It’s hard to fathom that we have officially hit the first anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic. In some ways, this past year flew by in a blink. In others, it has felt like walking through an endless sea of quicksand with no escape in sight.
So what have we learned over the last year? How have we changed and grown as human beings?
This is my story.
The last bit of normalcy
I vividly remember the last normal thing I did before the pandemic hit. I was on vacation in Las Vegas, attending a convention for one of my favorite tv shows. There were mutterings even then about this new virus circulating, but no one seemed too concerned about it. We certainly had no idea how bad it would get. We even joked around about the whole thing.
Hindsight is 2020 (quite literally, in this case).
The convention put some additional rules in place as a precaution — mainly instituting a “no-touch” rule which meant no hugging the actors in photo ops, a staple for most cons. While we weren’t too happy about the practice at the time, when I look back now, I’m incredibly grateful that convention was allowed to happen at all. We got so lucky with the timing of it all.
Three days after we returned home, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, and the world started shutting down. Little did we know what we were in for …
The beginning of the end (of life as we knew it)
I took an additional week off work once we returned home (I’m a cashier at a grocery store). From what I hear about how chaotic it was at my store that first week, I’m super glad I made that choice. Once I returned to work, I started getting a taste of what my colleagues had been dealing with — huge lineups, cranky and panicked people, and don’t even get me started on the toilet paper hoarding!
It was utter chaos. No one knew what was happening or how much worse things could get. Those first few weeks were extremely stressful for all of us. The upside was all of the incredible kindness we received from our customers. As Essential Workers, we were providing a sense of stability and normality for everyone amidst the chaos. People made sure to let us know how much they appreciated that with words of thanks, tips, and gifts. It was honestly a little overwhelming for me. I had never felt more appreciated in my working life.
I look back on it all now, and it’s a little mind-blowing how quickly everything changed. One minute we were going about our regular daily routines, and the next, we were dealing with closed businesses, extra cleaning measures, and newly minted safety protocols. We were forced to stop seeing our loved ones in person and only leave the house for essential purposes. Masks became part of our daily attire. It almost feels like life as we knew it changed entirely overnight.
Working in retail was already stressful enough in the best of times. But we now also had to deal with the fear of this unknown virus, not to mention the extra stress the customers were facing (and subsequently taking out on us in many cases). We were also trying to enforce all the new rules in everyone's best interest, even if the customers didn’t want to cooperate. Those first few weeks of the pandemic were utterly horrible. But we got through it together.
Mental health tolls
When the pandemic first started, none of us knew what to expect. We were facing the unknown. But I know I’m not the only one who thought it would be over relatively quickly. I remember thinking, “okay, so we lock things down for a couple of weeks to knock this virus out, and then we can go back to our normal lives.” Never in a million years could I have predicted that a couple of weeks would turn into a month, then two months, then three months … until here we are exactly one year later — still dealing with the fallout.
Living in a state of almost constant stress for that long (not to mention the isolation from staying away from people you love) has taken a heavy mental toll. I decided to take stress leave from work because I was beyond my breaking point. I finally said, “enough is enough.”
I took a step back from it all for six weeks. It was the best decision I could have made for myself. I came back refreshed and a lot less stressed out, though it didn’t last forever, of course.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over this last year, it’s to pace myself and take frequent breaks from the stress if needed. I’m not afraid to say “I’m not okay” and take the time for self-care anymore. It’s not worth it just to muddle through.
Embracing the little things
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over this last year is to stop taking things for granted. Embrace the little things that bring joy into your life. Covid-19 abruptly took all of my usual recreational outlets away from me, and I did not handle it well at first. I suddenly wasn’t able to travel, go to my conventions, hang out with friends, not even see a movie or have a nice lunch at a restaurant — my daily routine consisted of going to work and returning home. Now, I’m a giant homebody already, but having no other options for fun or stress relief was a challenge.
That’s when I realized I needed to shift my focus. Instead of dwelling on all the things I no longer had in my life, I decided to focus on the positive things I still have. I started hiking more, I reawakened my love for doing jigsaw puzzles, and I dived into video games — something I hadn’t done in years, though I’d always wanted to get back into them. Once I stopped wallowing in self-pity all the time, things became easier to manage mentally.
I’m actually glad that the pandemic allowed me to take a step back and re-evaluate my priorities. There’s always an upside to every dilemma, even if it’s not always easy to find.
With most of the world on lockdown, there were precious few recreational outlets available to let off steam. My best friend and I started hiking regularly, and suddenly I found a whole new appreciation for nature and the great outdoors.
We discovered we had all kinds of wildlife living in the city that we had been utterly oblivious to before now. We started making regular trips to the cemetery (it’s not as morbid as you think) to visit the herd of deer living there. There is something utterly calming about them. I find it so peaceful in their presence. We also discovered that owls, hawks, vultures, bald eagles, and beavers live in our city. Who knew?!
Embracing nature has saved my sanity on more than one occasion over the past year, so if nothing else, the pandemic gave me that. I’m choosing to hold onto the positives as much as possible. It’s all about keeping things in perspective. As bad as things have been, they could be so much worse. I try to keep that in the forefront of my mind.
So what have I learned from living through this pandemic? More than I ever could have anticipated. Mainly:
1. Don’t take anything for granted.
Tell the people you love that you love them often, and never forget how much they mean to you. Everything you think you know can be taken away in the blink of an eye, so enjoy the heck out of it while it lasts.
2. Embrace the little things.
There are so many little things in your everyday life that can bring you joy. Take a walk, read a book, learn a new hobby, or simply spend time talking to the people you love. When you focus on all of the little things in your life, you realize just how lucky you are in the grand scheme of things.
3. A little kindness goes a very long way.
In those early days of the pandemic, most people were so kind, and I will never forget how much that meant to me. Every time someone said “thank you for what you do,” it gave me a little mental boost. People don’t realize how little it takes to turn someone’s entire day around.
Choose kindness—every time.
4. I’m a lot stronger than I think I am.
I tend to underestimate myself. While I’ve absolutely reached my breaking point a couple of times over the year, I’m still here, and I’m still kicking. I can take a lot. I need to remember that more often.
5. It’s okay not to be okay.
The biggest thing I’ve learned over the past year is speaking up and advocating for myself. It’s okay to admit that you are struggling. These days, I don’t think there’s a single person who isn’t struggling in some manner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to take the time for a bit of self-care. You matter. Remember that!
At the beginning of 2020, none of us were prepared for the emotional roller coaster we were about to board. Everything changed so quickly and constantly that I found myself reeling.
I still am sometimes.
The weirdest part is that on the surface, nothing really changed for me. I’m an Essential Worker at a grocery store, so when everyone else was staying at home, I continued heading out the door, boarding the bus, and dealing with hundreds of people a day. I had the same routine as always — yet everything felt so utterly different. Everyone kept talking about how weird this new and different way of life was for them, and I was just over here thinking, “my routine hasn’t changed at all,” but all of the extra stress made a profound impact.
Bottom line: we’ve come a long way since all of this started. We still have a long way to go, but with vaccines becoming more readily available, I see hope on the horizon for the first time in a long time. If we all do our part and hunker down a bit longer, we may actually have a chance at resuming our ordinary lives. I’m not sure we’ll ever really be 100% the same again, though. This whole pandemic is one of those things you survive, and you’re grateful to come out the other side of it all, even if it’s not entirely unscathed.
The pandemic has brought out the best and the worst of humanity. I choose to believe the good side will win out in the end.
Here’s hoping in another year’s time, this will all be just a distant memory.
A writing prompt inspired this story. If you’d like to share your pandemic reflections as well, you can find the article with the instructions here: