I am not much of a silver linings kind of person. Sometimes shit is just shit, and this pandemic has been shit. And since I have been in a cloud of despair for a few weeks, it has been hard to see my own resilience while recognizing the hard work of friends and strangers who have also made adjustments and sacrifices.
Everything is different and so many things are new to us, yet there is a need to keep moving forward even when life as we know it seems to have stopped. I struggle with the constant uncertainty and the impossibility of making plans, or at least concrete ones. I am mourning a lack of control and often find myself fighting against situations that will not change no matter how much I exhaust myself with my efforts.
But—there’s always a but—some good things have come from our lives being drastically altered by COVID-19. All of this change has forced us to embrace personal transformations that we otherwise would not have been challenged to do.
My public speaking and in-person educator role as a LGBTQIA+ advocate stopped when the pandemic started. Speaking gigs were cancelled and budgets froze. Then we all started to realize that life needed to go on, and our “new normal” of online work is now just normal. I have never offered online training and had no plans to; I was scared of the technology and didn’t think I was smart enough to master a new form of teaching.
But recently, when I was invited to speak at a virtual conference, I found myself with no other choice but to learn how to give a presentation via Zoom. I had to go outside of my comfort zone and learn something new during a time when I was already stressed and overwhelmed and the smallest tasks feel hard. I decided to take on this challenge, though, and it ended up being a reminder that I can learn new and difficult things. And learning this new skill in the middle of a pandemic felt like gaining a bit of control over a shitty situation.
I know my resistance and fear followed by triumph are not feelings I hold a monopoly on, so I asked others what challenges they have embraced or what new things they have taught themselves during this pandemic. I was moved and inspired by what folks have been up to; I also felt less alone.
It’s easy to isolate our struggles and turn them into something bigger than they are or bigger than everyone else’s, but this pandemic has motivated people to tap into some really wonderful survival skills.
Since the start of the pandemic, most if not all of our interactions have happened through screens. Zoom, Google Meet, online learning, and more emails and texts than we thought our hands were capable of typing. And passwords. Keeping up with three kids’ in multiple classrooms on multiple devices was a full-time job. We all learned how to work and learn from home, but some of us had to rebuild entire careers while having to quarantine.
Julia, from Florida, tells Scary Mommy she started a private therapy practice online: “It was painful for me to have to relearn/redo everything to end up with Telehealth. No way am I going back!”
Shauna, from Vermont, also had to turn an intimate service into a digital one. She says, “I learned how to build an entire program and hire and train a team of mental health professionals over the internet.”
Several folks found more time to learn how to start, edit, and tinker with podcasting while others took advantage of online yoga, meditation, and books.
Ashley, from California, says, “I’ve always been a diehard physical book reader as opposed to a digital e-book reader. It’s not that I’m anti-tech, but I enjoy the tactile and sensory experience of reading a physical book. Because of the pandemic, libraries were closed and I was forced to download the Overdrive app on my kindle and spent all summer reading library books and Kindle unlimited books on one of the kids’ old devices and I don’t know that I will ever go back!”
While the days felt overwhelming and exhausting, we had to find ways to manage. We realized we aren’t just working from home; we are living where we work. We are also living with kids and/or partners. Alone time feels impossible, and many of us realized that we needed to create a new kind of self-care. Folks took to YouTube to learn how to cut their own hair, embrace their gray as it grew in, and give themselves manicures and pedicures. Finding ways to create balance and safe spaces was vital too.
Liz from Vermont says: “I was always ‘too busy’ or putting others needs way ahead of my own. Now I’ve learned it’s not only okay but necessary to put myself first. And saying ‘no’ is my right, damn it!”
Angie, also from Vermont, agrees: “I’m a ‘yes’ person. I don’t like letting people down and I certainly have FOMO. But once [the pandemic] happened I had to learn how to create and stick to boundaries for the safety and comfort of the people closest to me. I can’t promise I won’t still be a ‘yes’ person when this is all done, but I’m not so afraid to let a ‘nope’ fly here and there.
When Michelle, from South Carolina, was diagnosed with COVID-19, she was forced to take her health more seriously. “It was highly suggested to stay active (especially walking) to help with healing and to keep my lungs clear. I told myself if I could walk a mile each day huffing and puffing without dying, I could continue to do it. That led to me shifting and changing my focus towards what I was eating. I started using an app that helps me stay accountable and I’ve been consistent for the last month or so.”
Whether it’s saying no more often or volunteering to enrich our lives while helping others, navigating tough conversations with friends, family members, partners, and our children has been one of the hardest challenges for people.
Andrea, from Colorado, began to evaluate her marriage. “I think we were living day to day in survival mode. Being home more really brought us together. It takes a real effort to make relationships work. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle of life. It’s hard to face hard truths and facts and we easily run. The work you put in is what you will get out. Things were crappy because we weren’t investing.”
The way we interact with our kids has changed too. As hard as it has been to figure out how to take care of their needs while managing our own, the grit of a parent’s love has overcome the noise of chaos.
Sadie, of California, shares, “We made a bigger effort to spend quality family time. We eat dinner at the same time, and I also had more time for fun with my kid. No school/work schedule we would go out to a drive thru at 4 a.m. It was just a fun little adventure and great memories.”
And sometimes the best gift we can give to the ones we love are clear boundaries. Grace, from Vermont, established these early. “I’ve learned how to parent differently…lower standards in terms of screen time and nutrition but higher standards for behavior, because frankly I no longer have the patience for bullshit,” she says.
Everyone is all set with the bullshit.
And as if all of these accomplishments weren’t enough, folks took the time to also learn how to groom their pets, plant a garden, bake new things, order groceries online, and complete house renovations. My friend Ethan is pretty proud that he finally learned how to fold a fitted sheet.
So many of our decisions have been dictated by COVID-19, but when we take a breath and step back, we realize we still can make choices that feel like ours. It would have been easy for me to avoid the challenge and opportunity to embrace online teaching. It would be easier for all of us to stick with the known. But if we are going to be those people who embrace the silver lining, we have to be willing to adapt and try new ways of doing old things.
Keep doing the hard stuff, friends.
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