Struggling Post Pandemic? You’re Not Alone

Offering support in the park

As friends around you adjust to post-pandemic life, how are you doing?

If you are struggling to get going again, you are not alone. The last fifteen months have been difficult. As a nation, we have been through trauma. We have been through not only a pandemic but we have collectively been through:

  • The deaths of over half a million fellow Americans
  • A divisive election
  • The loss of jobs and closures of businesses 
  • The exhaustion of our healthcare workers and essential workers
  • Protesting in the streets over the needless deaths of George Floyd and other black men
  • Avoiding getting close to people or hugging them because of safety
  • Losing our daily routines and often adopting unhealthy habits 
  • Working online, often with children in virtual classrooms at our sides
  • Witnessing people waiting in very long lines just to get food on the table
  • Experiencing natural disasters like tornadoes, ice storms, and wildfires 

And it doesn’t stop. Now, as the nation opens up, we have severe drought in California, increased homelessness, a bigger class divide than ever, friends dealing with long-haul Covid, workplace and other mass shootings, and more divisiveness over masks and vaccines. 

So how do we go on? 

  • Give ourselves permission to go slowly, one hour at a time. 
  • Give ourselves permission to feel the heaviness of the last year and to let it go by talking to others, sharing our feelings, taking walks in nature, joining support groups, and reaching out to friends we haven’t seen much during the pandemic. 
  • Write down three things we’re grateful for each day.
  • Watch a sad movie to get in touch with our own grief and sadness so we can shed those muchly-needed tears.
  • Stop comparing our problems to others’ problems because our problems deserve our attention, too, even if they don’t seem as bad.
  • Host picnics in parks with our friends and family.
  • Hug our children and grandchildren and others.
  • Return to events in person if we’re healthy and vaccinated, and we continue to connect virtually if we’re immunocompromised.
  • Listen closely to those who are hurting
  • Get vaccinated and stay masked to protect those who don’t respond to vaccines.

And most importantly, we practice self-care and self-compassion, and we give compassion, empathy, and love to those around us. 

Processing 2020

As 2020 has been winding down, I have been winding down with it. 

In some ways, 2020 seems like forever and in other ways, it has passed quickly. On March 4, 2020, I had a routine doctor’s appointment and my doctor told me to go home and not to leave again for a couple of weeks because of the coronavirus, because I am immunocompromised from a kidney transplant I had in 2011. Two weeks turned into months. I have measured weeks from Monday to Monday when I take the trash cans to the curb, and I have measured days by my Zoom meetings.

I am more fortunate than most, in that I have a home with a yard, a dog, a church I love, organizations I’m involved in, and I can coach from my home. Still, as an extrovert, being home all these months has had its challenges. I ask myself, “What will I hold onto from this year and what will I remember?”

I will hold onto the friends I became closer to because of Zoom, and I will treasure those moments where I witnessed both clients and friends expressing their most vulnerable selves and reaching out to me for extra support when they needed it.

I will hold close the tears, the pain, and the things shared with me in confidence by so many in the last few months as their pandemic fatigue and grief became unbearable.

I will remember the faces of the many young essential workers who have delivered groceries to my door, and I will be forever grateful to them. 

I will remember every flower and every rose that bloomed in my yard this year, because I took the time to walk around the yard each day and to notice them as they grew.

I will think about the many nights I noticed the brightness of the moon and the stars and the hope it brought me.

I will remember the smiles of the elderly men and women who lit up with excitement when they saw my face staring at them on a computer screen, as I taught them how to connect on Zoom or Facetime. 

I will think about some of the big things that saddened me this year like my friend who is fighting cancer, and my friend who lost her job, and my friends whose kids have needed to start therapy because of covid anxiety, and my friends who have suffered major depression from social isolation, and my friends whose partners, spouses, parents, and children have struggled with health issues or who have died.

I will remember the heartbreak of seeing the ever-increasing numbers of Americans who are dying of Covid-19 and the growing grief in our nation, and I will remember the ritual I adopted of lighting a candle in their memory each morning at my desk.

And I will remember the feeling of wanting to go be with my grieving friends and to hug them and the realization that I could not do so.

As you think about 2020, what will you hold onto and what will you let go of? What stands out for you? 

I encourage you to give yourself permission to be wherever you are, to feel the sadness and happiness of 2020, and to think about the faces, the images, the feelings that will remain with you.

Tomorrow is a new day and a New Year, and the best way to approach 2021 is with hope. I wish you happiness, health, and joy in the New Year, and may we all learn to love and protect each other.

 

Dealing with the Elephant, Day 19

Today is Day 19 of the 25 Days of Christmas.

As I considered your challenge for the next 24 hours, I thought it’d be important to address the elephant in the living room. If you are not familiar with the term, just think about being in a room full of people with an elephant literally in the middle of the room, visible to all, and yet no one mentions it because no one wants to deal with it.

For example, the year that my dad died I knew my family would gather around to open gifts and everyone would be thinking about my dad’s absence but no one would know how to address it. In order to acknowledge that he wasn’t there, I took a big stuffed Santa to my mother’s house and put him in the chair where my dad liked to sit. When everyone went into the living room to open gifts, they saw Santa in the chair, which then opened up a conversation about how much we missed my dad and how he liked to play Santa and give gifts. Once we talked about missing him, everyone seemed more comfortable opening gifts and bringing up memories of my dad.

I hope you will be aware of any possible “elephant in the living room” scenarios in your family. The elephant in the room for you maybe be that you’re all missing someone or it may just be that everyone has a whole range of feelings because of Covid-19 deaths or losses related to jobs, cars, homes, family changes, or others.

I encourage you to journal, talk with friends or someone you trust, and to give yourself permission to feel your whole range of feelings. You may feel a lot of opposite feelings at the same time such as joy and sadness, hope and depression, fear and faith, and others. Feeling the opposites together is perfectly okay, and it’s important to acknowledge that you can have a huge range of emotions at the same time.

The affirmation for Day 19 is “I give myself permission to have lots of different feelings even if they contradict.”

Reaching Out

Today is Day 2 of the 25 Days of Christmas

Day 2 is here! Yesterday I asked you to create a list of those who are important to you that you usually see at Christmas or those you want to remember.  

Look at your list and pick the one person on your list who is the most challenging to call, the one who might reject you, the one that you are a little scared to call. Call that person and tell them that you will miss them and you hope they have a wonderful holiday time.

Then pick a second person. This one will be someone you are comfortable calling, someone who is a safe person. Ask that person how you can be their Rudolph, how you can help make their holiday season a little brighter. Ask them how you can help light their way. 

If your safe person is someone who has died, write them a letter to tell them you miss them and that you hold them close to your heart. Read that letter to a trusted friend and feel your sadness, and then do something that honors their memory for you at Christmas. 

I challenge you to make the difficult call and to make the easy call. Reaching out to others is so very important, and sometimes you just need a boost to do it. 

So make your calls and come back tomorrow for Day 3, because Day 3’s activity will be a fun one. 

Your affirmation for Day 2 is “I give love and light to myself and to the world.”

When a Hug Isn’t Possible

When someone dies, people usually rush in to help. I remember when my father died, a neighbor who was on her way to church saw the ambulance at my parents’ house and stopped, knowing something was wrong. She arrived soon after I did, with the ambulance still in the driveway and the paramedics inside. 

I am still grateful to her as I look back to that day seven years ago. When the ambulance pulled out, she told me to run home and take a shower and told my mother to take a shower and get dressed, and she would stay. When I returned 45 minutes later, our friend had removed the walker and other medical equipment from the house and taken it to our garage. She offered to make phone calls to family and friends. She helped us think when we could not. 

Now, however, with COVID-19, we could not have let her in, as my mother and I are both very high risk. Nor could we have let in the friends who showed up later with sandwiches and cakes and hugs. Friends offered us such comfort at the time and took over basic responsibilities so we did not have to.

So how can you help when you can’t just show up and give a hug? Based on my work with caregiver support and grief groups in the past, I came up with a few ideas to share, and I offer them here:

  • If you know something to do, act. Asking the person what you can do is usually not helpful, as they either do not know right then what they need or they do not want to ask.
  • Send a card. A real snail-mail card.
  • Check-in with a phone call. Don’t ask them to return your call. Just say I love you and am thinking about you.
  • Don’t judge them for how they deal with their feelings. 
  • Do a video chat with them and just hold space with them. It’s not the same as physically being there, but offering to just sit with them, to listen if they want to talk, to be a virtual presence can offer support.
  • Offer to go to their window and hold your hand up to theirs through the glass for a few minutes and give a gentle smile
  • Leave a meal on the front porch then call to let them know you care and/or set up a meal train so neighbors sign up to take meals for a week. Even better, order meals to be delivered from local restaurants in order to help the restaurants survive
  • If you’re able to go out, ask for their grocery list or just anticipate what they might need and leave their groceries at the door 
  • Make a donation in memory of their loved one

With so many people grieving the loss of loved ones during the pandemic,  are all hurting. Please be kind and considerate, be loving, and do what you can to respect and care for all those who are mourning or in despair. We need each other to get through this pandemic.