I know a lot about adjusting to sudden, unexpected, life altering change. On the morning of August 25th, 2012, I drove my 11-year-old daughter to an emergency clinic because she had a stomach ache. I thought it was appendicitis.
The drive to the clinic was followed by a frenzied rush to our local hospital and (many hours later) an ambulance ride to a children’s hospital sixty miles away. The appendicitis I’d been so worried about turned out to be a malignant tumor on her liver. My new normal kicked off with a forty-day hospital stay and the end of life as I’d known it before cancer.
Now, nearly eight years after my family’s loss of our normal routine, communities across the globe are trying to slow the rising tide of a global pandemic and experiencing what it feels like to have something truly devastating upend daily life.
As the country, and my community, begin to collectively grasp the impact that the coronavirus is having on daily life, I’m reminded of the anxiety I experienced when my family’s daily routine was so abruptly upended. Last week, my daughter’s school notified all parents that someone in the school community (not a student) had been infected. They closed the school on Friday and soon after that, announced they were closing all schools for fourteen days. Her extracurricular art program (not associated with her school) also closed for two weeks.
States of emergency were subsequently declared at all levels of local government. My Facebook feed became an explosion of anxiety and dismay. As I scrolled through the barrage of news articles and social media posts, I kept thinking about how hard it was for my family to lose our familiar routines. It was isolating and scary. Now it’s happening again, this time on a global scale. I have some advice for those of you who are trying to grapple with this new normal and with the anxiety that comes from so much uncertainty.
Take things one day at a time
It can be hard to remember this when you’re in the midst of something wholly unprecedented, like a global pandemic that’s upending daily life for entire communities.
It’s incredibly disorienting when the normal pace of our lives is disrupted — things like work, school, baseball season, consistently stocked grocery store shelves, and travel. Losing this certainty can feel overwhelming and it’s important to recognize that.
Acknowledging — and accepting — that we have no idea what the next few weeks or months will look like can be incredibly empowering. This isn’t going to solve every problem, but it can give us the permission we need to stop feeling like we have to fix everything right now. We can’t change what’s happening. We likely can’t fix this either, but we can ride it out and lessen its impact if we remain calm and listen to experts. Since it’s becoming clear that it will take some time for Covid-19 to run its course, now is the perfect time to lay low and take things day by day.
Educate yourself about the virus using reputable sources
During my daughter’s initial six-week hospital stay, I got some great advice from a surgeon-friend of mine. He told me to stay alert, make sure I eat, get plenty of sleep and, most importantly, learn everything I could about her rare cancer.
He’d said, “This may seem strange and unfamiliar to you, but there are people out there who specialize in understanding this exact tumor. Find them. Read what they write. Get them talking to each other and to her doctors so you can get the best possible treatment.”
The same is true for this virus and for global pandemics in general. There are experts who understand how viruses spread, how to slow the spread, and how communities can mitigate the devastation and disruption they cause. Seek them out. Follow them on Twitter. Read the columns they write. My go-to sources for global news have been The Washington Post which is live blogging news about the virus multiple times throughout the day and the World Health Organization’s website.
I’ve also turned to local sources of news to follow what’s happening at the town and county level. I follow my county’s Facebook page and subscribe to a newsletter that publishes information about coronavirus news in the area of New York State where I’m located. The newsletter includes the number of new cases by county, lists government hotlines, and covers state-wide news that affects us at the local level.
Give yourself permission to slow down
We’re being forced to lay low right now out of an abundance of caution, a phrase I’ve heard and read repeatedly since the virus started taking hold in the U.S. Laying low isn’t a choice. With many schools, public offices, places of worship and other large gathering spaces being shuttered for 2–4 weeks, the decision to stay home has essentially been made for us.
We self-quarantined when my daughter was at her most vulnerable and, quite frankly, this isolation hit us hard. It’s easy to spiral into depression, anxiety, or panic when the foundations of daily life are stripped away.
One thing that helped me cope during the months of social isolation was realizing that it was okay to slow down, to stop relentlessly pushing forward or trying to look ahead.
For me, slowing down means taking walks in nature, watching and photographing birds, reading, spending time with my younger daughter and taking naps. It also means writing. I have a home office and I’ve worked remotely for nearly twenty years, so sitting down at my desk to write when I’m feeling anxious provides me with a pocket of normalcy in the midst of uncertainty that I’m incredibly grateful for.
Find your pocket of normalcy. Figure out what slowing down means for you, then let yourself do it — without guilt.
Ask for help if you need it
Call (or text) a friend or loved one to share how you’re feeling and see how they’re coping. Ask for advice or opinions on social media (but don’t get caught in the endless scroll). Seek local support when you have questions and concerns.
In my community, there are programs available to help people obtain food and supplies, and manage other financial burdens — for example, our city mayor has suspended evictions for fourteen days. It’s comforting that my local government is addressing some of the issues we’re worried about, particularly since I don’t trust (or feel comforted by) anything that’s being said at the national level.
Don’t discount social media. For all its many ills and distractions, Facebook (or your network of choice) is an incredibly important resource to all of us right now. It’s a way to check in with those we love without exposing them (or ourselves) to the virus. It can also be a very powerful way to ask for help.
My point is this — don’t be afraid to reach out for help and ask others if they need it too. Check in on an elderly neighbor. Call your aging parents or a friend that’s on your mind and let them know they’re not alone. Check local state and government agencies and nonprofits to see what resources they offer if you need assistance with things like medical care, transportation, and essentials.
This is going to be our new normal for the next month, at least, though it could last quite a bit longer. It will take some adjustment, but if we stay informed, go with the flow, and learn to embrace uncertainty as a component of daily life, then we can weather this storm together.