Understandably, life has been hectic for most people all over the world for the past few months. Nothing like a global pandemic to bring us all together (at an acceptable social distance.) In a time of uncertainty and fear it is hard to find a balance in this new reality. What amount of returning to your old life is acceptable during a crisis? What level of anger should be expressed toward those not taking things seriously? How often should you check the news or the official case-count? Are you grieving? Are you denying reality? What is even happening?
It has been hard for everyone to adjust to life in a time of a global pandemic. Some have lost their jobs and others have had to take on extreme responsibility to keep their families afloat. The service industry is both thriving and sinking. The economy is collapsing around the globe. Healthcare workers are being asked to work around the clock with minimal personal protective equipment. We are actively running out of supplies in many sectors. No amount of prevention is an over-reaction because we have reached the worst-case scenario and at this point we are mitigating damage.
I am fortunate in my current position to have the ability to work from home or, as a friend pointed out, be at my home during a crisis trying to work. I probably won’t leave the house beyond walking my dog for a couple of months. Prior to all this, I was testing out a period of remote work for my PhD and happened to be a close driving distance to my parents when everything started going south in the United States. My university shut its doors and forced all non-essential personnel off campus so I decided to stay with my family and ride out the storm. We are all fortunate enough to have the luxury of working from home and also fortunate enough to have the supplies and space to adequately do so.
Despite the ideal situation in working from home, it has been incredibly difficult to focus on work when grappling with the thought of the world falling apart around us. It’s hard to think that anything matters when people are dying from something so preventable. It’s frustrating to know that people I love are in danger and that other people I love aren’t taking this as seriously as they could be. It’s difficult to face myself and ask whether I should have self-isolated sooner and if it is possible that I have been exposed and actively spreading it with no symptoms.
A friend from college posted a list of things that are ringing true during this time and I would like to share my take on a couple of them. The first being that everyone deals with anxiety differently. She mentions that some people become extremely productive and others become the opposite, but where you fall is not your choice. I’m finding this to be the largest disappointment in my working situation. My anxiety has rendered me practically useless in my work because I cannot concentrate on it long enough to make any progress. Accepting this about myself has been the first step in finding out how to maintain any level of productivity during this time.
She also mentions that when everything is turned upside down you cannot undo it through hard work. This notion has been comforting in ways I had not expected. I obviously don’t like to feel powerless in the direction of my own life, but it is mildly comforting to know that my powerless position is confirmed. After realizing that, it freed some mental space and I decided to make whatever small contributions I can to help others. For me this has meant calling to check in on friends, sewing fabric masks for family, friends, nursing homes, and hospitals, donating to causes that are providing important relief services, and kindly informing others about how their actions can impact public health.
During this time I am learning many things about myself that I both like and dislike. I dislike the crippling anxiety I feel most days, but I try to view it as an opportunity to test out coping mechanisms. I dislike my lack of focus on my work during stressful times, but I like my focus on meaningful conversations with people I love. I like my drive to help others and I like that even though I’m not on the front line of any of this, I can contribute to their health and safety. If anything, this has confirmed my priorities in life and maybe I’ll adjust my post-crisis life accordingly.
I have found solace in the idea that we are not the first generation to have a global pandemic. People before us have made it through and people after us will probably experience similar tragedies while hopefully learning from our mistakes. I’m not looking for silver linings because I don’t think it is fair to people who are dying and those who are fighting to keep those people alive. Nothing about this is good. However, I don’t judge people for trying to find silver linings because I know we need to see a light at the end of the tunnel to cope. My light at the end of the tunnel is that we will make it through. This will end one way or another. Hopefully it ends with minimal additional tragedy and the development of a vaccine and a treatment. Possibly it will inject a new sense of community into the world and a respect for the fragility and transience of life.