What’s next: taking stock

Sunday Signal

By Mary Petersen, Signal Staff Writer

As March blurred into April and now April into May, we’ve grown accustomed to losing track of days and feeling a little disoriented. We’ve been thrust into a volatile, protracted crisis with no clear resolution.

We have had to make huge changes to our daily routines. Everyday activities that we previously completed without thinking, now require conscious decision making.

Going out in public is accompanied by meticulous preparations. Social interactions are modulated by masks and rubber gloves. We navigate through muffled voices, lack of eye contact and absence of facial expressions. We no longer touch one another.

This crisis has upended our comforting and predictable routines, and we long for our jobs, our family gatherings, and the stable health of our nation.

It’s been traumatic, but Harvard psychologist Dr. Susan David says that this kind of disruption can be liberating.

“People who’ve gone through trauma or struggle in the way that we are experiencing now, can receive enormous growth and power from it,” she says. This is not to downplay the health and financial tragedies of this pandemic which we may feel for years. But, says Dr. David, “Disruption and isolation have a way of encouraging us to re-evaluate our lives — and that can be generative.” 

As long as life takes the same predictable path, and we’re humming along on autopilot, we don’t question our habits, patterns or beliefs.

Having to be inconvenienced, to do without first world luxuries and to change ways of interacting yanks us out of our comfort zone. It evokes feelings of fear, anger and helplessness.

But pausing to process these emotions and monitor our responses to daily challenges provides us self-
knowledge. It helps us to reconsider priorities. Things that seemed so important months ago now seem petty, and things we took for granted now seem precious.

Forced to stay sequestered at home during these uncertain times has provided time to reflect on how life is going and consider any changes we want to make. 

Like all of us, I have been reshaped by this pandemic. I may never again look at a cardboard box without fearing the Covid-19 molecule is lurking invisibly. It will be awhile before I’m back to hugging friends. I wonder when I’ll stop washing my hands 20 times a day.

I adopted new habits, some driven by anxiety, to cope with these circumstances, and as time goes on I will have to discard those that diminish resilience and retain those that promote well-being.

Embracing a slower pace with fewer obligations and appointments, reaching out to others more frequently and prioritizing self-care are healthy habits I want to keep. 

We are living through a historical event that most of us say is unparalleled in our lives. Times of struggle can pave the way for transformation.

There are insights to be gleaned, “diamonds in the dustheap” to borrow a phrase from Virginia Woolf. How we respond to these challenges and changes can foster growth and empowerment and will determine the quality of our lives going forward. 

Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, 30-year SCV resident and two-time breast cancer survivor. 

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