Personal Lessons Learned From a Pandemic

Early in the pandemic, when I realized COVID wasn’t going to slip away in six weeks, I read on Facebook an invitation that invited me to consider what the pandemic could teach me. What could it offer in terms of growth and learning? I loved that perspective. With Larry working in healthcare and in a COVID unit, suddenly, nothing could be taken for granted. I needed something to bring this experience into focus in a way that would glean the good from it.

Larry and I are vaccinated now, so the fear of uncertainty has dropped considerably, although not entirely. Still, now is a good time to pause and consider the lessons learned from the last year in quarantine while trying to balance a mental health practice and concerns over our own physical and mental well-being during a world-wide lockdown.

Lesson #1: Uncertainty is always with us. We like to think that we’re in charge of our world, and there are some things we get to determine. In working with clients, one thing we strive to learn is what we can control and focus on those things while trying to let go of what isn’t within our command. I had to bring that lesson home in a new and deeper way. Because Larry works in a COVID unit, I was scared, and I struggled with uncertainty and a lack of control. I couldn’t protect him from the virus, a lack of PPE, or his desire to go into work. I told him on several occasion that I wanted him to retire immediately, but he refused. He felt a need to be on the frontline of this battle, waging it with his fellow healthcare workers. His choices were out of my control. My job in all of this was to voice my concerns and opinions, and then do my best support him in his decision to go to work. I learned to do that, and in the process, I learned to settle with what I didn’t know about this virus, Larry’s job, and the future. I made cautious friends with uncertainty and let it teach me what it had to offer, which was a love for the present moment along with my second lesson.

Lesson #2 I like my husband. Yes, I love him, but I like him, too. There isn’t anyone on this earth that I’d rather spend time with. Like many others families, our life got fairly small. For both of us, it boiled down to work, home, the dog, dinner, and TV. And I loved it because I not only love him, but I like him.

This place Larry and I share didn’t come easy. We had some tough years—not just hard days or a difficult couple of months—but hard years. Our past is riddled with challenging experiences where we seriously considering divorce. Things were so bad that our therapist told us he didn’t think our marriage would make it. The cultural, racial, and age divide, along with different viewpoints on marriage in general made our union a laborious slog. But we pulled through all of that with diligent hard work from both of us. In this pandemic, I could see the fruits of that labor.

For those who can’t say this, I recommend counseling. Not all marriages can be saved but maybe yours can. Take this possibility into consideration as you try to determine what needs to happen for you and your family.

Here's the exception. If you are suffering from marital abuse, domestic violence, or your children are suffering from abuse, please seek help. Numbers show that 25% of women experience violence in their partnerships (Evans, Lindauer, & Farrell, 2020). But what isn't often discussed is that one in ten men also experience violence from an intimate partner (Evans, Lindauer, & Farrell, 2020). Although abuse is more pronounced in families that are suffering from poverty or are marginalized in some other way, it crosses all socioeconomic, gender, racial, and religious lines.

If you're the victim of domestic violence or abuse you can call 1-800-799-7233 or go to this website: This website and phone number comes with this security alert: Internet usage can be monitored and is impossible to erase completely. If you’re concerned your internet usage might be monitored, call us at 800.799.SAFE (7233). Learn more about digital security and remember to clear your browser history after visiting this website.

Now, for one more personal lesson.

Lesson #3 Finding peace with my body. I’m carrying an extra 15 pounds. Not because of the pandemic. I haven’t gained any weight in the last year, but I've nursed a knee injury which has kept me sedentary off and on for the last several years. Then, I went through menopause. So, there’s that. Up until the pandemic, I’ve struggled emotionally with this weight gain and how my body has aged. But I’ve decided it's time to embrace these changes. I quit coloring my hair. I don’t wear as much makeup as often. I look fifty-seven. But with the pandemic, I learned to be grateful for my body. My immune system works. My vital organs work. And now that injury is on the mend for good, and my knee works. I wish I was 15 pounds lighter, but I’m not going to starve or injure myself to reach that far-off and maybe impossible goal. Instead, I’ll eat well and when I want. I’ll exercise because I love it. And I’ll appreciate what my body does for me every single day. It functions well, and I’m grateful.

These are just a few things the pandemic has taught me. I also learned that, in spite of the popular slogan, we’re not all in this together. Some folks managed to get by with just a toe in the water while others were and continue to be in over their heads with job loss, racial clashes, the death of loved ones, and/ or the grind of existing poverty.

I came to realize that much of the media has its own agenda—one I may or may not share—and that it’s good to get my information from a variety of sources. I’ve always believed that, but the pandemic brought that truth home.

I also learned the necessity of grocery store workers, field workers, and those who make sure I’ve got food on the table. To me, their job is just as important as Larry’s, and their risk just as great. But they didn’t get the same respect or protection.

Gratitude for my family and friends has reached a new high. I'm grateful for each of them and our shared history.

I leave this post with an invitation. Since the lessons keep coming, I’d love to hear about your experience. What did you struggle with and when did you triumph? If you’re willing to share, I bet you’ve got something you can teach me, and I’d love to learn from you.

Evans, M., Lindauer, M., & Farrell, M. (2020, December 10). A pandemic within a pandemic--Intimate partner violence during Covid-19. The New England Journal of Medicine. doi:10.1056/NEJMp2024046

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