Sometimes Life Sucks and Then You Live
Reflections on a year we will never forget....
2020 has been a year that I am sure many of us will never forget. A global health crisis with a little presidential election insanity on the side…. And of course, there was also a record number hurricanes, an over-due lesson on systematic racism, children having to adjust to homeschooling, a shortage of toilet paper, wildfires, and let us not forget those wonderful murder hornets!
I never thought I would experience life during a pandemic. I mean, did any of us? It has been strange, to say the least, and most definitely, a year long lesson on resilience and adaptation. My son is a senior in high school this year and he was supposed to (in the words of Danny Zuko) “rule the school!” Ruling Google Classroom just does not seem to create the same experience of being treated like High School royalty, does it? There were many firsts this year...first time in my life I have had to wear a mask everywhere I go ...first telemedicine appointment ...first time I have actually seen two people fight over a package of toilet paper. Despite the many disappointments and challenges 2020 has brought, I have made an effort to adapt as well as possible, accept the reality that this is our new normal. and have spent everyday trying do the right thing even during a time when the right thing is up for debate.
Seriously though, it is kind of hard to look on the bright side of things when day-to-day life can feel like you are trying to cross a river of steaming hot lava on a half decimated, rickety, wooden, bridge that crumbles as you try to cross. You know, the type that usually shows up during one of those awful frustration dreams where you are trying to run away from something really bad (I never remember what) and the bridge is your only escape? I can’t be the only one who has those dreams, or am I?
That being said, I have learned quite a lot the past few months. Some of which has been fairly practical like the art of negotiating and rescheduling plane tickets, a major realization that open floor plans are so totally overrated, and mastering the tango of running a meeting or a training session while dealing with the dogs getting triggered and barking hysterically at every….single….person… who walks by the house! Of course other COVID-19-inspired realizations have been more spiritual. Having more time to reconnect with nature and having the opportunity to spend more time with my kids have been some of the brightest lights. In a way, this year was also kind of metaphorical bitch slap, reminding me that even when things are hard and I feel like I am drowning, there are others out there who are dealing with more pain and suffering than I can imagine. All over the world, there are many who have lost everything…their businesses, their jobs, their homes, their health, and their loved ones. I know I am so fortunate and for that I am truly grateful.
Of course, 2020 was not all bad. I did have an opportunity early in the year to travel to South East Asia for work and see a part of the world I had never seen before. I made an effort to seek out more opportunities for professional development and attended virtual conferences that I may not have had the opportunity to attend if they were not being conducted online. I also learned some important new (I guess you can call them) skills that may, or may not, be useful post pandemic. Since 2020 has come to an end, I thought I would jot down some of the more important reflections and/or realizations I have experienced this past year. Difficult times can be the best opportunities for growth even if some of the lessons we learn (hopefully) prove to be less than applicable down the road. So here goes….
The art of speaking clearly while wearing a mask. This one was not hard to master however, it does take a certain degree of concentration and effort. Pre-COVID, I rarely had to think about how clearly I was speaking since I was not forced to wear a mask that muffles words and can make it more difficult for others to decipher what is being said. When I am tired or preoccupied, “vocal laziness” is a common occurrence. After babbling on about something and hearing “sorry, I didn’t hear what you said”, What?" or “huh?” over and over, I finally wised up and started making an effort to slow down when speaking and pronounce each syllable of each word properly. This has definitely led to some awkward moments…it takes time to learn how to do this naturally without going overboard…however, I am not being asked to repeat myself anymore…so there’s that, right?!
Do not touch your face…like, ever! This was also a tough one. Only when I was forced to concentrate on not touching my face did I realize how often I unconsciously do it. Wearing masks have definitely helped and having my 17 year old nagging me about how to properly handle masks (do not touch the front of them and do not scratch your nose when wearing one (which, annoyingly always starts itching the minute I put on the darn thing!) I also, like many others, carry hand sanitizer with me everywhere I go so, if I try and bite my nails (yes, another terrible habit) the taste is enough to make me never want to go there again!
Stifle those asthma or allergy induced coughs. I remember one particular day back in April when I had stopped by a Safeway to pick up a couple things. I was finishing up one of those Sparkling Ice drinks and took one last swig before throwing it in a recycling bin next to the store. Unfortunately, I took a breath too quickly and ended up inhaling some of the cherry flavored, carbonated, drink and preceded to go into a coughing fit (the body’s natural reaction when fluid inadvertently enters the larynx.) When I looked up, I was met with horrified and outraged looks from many fellow shoppers. I tried awkwardly to explain that I was choking, not a germ spreading messenger of death, however most of them had already fled to other areas of the store before I could finish.
Coughing, sniffling or even taking breaths that sound louder than normal can not only result in reactions of terror, indignation, and disgust from those around you, showing any signs of illness can get you thrown out of a store or even off of an airplane. I have come to accept that if I cough or wheeze in public, I will immediately be identified as a modern equivalent of Typhoid Mary; and even a pollen induced allergy attack will most likely result in banishment from any social gathering and 14 days of quarantine (of course, if you are an introvert like me, sometimes that is not such a bad thing!) So, in order to not turn my local Safeway into a scene from Lord of the Flies, I hold those evil coughs in, stifle those sneezes, and carry a bottle of water or cough drops everywhere I go. Oh, and some useful advice... if you want to take a sip of a drink before shopping...wait in the car to make sure none ends up going down the wrong pipe before walking into the store!
Avoid political arguments which can end in a loss of friends and family: The art of rational discussion seems to have become a rare skill. If your natural inclination is to avoid conflict like me, just stay away from discussing politics on Social Media all together. The few times I crossed that line and posted something political, I ended up feeling frustrated and sad and was reminded why it is better (for my own peace of mind) to just not go there at all. That does not mean I do not have beliefs and that I do not think that the pollical posts my fearless friends and family post are relevant, important, and need to be shared. I have simply realized that I am not going to change anyone’s mind at this point and the division that seems to have flourished in the past few years is here to stay…at least for a while. I honestly feel that the 2020 election cycle has really taken a toll mentally and it has been impossible at times to escape. The mudslinging, name calling, and hatred expressed towards each other that I see so often online is not healthy nor productive. I often find myself wondering why so many have become so obsessed with their political leaders and inflexible when it comes to seeing beyond their own version of reality. Absorbing knowledge from others can be a great thing unless it leads to hate, prejudice, or believing some crazy conspiracy theory (and there are quite a few floating around these days.) That is how we learn and grow. Hopefully, at some point, perhaps we can all learn to engage in respectful and rational discussion and understand that when it comes down to it the people we love are more important than politicians, or political views. The relationships and the community we build around us which continue to play a key role in keeping us going through the dark times of this quarantine should matter more than ideology.
Health and wellness are paramount. I am sure most of us took not only our good health but also our access to healthcare and medications for granted, pre-pandemic. This year has been a wake-up call and I have realized just how lucky I have been health wise, thus far. We all need to take the time to make health a priority. If we are not taking care of ourselves, how will we be able to fight any illness? I have made a point of continuing to exercise daily while working from home. I have discovered a plethora of online workouts on YouTube which are short and can be done between meetings or tasks…Ballet HITTS are totally my favorite! Spending time outside walking, biking, or hiking can also create wonderful opportunities for connection. My kids and I have created a daily routine where we all drop everything we are doing at 5:30pm (work, school, etc.) and take a walk together with the dog. It has become a valuable time for unwinding, venting, discussing current events, and spending time together (without distractions) after a long day. Pushing ourselves to get up and move our bodies, get our blood pumping and our muscles working is paramount to physical and mental health. We need to take care of ourselves now so that our bodies and minds can fight for us later.
Slow down. We live in a world that is constantly on the go. We feel pressure to be productive, to outdo and push ourselves, and to keep going and going so we can be successful in meeting the needs of those who depend on us either at work or at home. While this can result in successful careers, this way of life is not sustainable without a price. Burnout, exhaustion, and depression become a normal way of life when we lose the work-life balance which is crucial to our wellbeing. We need to restore that balance and slow down. Work harder to live one day at a time so we can focus on where we are. I know…I know…easier said than done, right? We do have to plan for and think about the future for ourselves and our families. I have realized that I personally need to do a better job of being present, be more mindful, and take time to stop and breath. Life is short and I am learning to appreciate and enjoy the peaceful life I have and make every moment count…once again, a work in progress.
Mental health is important. This is a big one! I used to sleep reasonably well, but for the past few months each morning I wake up exhausted. Like many others out there, I often feel mentally fatigued, isolated, and emotionally drained. Working from home has been challenging for me on many levels, especially during those first few months. There were many days early on where I felt like I was failing…I was not doing enough, working hard enough, or simply not meeting expectations. I felt intense feelings of isolation…everything felt so far away and separate, like I was looking at the world through a long-twisted tunnel or stuck in a deep dark well that I could not escape. There were days where it felt like my body was made of lead and every movement took incredible effort. I felt helpless and sad and realized, like so many others, I was grieving the loss of normalcy - missing those daily interactions with coworkers and seeing friends and family on a regular basis. I felt strangely invisible.
I have dealt with depression throughout my life. It can hit you out of nowhere and literally suck the life out of you if you let it. It is not self-pity or a plea for attention, and many people (like me) tend to keep it hidden away because we do not want to burden others. Tough times can be a light switch for depression supplying it with the energy and power it needs to invade the mind. Obviously life has always been made up of all kinds of nonsensical stuff we deal with daily, however it feels worse now due to the pandemic. I finally realized that to pull myself out of that well, I had to make a choice to change my perspective and concentrate on pushing away the darkness and keep moving forward. I have developed many tools that have helped…gratitude is one of them and music is another. Music can provide empathy and solace and be a constant companion during the best and worst of times. I also remind myself daily that many out there are suffering on a level I cannot begin to understand and even when the pandemic comes to an end, the suffering will continue. It is important for us all to acknowledge that mental health, just like physical health, is an integral part of our overall wellbeing and needs to be continuously addressed, understood, and acknowledged. It is not something to be avoided and ignored. It is real, it is prevalent (always has been) and it is normal.
There is goodness and humanity, even in the darkness. 2020 has taught me that there are wonderful people in this world. With everything that has happened thus far, many are putting aside time to help those around them – whether it is a small business or persons in need. I have seen multiple fundraising campaigns taking place in our area to raise money to purchase school supplies, books, and food for lower income families who are suffering the most during this unprecedented time. I have seen rallying cries from concerned residents pushing communities to come together and support struggling local businesses. During those first months of quarantine, I remember hearing about restaurants donating food to hospital workers and first responders and many people were volunteering to bring groceries to the elderly. We are truly blessed to have many kind souls surrounding us and these acts of kindness and appreciation from communities have helped keep many struggling businesses and families going.
We are adaptive and more flexible than we realize. Everything we are going through right now, feeling stir crazy, learning to cope with fear and uncertainty, and struggling to keep our sanity, has forced us to find creative ways to stay focused and optimistic. This pandemic has also been a time of extraordinary change, and we have had to rapidly adapt to the evolving situation. Many individuals have lost jobs and have been forced to find new innovative ways to pay the bills. Many others began working from home and have had to figure out a way to maintain that crucial balance between work and life. Schools turned online with virtual learning and students have had to adjust to a new way of learning. Instead of meeting up with friends and family in person, we have started to more frequently use applications like Zoom and Google Chat to stay in touch and close. Many physicians have started offering telemedicine instead of in person appointments. This pandemic has been a testament to just how resilient, versatile, and creative we are as human beings and our innate ability to be flexible and adaptable in the face of uncertainty.
Tough times = Reevaluating Priorities. With more than 350 thousand lives lost to this pandemic in the United States to date, this whole situation has made me re-think my priorities and remember how precious life is. It has been a reminder to appreciate the smaller things in life – the things I often take for granted. I am grateful for my family and friends, even if it means only phone calls, video calls, and text messages for now. With so many people losing jobs and becoming homeless, I am grateful that I can continue to work from home, pay my mortgage, and keep food in my fridge (which, of course, usually disappears after 2 or 3 days because I live with three human piranhas.) This pandemic has served as a reminder of how truly precious life is, despite all of the challenges that have rocked my life through the years. I have realized just how important little things like taking the time to really listen can be and the importance of having those difficult conversations that I often try to avoid. There is no right way to handle what we are all going through right now and it really is okay to not be ok and to feel what we are feeling. Most importantly, even when it seems like the world has flipped upside down, there is still good all around us, even though it seems hard to find at times. While some like to think life sucks and then you die, maybe it is better to change that perspective and (as Diane says in the final episode of Bojack Horseman) instead say maybe sometimes life sucks and then you live...and live and live!
Happy New Year, my friends. Hopefully 2021 will bring much needed relief to many who are suffering through this global crisis. This pandemic has shown us that we are all susceptible to the same human vices, illnesses, and consequences. However, the growth many of us have experienced is a bright side, even though it can be difficult to see. Each person, including my three children, who I have watched struggle this year has handled their challenges head on and become stronger because of it. The pain and discomfort we have gone through, while oftentimes confusing and difficult to navigate, has led us to where we are now and is continuing to guide us to be the people we are meant to be, existing in this “new normal” that we are learning to live with day by day. My resolution for 2021? Keep moving forward, accept that there are going to be circumstances beyond my control, and keep looking for the good and keep striving to be the good that this world so desperately needs right now.
Peace and Love ❤
I hope you have also enjoyed seeing some of my favorite pictures from this year. Here are a few more...