The shut down because of COVID-19 has certainly not been easy on anybody. People have faced personal and professional challenges at every turn of the way. Businesses have shut down; school buildings closed while learning moved to online only; hospitality industries saw no one traveling; the happiest place on Earth became the loneliest; lives that cannot be replaced were lost.
And yet there were, and continue to be, many stories of people coming together. Neighbors helping one another out. Athletes using their millions to provide for health care workers and those that we know are most essential to our daily lives.
Still, within the walls of each of our homes, there were daily struggles. Struggles that weren’t reported, struggles that went unnoticed, struggles that are difficult to give description to.
I felt the unbearable loneliness that came from the isolation. I felt the walls closing in around me. I heard the screaming silence that came from being alone. I felt the loss of what had been “normal” in my life. I felt the freedom of travel taken from me in a single proclamation.
However when I allowed myself to feel the loss, I was also able to find the parts of myself that I had been missing. I was able to find the gratitude in my life as it had now become.
I, for the first time, was living well and truly alone. I couldn’t run to a friend’s house for dinner or conversation when I couldn’t stand being completely alone with myself anymore. I had to learn to fully live with myself and only myself.
And do you know what I found? I love myself. That seems an odd statement to make, but how many people can well and truly say that they love themselves as they are? I am capable of cooking for myself delicious meals (when I want to), my body allows me to move and appreciate the exercise I can do (when I’m motivated), I am able to relax and be within my own mind and not run from my thoughts.
I found that while I desperately missed my students (more than I could ever imagine I would), we had the great ability to use technology to stay connected. I was able to hear from my students as they took the early graduation option. I was able to track down the students that needed to do their work for my class in order to graduate (they may not have loved this as much as I did, but it helped them reach that final goal!). I was able to zoom with colleagues to see how they were handling the same frustrations and to know I wasn’t alone.
I found that by commuting to work from my bedroom to my desk allowed me to feel happier and less rushed. I was able to focus, even if it was in my pajamas, as I made a plan for the day. I could drink my coffee while it was still hot. I could go to the bathroom whenever I needed! (If you’re a teacher or know a teacher, then you’ll understand how major this is.)
I recognized that I was lucky to still have my job. There have been many throughout this time that have not been so lucky, and it made me focus and reevaluate how I contribute to my community. Even if that meant simply ordering one more meal from a local restaurant to help keep them going, then by God I will eat that burger and order that extra scone with my coffee for the sake of my community!
I felt lost and my sleep and schedule were affected by this greatly – and Netflix certainly benefitted. But I was able to realize I was feeling this way and committed to myself that I would take advantage of this time to read the books that had been sitting on my shelf. I also joined a second book club which has expanded my reading selection and connected me with a wider community. I was going to use this time to challenge my thinking (and watch new shows).
I never in my life expected that I would ever end up with so much “me time” but now that I’ve had it, I don’t know that I want to give up the slower pace of life that I have found. Being limited in the size of our gatherings has allowed us to appreciate the ones we’re with and have deeper conversations. Needing to wear a mask in public means we need to be more aware of how we protect and serve our neighbors, even if we don’t know them personally. Not having stores open has made us more cognizant of how we spend our money and the things we truly need in our lives. Being told that we need to limit our travel and where we go when we leave our homes has made us more aware of the people we want to see and visit with. Having more time to go places has meant that I can ride my bike instead of taking my car and that makes me feel good knowing that in addition to enjoying the ride (literally), I’m also helping the environment in my own small way.
These lessons aren’t meant to replace the things that have been lost, but it does allow us to see that when things get difficult there are still things to be grateful for. By focusing on those things we can find that light that brings us all joy.
Gratitude helps you find meaning—and some version of contentment—in the chaos.The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan
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