The COVID-19 pandemic continues to show us that we have no idea what’s going on and we’re all playing a game of guess, hope, and wait.
The coronavirus looks different in each location you consider. In some countries, the cases continue to grow while citizens choose to fight the systems put in place. The USA, with 1.3 million cases and a little over 80,000 deaths, is still grappling with protestors and calls for an end to lockdown. Similar calls have been heard in the United Kingdom, which recently surpassed Italy with the highest COVID-19 related deaths in Europe. Germany joined the chaos, not long after the government shared the country’s impressive progress.
People are becoming tired and they want to be let out. Other countries seem to be winding down with more ease – but just as much caution. New Zealand and South Korea are among those at the forefront for reaching the much-awaited “new normal”. But, this is not happening as seamlessly as the world wants it to.
From a local perspective, the little island on which I reside managed to get on top of the virus and contain the situation. Our 50+ day lockdown ended on the 4th of MAy and, slowly, life is getting back on track.
Lockdown, for me and my city, started on the 10th of March. This was at the time when eyes were on Italy and Iran’s alarming statistics, as well as the rapid spread of the viruses. More cases were being discovered and we’d just realized that this wasn’t a “bad flu”.
Months later, I don’t want to think of the future, yet. I’d like to dwell on the last 6 – 8 weeks and share the lessons I picked up along the way:
1. Boundaries aren’t just for people.
When the first case was reported here, all kindergartens, schools, and universities shut down immediately. We weren’t sure of what was going on and the rumor mill was on fire. Whatsapp broadcasts of strange cases, deaths, and other dramatic events were rife and people kept making things worse.
I couldn’t retreat to my usual escape, Twitter, because everyone was talking about the virus and there was just as much fake news there too. The worrier in me wanted to stay updated, so I checked out every story, post, and status – fake or not. It didn’t take long for anxiety attacks to set in. I wasn’t just worried about myself. I was worried about my family and friends.
Waking up to uncertainty, every day, and finding it wherever I looked didn’t make things better. So, I decided to create boundaries with the content I was consuming. The next step was to unfollow most news outlets and opted for searching for an update in the evening. I muted the words COVID, COVID-19, deaths, and other commonly mentioned words.
These actions didn’t leave me uninformed. I was still able to access the necessary information but in small doses. I acknowledged my privilege in the situation, knowing that not everyone had the ability to limit what they say about the virus. But, I knew that this was the only way I was going to be able to function effectively.
Sometimes, boundaries aren’t just for people. They’re for anything that threatens to move us into a place of debilitating anxiety, fear, or depression. You could do the same thing for yourself, too.
What content do you allow yourself to consume regularly, even when you know it’s not good for you?
2. “Normal” doesn’t need to be a part of my vocabulary.
It took a month into lockdown for me to say, out loud, that “This is not normal and I need to stop acting like I’ve lived through this before.”
The worrier in me wanted to get a grip on the situation and keep afloat. What did that mean for me?
Routine. My mind immediately thought, “More time on your hands means you need to use it wisely! Plan your days to maximize your productivity.”
So I drew up the plans, lined up the courses, and kept a notebook close to my desk. I even created a fitness schedule because what’s better than working on your body during a global shutdown? This regime worked for a week before I found myself unable to get out of bed.
I wasn’t ill. I was exhausted – mentally and physically. I couldn’t voice my feelings, but I could tell that something was terribly amiss. Eventually, it sunk in. I’d replaced “processing” with exhaustive productivity. Instead of taking the time to understand my confusion, fear, and growing anxiety, I chose to ignore them and focus on “maintaining normal as best as possible”.
Recovery started for me when I realized that I was working with the impossible. I didn’t need a routine. I needed rest and time. I needed to grieve – because there were many things going on at the time. I needed to let go of my striving for perfection, and allow myself to grapple with reality.
I still haven’t embraced the word “normal” and I don’t think I will. We’re in the process of redefining normal because the lives we were living before were far from it.
3. The best & worst in people is in full display.
Social media has always been a two-faced coin. One side is great – next-level information sharing, instant connections with people all over the world, and of course – Black Twitter.
But there’s another side to this “great vehicle of change” – trolls, sociopaths, enablers of violence, racism, and sexual harm, etc. These people aren’t the exception. They’re not outliers. They are part of the accounts with large followings, they have mass communities that interact in broad daylight, and they are also disguised as well-meaning people who want to “create conversation”.
I don’t think a day goes by without a major argument, dragging, or dark moment. In a time where everyone is indoors and online, there’s a new form of madness every minute.
Some people are acting out of pressure and fear, but a lot of trolls are just showing their true colors. There is a lot of vile content being shared every day and I don’t think it’s going to slow down.
Fortunately, however, there is a brighter side to look to. Human kindness has shown out so many ways during this pandemic. From people rallying to help those in need of others trying to create work opportunities for the retrenched. Special mention to the sharers of wholesome content (puppies, kittens, warm moments, etc.) I know it’s not easy to focus on the warm and lovable in a time with so much confusion.
The best thing to do, to navigate this sea of emotions and reactions, is to maintain your boundaries. There is no need to entertain trolls and if you aren’t up for debate, the other party should be able to respect that.
4. We don’t need to accomplish anything in this time
There is a lot of pressure being put on people – especially the 20- and 30-somethings to make the most of this time. We’re being told to start businesses, erect 4 side hustles, connect with the Queen on LinkedIn, and apply for 100 different scholarships, fellowships, and internships.
While it makes sense to encourage people to chase the best versions of themselves, it’s immensely insensitive to force productivity, or overachieving, in a time like this.
People are grieving the loss of loved ones, income, livelihoods, etc. People are still trying to wrap their minds around what we’re actually dealing with. No one needs to be shamed for what they are or are not doing.
5.We need to hold on to our empathy
The main theme in this piece is that this novel situation has brought out different reactions.
What we think is normal and expected, isn’t the same for other people. This is an appeal to the more “positive” and “hopeful” in this situation. The ones who are pros at finding the silver lining.
This is also for those who are more informed and have time to research. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to be on your wavelength and you need to remember that.
There are times I would lose patience with people who would still share fake news, argue conspiracy theories, and share those challenges on Instagram. We’re all trying to cope and coping won’t look the same for all of us.
If it isn’t breaking the law (protestors I’m looking right at you), I think we can make more room for people to deal. Call out the problematic ones – there is always time for this. But, continue to remind ourselves that this pandemic is doing a number on us.
Right now, as some countries move to ease the lockdown, and we continue to look for “normal”, I think it’s important that we take our time. Take time to understand ourselves and one another. Take time to understand that a lot needs to change in order for us to move forward.
Take time to realize we have to work together, to a certain degree, to hamper the spread of this virus and, eventually, end it. I don’t know what the other side of this looks like but I do try to hold on to hope.
Right now, I think that’s the best I can do.