…How important physical touch is for the human soul. How amazing was the first time you hugged someone that does not live in our household? I remember hugging my dads months after isolation and it was truly the most incredible feeling ever. As humans, we need physical touch to exist and this starts from birth. We are given a sense of love, security, and belonging from touch that gives us the strength to venture out, try new things, and most importantly love ourselves.
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life. With that in mind, I created this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, and I had the pleasure of interviewing McKenna Reitz.
McKenna is an inspirational speaker and a Challenge Coach who works with men and women to reframe life’s challenges into gifts and opportunities so they can pursue their purpose with clarity and confidence. After losing all her hair due to Alopecia, McKenna uses her journey of having this autoimmune disease to help others overcome the loss in their life by resetting the mindset of their “loss” into growth and opportunities in their lives. Teaching AP Psychology and coaching varsity volleyball for the past 16 years, McKenna resides in Toledo, OH with her husband Greg, and two beautiful daughters Karsen (9) and Maddox (5).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Being born and raised in Sylvania, OH I grew up in a very loved and supportive household where my responsibility was to always give my best effort in school and on the volleyball court. I was blessed to play collegiate volleyball at Hope College in Holland, MI where I obtained my degree in secondary education. I currently reside in my hometown with my husband, Greg, of 10 years and our two daughters.
By the age of 32, as we were pregnant with our youngest, I felt that I had already checked all the boxes of my life goals. Now what? Well, I had no idea how much my life was about to change. In November 2015, just five months after giving birth, I took my last picture with hair for our Christmas card. Within a week, my hair started to fall out in clumps. I would be standing in the shower and my hands would be covered in hair. By the end of November, 90% of my hair had fallen out. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Alopecia that attacks your hair follicles and causes your hair to fall out. I have Alopecia Universalis which caused all my hair on my entire body to fall out including my eyebrows and eyelashes.
For the next year, I did everything possible to grow my hair back from topical creams to medications that compromised my immune system to weekly steroid injections into my scalp for six months. Nothing was working. Over the past five years, I have been focusing on my mindset about Alopecia. When I thought Alopecia had ripped my identity away from me when it actually gave me my true purpose in life.
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
I am not, as a teacher I was teaching from home for the last two months of school last school year. This school year we have been back in the classroom teaching online or hybrid.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
What I miss most about the pre-COVID lifestyle is just having friends over for a BBQ, walking into a store without a mask, planning trips without precautions. I was not much of a hugger before, but honestly, I can’t wait to give everyone the biggest hug! I miss our friends.
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
I want people to support one another unconditionally. I want others to understand that we are all battling something, we all have a story. Be kind to one another. Hold the door open for others, say hi to one another. Slow down, enjoy the moment. Appreciate the little things in life that we have learned to never take for granted again.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
I believe one of the unexpected positives of the COVID response has been to focus on not only self-care but self-love more. We live in a very fast-paced world and we tend to put ourselves on the back burner when in all reality we need to put ourselves first every single day. When we do focus on self-care and self-love we will then be able to be more present and helpful with our family, friends, and colleagues. This past year has given me so much more clarity in my life and showed me what is truly important in my life, my family. I show up for myself every day so I can show up more focused for them.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
I was blessed to be with my husband and two daughters as we were forced to stay home. There was no other choice but to make the most of the situation. When will this opportunity ever happen again?. We took the time to play games, clean out drawers and closets that hadn’t been touched in years, and reorganize our materialistic lives! This in turn brought so much clarity and happiness to the soul. I felt more productive in those months than I ever have. We also decided at the very start of the lockdown that this would be the best time to get a puppy!! In our “normal” lives, we would never have the time to train a puppy so there was no better time than this to complete our family with a mini Goldendoodle named Cali! It truly was the best decision! Cali brought so much happiness (and a few sleepless nights) to our family that continues to this day!
With some stores still open and deliveries still able to be made, we made the decision to redo our family room. We repainted the walls and all of the brick on our fireplace, and added an accent shiplap wall! This started the domino effect as our living and dining room followed and in June we made the decision (like many) to completely remodel our kitchen!!
None of this would have been possible without the pandemic. We truly made the best of it!!
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
I am very fortunate that my, family and friends were able to stay healthy and safe along with keeping their jobs during the pandemic. Honestly, the hardest part for me was not being able to hug my parents for while. They are my rocks and being fearful of their health. Not being near them was the most difficult aspect but it was for a reason. Even though they live only one mile away we would FaceTime daily, had Zoom birthday dinners, and talked every day!
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Converted my “I want to. . .” to “I am.” Social Isolations gave me a lot of time for introspection and gave me a lot of clarity with what I am truly passionate about in my life. For so many years I have been saying, “I want to write a book. I want to be a TEDx speaker. I want to look in the mirror and see beauty.” I made the decision to stop allowing myself to be my own worst enemy. I applied for my first TEDx Talk and was accepted! It will be recorded in Philadelphia and go live on May 22nd!! I made the decision to level up and tell my story to the world through a book. I just sent my first draft to my editor! I can now say I am a TEDx Speaker. I am an author. More importantly, I can say full-heartedly, “I am enough. I am worth it. I am beauty!”
- To enjoy the little things and not take life for granted. This is as simple as running to the grocery store to pick up something you forgot from your list to having friends over to seeing smiling faces. We have either become complacentor ungrateful in our face-paced lives that we forget about how important the small things are in our lives. This was life telling us to slow down and enjoy the little things.
- How important physical touch is for the human soul. How amazing was the first time you hugged someone that does not live in our household? I remember hugging my dads months after isolation and it was truly the most incredible feeling ever. As humans, we need physical touch to exist and this starts from birth. We are given a sense of love, security, and belonging from touch that gives us the strength to venture out, try new things, and most importantly love ourselves.
- I need to share my story with the world. Have you heard the phrase, “your mess is your message?” Not only have I learned that my mess is my message but my message is the medicine for others. When we are vulnerable and transparent with our stories others learn they are not alone. Not only did people need to hear my story of hair loss but also how I was experiences isolation mentally and emotionally and they learned they learned they were not alone.
- Always find the silver linings. We experience challenges and adversity every single day regardless if there is a pandemic going on or not. It is how we face every challenge mentally that will allow us to fall forward and thrive from every situation. Social isolation gave us time that we have never had to slow down, collect our thoughts, get things done around our house we have been putting off, and more importantly, spend quality time with our family. We have all grown into such a better person because of it.
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” -Captain Jack Sparrow
As human beings, we love to be in control and when we are faced with a challenge or problem we will do everything in our power to solve it. However, what we refuse to accept is that there are situations that are completely out of our control. Instead of putting so much energy into what we can’t control, we should focus on what we do have control over and that is our mindset about the problem. When the pandemic hit and we were forced to stay home this was completely out of our control so why not focus on the silver linings of the situation? That is exactly what my family and I did, we made the most of it and reminded ourselves that they were time given to us from above so we must take advantage of it. This is the same mindset that has helped me along my journey of hair loss. Focusing on our mindset rather than the problem allows us to feel that we are in control and will in return bring more positivity in your life.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would be honored to have a sit-down meal with Robyn Roberts. She is the epitome of strength and has been a source of inspiration for me throughout my journey of hair loss and beyond!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I would love to connect with readers on Instagram @mckennareitz or at www.mckennareitz.com to learn about me or to book me as a speaker at your next event. You can also find my husband and my Challenge Yourself: Coaching + Leadership Podcast on all mediums!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.