Like so many others, I struggled to stay positive and motivated while navigating life in a pandemic. My job often took me to northern regions in Alberta and throughout the Edmonton area. In March, when travel and face-to-face meetings suddenly stopped, that meant being at home full time (my big dog, Jack doesn’t mind), learning virtual platforms, evaluating how to engage teams in such a world, and lean into the learning curve of working differently. Working from home fed my inner introvert, only temporarily though. For a very brief period I thought we would be “back to normal” by summer. Was I ever wrong!
Unlike those determined folks that embraced quarantine by adapting their regular fitness routines with home workouts and virtual runs, I did not. I wasn’t completely sedentary though, under pressure from well-intentioned friends I bought a brand-spanking-new bike. I love it! Except for that time I tumbled head-over-handlebars – going uphill. Lesson learned: front brake vs. rear break. I also jumped on the sourdough bandwagon making everything from beautiful boules to bagels; even planted a small garden. Unheardof.
I was pleasantly surprised by the creative ways people remained connected. I have never seen so many driveway visits; people spaced 6 feet apart of course and portable fire pits. Grocery drop-offs to those unable to leave their homes turned to random neighborhood wine-fairies.
Of course, the stress of adapting to a “new normal” left many others in varying degrees of chaos. And yet, there is so much to be grateful for. I’m so grateful that I have a job that allows me to work from home and a talented team that is so collaborative. I have compassionate friends and family; even if we can’t all get together we connect in other ways. I’m grateful for our front-line health care workers. You are the heroes.
As these reflections came to mind, I was curious what others thought. Thank you to all who took the time to humor me and share your perspectives! Your responses are brilliant, witty, and delightful!
I give you a collection of reflections on 2020 from amazing people I’m gifted to be acquainted with:
1. What have you found to be the most challenging this year? (yes, the pandemic, but what part?)
I actually found 2 things most challenging. The home schooling that needed to occur and trying to advocate for people with medical issues. Each had their own road blocks and frustrations while trying to ensure I did the best/most thorough effort with them. But a common underlying theme between the 2 was trying to have a good and positive attitude while trying to navigate these things. I really felt my kids were watching for my reactions and behaviours and I wanted to set good examples during these darker times. Even though some days I would have liked to just crawl under a rock. I did not want my kids to have that negative response behaviour so tried to lead by example and some days that was REALLY hard! It became work to stay happy and their cheerleaders.
Most challenging this year – would be finding ways to be flexible, patient, and accepting of many changes, while remaining curious, optimistic and truly welcoming of these numerous changes. For me personally, the transition from gainful employment after 43 years, to retirement, and what that means for me in 2020-2021, has been and continues to be a challenge.
The most challenging part has been the inability to see my family when I want to. As someone who doesn't really go out often to begin with, the pandemic didn't change much about my daily lifestyle, but having to stay away from your loved ones without breaking the law is an awful feeling and it put me in a rough place. Especially during the holidays, it was certainly one of the most challenging parts of the year.
2020 showed how quickly life can change. I used to travel lots be out and about and was grounded since March 10.
Aside from the obvious lack of personal contact with family and friends, and health/emotional challenges experienced by my loved ones, the most challenging part has been the complete inability to plan future travel. We love to travel and I find having a finite date in the future for a pre-booked sun vacation helps keep the spirit up even as you brave the cold and dark of winter...because you can count down the days to that upcoming adventure. With the border closures, travel bans and complete ambiguity of when a vaccine will stabilize the world enough to open things up...there has been no ability to even plan a trip for say, three months into the future. Not having something to look forward to is tough on the psyche.
The lack of human contact (face to face rather than mask to mask)
Among the many challenges faced during 2020, perhaps the most challenging/frustrating is the restriction of movement or travel. Shopping trips are planned events. We prepare lists as we have typically done, but now we are way more conscious of what we need or don’t need. Going out means we weigh the risks, time our venture to try to avoid crowds, or we order online for a distanced pickup or delivery. Instead of running off to SaveOn or Shopper’s Drug Mart without a second thought, can we make do without an ingredient or change the menu or project. Casually meeting friends or driving to Calgary/flying to Europe to see family are missed activities, as are road trips to the Rockies or further abroad. Our daughters are not in Edmonton and not being able to travel to visit them is a huge disappointment. It was an inconvenience to cancel planned international trips (this past fall and one upcoming in February) but a necessary sacrifice. Sort of a no-brainer of a decision.
For me the most challenging thing in 2020 was not being able to hug people. I’m a hugger and I have come to realize that I need that type of contact for my mental wellbeing. Yes, I have my husband and boys at home, but it’s not the same. My hubby tries I will def give him that but I’m not really okay. I need to hug people. Not a casual hey how’s going hug, but a strong, firm hug that says more than words can and leaves you feeling loved and safe and supported.
The loss (or lessening) of humanity, I feel like this pandemic has brought out the worst in some and some feel their rights outweigh the need to take care of others. And opening produce bags at the grocery store while wearing a mask (I can’t wet my fingers on my tongue, what am I doing touching my face anyway, yikes).
The most challenging part has been the separation from friends and watching my daughter struggle with that as well, definitely missing the connectivity that I have always taken for granted.
I've struggled with many things. While there are still ways of connecting with others, I've found not being able to settle in for a long, intimate conversation in a cozy setting with close friends has been tough. I miss hugs. I miss weekend trips to visit out of town friends or my family. Connection is still possible, but it's different than what I'm used to, and doesn't match my preferences. The uncertainty that has accompanied the pandemic has been tough. Not knowing how long restrictions will last for, when it will be safe to travel again, what the overall impact of the pandemic will be, and how it will ultimately impact those who I care about is difficult. While I typically worked from home pre-pandemic, 'having' to work from home has been hard. Living in a small one-bedroom condo where there literally is no separation between my work space and my living space is tricky. I struggle with constant clutter and seeming lack of organization. Finally, I've struggled a lot with a lack of motivation. I remember (especially in the early stages of the pandemic) seeing folks on my social media posting about various renovations or updates they'd made to their decor, new workout routines they were committing to, or other impressive goals they were tackling and feeling a combination of envy and deflation because I was nowhere near that place. I was overwhelmed and almost paralyzed by the uncertainty. I was emotionally exhausted, and certainly in no place to flip my space or become a 'better version of myself'. Maintaining the status quo was often the goal.
A very unremarkable and common reply, to mention the biggest challenge being the obvious: lack of in-person contact. I can’t imagine how prior generations would have done this without all the benefits of current technology (not just for the medical/science aspects, but also the communication now possible while distant). It’s amazing how beneficial a video chat can be! We are fortunate it was 2020 and not 1980.
2. What have you learned?
I already knew how important my family and friends are to me. I relish in the deep conversations that come out of visits while sitting together and have truly organic conversations. And I have always done a good job at appreciating those. But I truly learned just HOW valuable those experiences are for my psyche and soul. I have not ever thought of myself as a depressive person but this year I have felt that more frequently, than any other in my life, and that is saying a lot after having a sick child and the roller coaster of emotions and tears that have brought through the years. So, trying to maintain my happy was now work, if that makes sense? I also learned that the media is nowhere near as responsible as I have thought all of these years in reporting actual facts. That realization made me feel very ignorant, and embarrassed at that ignorance, for all of these years. I will never again just hear or read something from them and believe it. I now do research amongst many sources to seek the most thorough truths I can find.
What I have learned is that it’s OK to just “be”, versus full on “doing”. I thoroughly enjoy long mornings, where I can drink two or 3 cups of tea, read, write, practice yoga and later take a long walk. I have learned I enjoy the pace I am choosing.
I have learned that humans have a dangerous self-preservation instinct and mindset. It doesn't just apply to criminals going against the law, but to everyone, really. No matter what the world or the people around us say, we will find a way to get the things we want, one way or another. Which is great for survival, but like I said, it is also dangerous.
I have learned that happiness and peace is something that can be cultivated from within.
Not so much learned, but affirmed, that live music and live sports demand crowds (gathered, sweaty, raucous humanity) to make them truly entertaining. Watching virtual concerts and Covid-rules, watered down NHL and NFL seasons, with televised shots of empty stadiums, has been terribly uninteresting during the pandemic.
How self-centered folks who don't want help others but taking precautions can be. But, it's still good to know, more are cooperative than uncooperative.
I learned to limit my exposure to news (tv, online, and print) throughout the day. Then, I am not continually walking around in a foul mood because I’m pissed off at Albertan or American politics as much.
I’ve learned that slowing down is a good thing.
I love to be busy, I already knew this, but having my life put on hold confirmed this. And, I don’t really like puzzles 😂
I have learned that my friends can bake and will feed me! And I have learned to focus on life one day at a time, looking too far ahead, trying to find the end, envisioning when this will be over/ under control /flattened/ vaccinated against, etc. causes unnecessary stress.
I think the things I've 'learned' have more so been reinforcements of things I already knew but maybe struggled to consistently incorporate (especially the first few months of the pandemic). Some of these learnings are: not to compare myself to those around me, and that I cannot control the actions of others and will not benefit from giving my energy to stressing about things I cannot change. There is no 'right way to pandemic'- this isn't something we're trained for, and we're all just doing our best. Take things day by day, and recognize that some days, just getting through is going to be enough. Be gentle with myself; be forgiving with myself.
I have learned how fortunate I am (fingers crossed) re; very minimal direct impact so far. So many people are struggling with medical and financial and other impacts, which I and family have escaped for the most part so far. Thanks for getting me to reflect on this, I am now learning that I need to do better at sharing what I can with those are being more negatively impacted. Also - learned that in my next life I will hope for the pandemic to happen before kids leave home, so it can result in a lot more time with them rather than less.
3. What surprised you?
I am sorry to report that nothing surprises me anymore. SO much happened in 2020 alongside with the pandemic that at times it felt the apocalypse might be upon us. Add that to the bizarre medical issues my child has had and now the past 2 years of medical issues with my mom? And that may end up being my very own fate? Yeah, nothing surprises me anymore.
What surprised me is I truly do not miss the involvement and active participation my work life provided for so many years.
What surprised me the most was the amount of people who didn't believe the pandemic was real, believed that their rights were being stomped on, or simply didn't care one bit about helping or protecting others. When all this started, I knew there was going to be some. There's always some. But it was insane how many there were - protesting online and in the streets, spreading propaganda, and ignoring the real problem which they were amplifying!
I am still surprised by how as human beings we are vulnerable.
It surprised me how quickly the 99% of the population that are NOT doctors, RTs or infectious disease specialists became armchair experts and used social media to preach from their platforms of complete ignorance. The truth is always somewhere in the middle but you'd never have known that if you just read people angrily arguing with each other on Facebook, Twitter, etc. The number of wacko posts from both sides of the debate (i.e. hardcore maskers siding with the lockdowns, or hardcore anti-maskers citing their "constitutional rights to freedom") was truly surprising and disappointing and only served to further evidence that the confirmation bias algorithms of social media, and even the mainstream media, are a dangerous thing.
Biggest surprise is how much folks like ourselves who haven't seen each other for a long time still connect so easily. I'm so grateful to have folks like yourself in my life. This of course connects question 3/4 and I wish you all a joyous season and a more hopeful 2021!
When I think about it, I am totally amazed with the incredible speed at which commerce, finance, education, entertainment, and routine health care moved to and expanded their online utility. Many first world citizens already had an online presence, but our reliance upon technology was done in an almost numbing speed. Humans, through necessity and ingenuity, are adaptable. Sort of gobsmacked at the ease with which we communicate or shop using technology. The adaptations have overshadowed our communal understanding of the pandemic as a fundamental threat to our health, our systems, and our society. Perhaps Covid-19 might be made more real to us non-infected if we were made to change our habits or stopped in our tracks by measures to deal with it which were not as convenient.
Both how kind and compassionate Albertans can be and just how incredibly selfish, racist and cruel they can be too. I remember when I first learned that there were white supremacy groups in Alberta and being shocked in junior high. I just kind of thought they disappeared over time. To see they are alive and well has been eye opening and incredibly disappointing.
How much I miss small things, the “hello” of people on the trails in the river valley. Missing seeing people’s smiles, just masks.
Our resilience has surprised me, not mine because it often has been lacking, but resilience of my friends and family, we support each other, we pick each other up when needed. The resilience of the community we live in and how the communal "we" try and make it a little better for someone else. Like the support local, the resilience of our small businesses and restaurants. (and not to forget that thousands of us have been cheered up daily, by and received advice on living through the pandemic or "the crisis of the two leggeds" from Pluto the talking dog! We didn't see that one coming either!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRAQofD6Yl8
I'm struggling with this question, to be honest. I can't think of anything that actually surprised me. I think some of the division that the pandemic has created (based on differing beliefs and values) has been disappointing, as has how various people, some politicians included, have chosen to politicize the pandemic. How various people have chosen to 'show up' (or not show up!) has also been disappointing... but I'm not sure I'd call any of those things surprising?
It must be the old Finance & Economics background speaking, but I am surprised that the general public (taxpayers) seems quite accepting of the massive deficit spending that we and our children and grandchildren will pay for in decades to come. I am also surprised how many in USA (and probably Canada too) don’t trust science or do have extreme beliefs! Also, surprised by my frequent thoughts about cheating on the distancing rules so as to get more / close time with kids etc; I think I am doing really well at following the rules, but still am surprised how often a little voice tells me it would probably be OK if I just did a little bit outside of the guidelines!
4. What are you grateful for?
I am grateful for science! That is what will end this pandemic. And personally, having the capacity to learn. That really is a gift! Also, for my husband. You hear all of these reports of increased divorce, abuse, neglect etc and not once has that had to be a stress in our already fully stressed lives. I have been very grateful for that as I have never had a relationship like that before in my life, obviously haha!
I am grateful for perfect moments, good friends, a kind, loving and fun life partner, my personal exploration of faith, gentle renewal of my relationship with my son, the energy and engagement my granddaughter brings into my life, and most of all for all that I am able to experience in this life.
Despite everything, I'm extremely grateful for all the opportunities given to me this year. Due to all the remote working and online schooling, I was able to come back to my home province much earlier than expected and be with my friends and family, who supported me through my struggles. I also obtained a job in my industry to kickstart my career before even finishing school, and that alone has made this year much less stressful for me than I'm sure it was for many others.
I am grateful for so many things, life, parents, jobs, friends, Mia, health, peace, security. I have done my vision board for 2021.
Super grateful that my job, which has allowed me to work from home for many years now, was not impacted and we were able to maintain our household income and general sense of day-to-day normality throughout the pandemic. Also, grateful that my wife and I are not just two adults keeping a household running, but truly partners in patience, laughter, and positive enough outlooks to weather the storms and begin each day with hope and purpose.
As always, I am grateful for my health, family, and home. I am also grateful for people serving in all capacities to allow me to carry on my life. Inconvenienced sometimes, but COMFORTABLE. This sense of gratitude goes beyond appreciating the sacrifices being made by medical and health support staff or essential services workers and extends to those involved with production and sale of the items I ‘need’ to keep my cupboards stocked.
I’m so very grateful to good health, that my boys still live at home, that I started running a few years ago and that I had the opportunity to quit a job that made me unhappy (I would have been a mess had I been there during this pandemic) and found something that I enjoy and allows me to work from home.
· I have a home to keep me safe and warm · I have wonderful friends whom I appreciate · Hobbies to keep me occupied · Amazon!
Grateful for my daughter, my friends, my job that gives my day’s purpose, my love of the outdoors and our ability even in January to get out there and move!
I'm grateful for the relationships I have. Being able to connect with people I love has been a consistent source of strength and comfort. I'm also grateful for my high levels of optimism and resilience as I recognize they have proven to be incredible resources thus far.
...And I'm grateful for YOU!