being a social worker, as well as my husband, we realized how hard it initially was to take your own advice when your world is crashing down. The first piece of advice is look to your strengths. Here is what I found in no particular order:
My husband is pretty funny and makes me laugh probably ten times a day. Although we may poke fun at each other, we also have the ability to laugh at ourselves. There is also a lot of comedian material about all the differences between women and men. That alone gave us daily entertainment (and a few arguments). Having been not more than six or seven feet away from each other for most of the year, we noticed A LOT about each other that we hadn’t noticed before. Like my husband looking over and asking, “so are you going to do something about that moustache?” And me slinging back, “and are you ever going to grow eyebrows?” Then we laugh until we are crying. Pure stupidity and silliness. We did this for relief. As many times as I cried this year, I laughed 100 times more. Humour helps and laughing is more contagious than COVID.
I am grateful for being caged in with someone I actually like. I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out being I worked away from home for weeks at a time. Having your significant other tethered to your side every day for months and months should drive anyone a bit crazy but believe it or not, we still had date nights. I asked Ken a few days ago what he thought helped him make it through 2020. His response, “You, I would say you.” I nodded in agreement, “I would say the same for you.” He laughed and said, “Yeah, but I actually mean it.” Ok to be fair, I had days where I was as cuddly as a cactus. I would grab my wine and run to my hideaway in bathroom just to get an hour to myself. I went through a lot of bubble bath…and wine. But he is great company and fantastic when it comes to helping me sort through my feelings. I would call him the mirror to my own self-discovery. Nobody likes criticism even if it is constructive. We often mask our frustration with humour but are still able to get our point across.
Sometimes it’s received well and sometimes not so much. I give him credit for calling me on my stuff and it’s hard to argue with someone who starts off with, “well you know how you can be a bit…” I usually end up with, “I know, I know, I will try to work on that.” And that’s all we want in the end, to see that an effort is being made so we know we have been heard. Now I am one hundred percent certain we will enjoy our retirement together.
We were accustomed to travelling every six weeks. Travelling is something we not only enjoyed but it was also a great distraction from stress and the mundane. Ahhh…nothing like running away from your life. Now being strapped to the couch surrounded by the same four walls we decided we better improve them before they come psychologically crashing in. The first thing we did was de-clutter and purge. Less is more is what I am learning. Instead of having four junk drawers and a storage closet full of disorganized crap, we have one junk drawer and a neat and tidy closet with a quarter of the contents. That experience made me realize how much we don’t really need, during a pandemic or not. We decided to indulge ourselves in a more meaningful way by adding to things we enjoyed more in and around our home. We all desire comfort and in these uncertain times that need is even stronger. Now on stressful days we can escape to one of our cozy rooms or have a backyard fire and decompress. The “stay home” orders don’t seem so inconvenient when your surroundings feel like a great big hug.
Does it really need explaining? God, I love my family. I truly thought my role as a mother was no longer that important having grown children especially with boys. I misidentified my role. Motherhood, it’s different, the same but different. I can’t be over-mothering and still make them feel competent. It’s a tough balance especially when one of them was struggling. The mother bear in me is hard-wired.
This year brought us closer as a family. Having everyone around the dinner table is feels like a gift even those rare days we argued around it. Sometimes one of us would call out, “we need a family meeting!” which was a new 2020 thing. We learned to communicate better because we need each other whether we like it (or like to admit it) or not. Now that one has left on his own a few days ago, it’s both sad and exciting. I feel blessed that I had almost a full year to solely focus on my family when they needed me. We don’t always get that privilege or take the time to do so because of competing priorities. This year jolted me awake in the realization that everything wasn’t perfect and things needed tending to. I was granted the precious time to do so.
Meaningful human interactions cannot be replaced by text, email or Zoom. The energy isn’t the same. We don’t feel the same connection. I suppose that is why the positive COVID numbers are still going up. It has been tough not seeing our friends up close and personal. But I know they were there when we needed them. I have friends who make me laugh when I need cheering up, friends who are intelligent when I need my thoughts or plans vetted, and friends who I can feel safe to expose my most vulnerable ugly parts to. I am also fortunate to have some friends who are in the profession of the expertise I needed. I can’t thank our friends and family members enough for encouraging words, making us laugh, calling a spade a spade (compassionately) and assisting us through some really scary moments.
At the beginning of the pandemic the media was blasting fear and anxiety every minute of every day. Social media was spewing hate and negativity. Once the collective COVID fatigue set in I noticed a turn around. It may have been that we were all emotionally exhausted and fed up with the life-sucking energy from both medias that we started to turn our attention to more positive and inspiring news. It may have been that we noticed the shambles COVID was leaving people in that we felt compelled to help. The pandemic had revealed how fragile our social safety net is and that the vulnerable, who were already struggling, were hit the hardest. Essential workers are making minimum wage while Amazon is in the billions. As a society we are recognizing the great imbalance of things. As dark and desolate this situation seems I am seeing a change in the world. As a collective we want better, and we are coming to the understanding it all starts with the individual. I like everyone else want to be on the right side of things. What I learned over the year is that I actually am not even certain what that is even as much as I tried to educate myself. But what I can do today, now and at this moment is be kind, compassionate and morale. So, whether I donate something that is needed, support a local business, tip a server well, or make a kind gesture to a stranger it feeds my soul and uplifts others.
“You know, Treena, I think we were pretty resilient with all that we dealt with this year. I don’t know how well other people may have handled that.” I was in a fortunate position that my emotional and mental health was in great standing. Over the last couple years, I put in a conscious effort in nurturing my health. If I had been already anxious or depressed, I can’t imagine the struggle it would have been. Don’t get me wrong, it was still clunky and not at all graceful but I had enough emotional and mental energy in my tank to carry us through those really heavy days. I also had to fight, advocate and be loud which was necessary to be heard. Every day I sought out silence to ground myself. Sometimes you have to make an effort to create a peaceful moment. But they also sometimes pop out of nowhere in an instant, like a sunset, a gentle breeze, a morning coffee alone on your patio. When I happen to be in the middle of one, I take notice and appreciate it. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and smile. It can help turn off the adrenaline even if it’s for ten minutes.
Although this year has me licking my wounds, I have a better understanding of what I really can take and where my strengths are. My faith and optimism were tested. This was a transformative year and in less than six months I will be 50. My hope for myself and my family is that the next 50 will be filled with calmness and balance. My values and priorities changed when my world was turned upside down and I am going to say in the end it was for the better.