Why we need a new kind of self-care in the wake of a pandemic.

Do we need to forget this year to move forward?

Around a year ago, my daughter and I were at the open play night for kids at the place she took gymnastics. We met up with her best friend and his mother. In the middle of the play-date, she mentioned this new virus that was on the radar. The most I had heard at that point was about people getting it on cruises. But, certainly precipitously, she asked me, “Do you think we are supposed to wear masks?”

My response was to laugh. “I doubt it will get that bad.”

Last night, things came full circle, on the first open play night we’ve been to since that last play-date. And there we were, my daughter and I, both wearing masks.

This week of last year, at the end of March, we were just facing stay-at-home orders needed to slow the spread. I had stocked up on toilet paper, food, over-the-counter medicine, ingredients for home-made sanitizer. Soon after, I ordered masks. I did this when others were still thinking that life wouldn’t change. But, watching the news predict that life was going to change in ways we could never imagine, I went into full disaster mode.

By the end of March, we were in full-on lockdown, and it occurred to me that were going to have to emotionally navigate this stressful time. In the process of deciding how to do this, I wrote about self-care and social distancing.

One of the ways I said was part of self-care in this stressful time was that we were going to have to grieve. We would have to grieve what we could no longer do with ease. We were going to have to put on pause.

Life was not going to be the same for quite awhile, and just like in the grieving process, we would have to learn to accept that.

This year has felt like a lifetime, where we went from two or three times going out of the house for activities, shopping, and going out to eat. The last time we ate inside a restaurant, we did with the understanding it would be the last time for quite awhile. I didn’t realize how much this was going to be like going underground.

My 5 year old daughter doesn’t remember all the things we did before the virus. She barely remembers going to Walmart. The activities we did are like a dream to her, fuzzy in her brain. There’s a stark before and after for me though.

Since my husband, my mother, and I have all been fully vaccinated for over two weeks, we are able to do some of the things that we did a year ago. Like this night at the gym. My 20 year old son is getting his shot tomorrow. There will be a level of protection we have hoped for all year. And this gives us all a sense of relief. It feels like a golden ticket to normality.

But, when I watched my daughter running around the gym with her mask on, and our trying to socially distance, I was reminded that this ticket had restrictions. Coming out from underground was going to be a slow process.

What I know now is that our self-care is going to have to shift. Part of that is not pushing ourselves to try to replicate our lifestyle we had before. Not only do we not have the stamina to do that, what we need has changed in the course of staying home to stay safe.

In a way, this year has been a great reset. My own family has learned to find purpose and enjoyment in our self-isolation. It allowed us to see that hectic motion we use to schedule our lives around. Being on the go was no longer needed. We have learned that taking things in stride and not pushing ourselves is essential.

In many ways, we’ve learned to do a lot of self-care this year that I hope continues to be a habit as we come out of our fairly strict isolation.
Specifically, the self-care of not rushing to the next thing we had to do and finding solace primarily at home.

One of the interesting things about the Spanish flu is how so little of what occurred has been written about it in literature around that time. This seemed curious to me. How could such a life-changing thing that happened to the world, that whole populations had to go through, not be a primary fodder for writing?

Now, it occurs to me that after such a traumatic experience—that you have to change your whole life to survive—it can be hard to put that all into words. There is a lot to say about just moving past it and trying to forget what happened.

But, it might also be that it’s hard to remember life before such a catalyst for existential change. You come out of it a different person. I can understand how that is hard to put into words.

I don’t know how we will think of these past months in years to come. What will we tell our grandchildren about the 2020 COVID crisis? Will we explain the transformational details? Or we will say little, because we are just so happy about having moved through to the other side?

I am not sure what I would say. I don’t know if my daughter will ever truly remember what life was pre-pandemic. It might not occur to her that there’s a story to tell.

So, instead of dwelling on the journey we’ve been on this year, I will appreciate the now. I will just look forward to the next time I get to watch my daughter jump into a pit of green blocks. And then appreciate what it feels like to relax in the safety of our home when it’s over.

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