Someday people will live off-planet. Zoom-like meetings will be their connection to Earth. I am lucky to have known astronauts and space scientists. I called up one of my space-loving friends and asked about what it is like to visit with their family from ISS. I looked at NASA feeds. I compared these to my first Zoom attempts. I asked friends in the National Space Society what they were seeing. I began to adopt some of the things I saw in those feeds to my meeting.
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.
As a part of this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure to interview Elizabeth Power.
Elizabeth Power, M.Ed., founded The Trauma-Informed Academy (The TIA) in 2018 after three decades of helping individuals and organizations learn about traumatic experiences and their impact on earning, learning, and health. This expansion of her Nashville-based firm, EPower & Associates, Inc., sharpened her focus on competency-based adult learning in a field in which she is an international authority.
The TIA’s unique mission is to reduce the time, trauma, and costs of healing from traumatic experiences for all involved. Relying on her experience with evidence-informed models, The TIA integrates emotional intelligence skills with trauma recovery. Instead of diagnosis, it focuses on learning skills missed during times of being overwhelmed.
Power, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, is also an Adjunct Instructor in Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center and is the author of Healer: Reducing Crises.
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?
I arrived in Nashville as a shoe-repairer in 1979 from North Carolina, where I had burned every bridge. I grew up in the edge of Appalachia in North Carolina, left home before I could drive, and ended up at the nation’s first public conservatory, the North Carolina School of the Arts, for my last two years of high school. It took six years to get my BA from UNC-G. Then again, in those nine years, I had knee surgery five or six times on one or both knees. I ended up kneecap-less (some fifty-odd years later, I am learning what that means!). I was devotedly unhappy.
In my first twenty years in Nashville, I learned so much about the skills I missed. I missed them because I was too busy trying to survive. I started honing my new skills and discovered the joy of strengthening myself to address life differently. Choice by little choice, I changed my story, refusing to focus on what might be “wrong” with me and concentrating on what happened to me and the things I didn’t have time to learn as a result. The last twenty years have been about pairing what I’ve learned with multiple disciplines and offering it to others. I earned a Master’s in Education from Vanderbilt, worked on research at Georgetown University Medical Center, and ended up with an appointment as an Adjunct Instructor in Psychiatry there, teaching trauma-informed medical care.
The life experiences that most shaped my current self are experiences of overwhelming events in early childhood, loss after loss, orthopedic disabilities, and what I couldn’t know when I struck out on my own at 15.
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?
Yes — the absence of people. The rhythm went from flying out on Sunday morning, meeting with a group of people, teaching for 20 hours across the week in this new environment, exploring the city when I wasn’t teaching, perhaps visiting with old friends, and making new ones. Friday night, I’d board the big silver cigar and head home. Forty weeks a year, this happened.
Now? Now I have been home, in one spot, in my home office, sitting until my posterior is the perfect shape of a Herman Miller Aeron seat pan. I’ve learned to live in a still body, facing the camera to deliver virtually. My world is much more silent, and I promise you I know the names of nearly every blade of grass, bird, and plant in my yard! I recently traveled by plane for the first time, and the experience’s shine is no longer there for me.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
I miss the occasional hug, the F2F conversations where I can see all the tiny smile lines around my friends’ eyes and hear their sighs, the rustling of their movements. I miss the steadier stream of in-person engagements, which has become a jerkier stream of delivery on Zoom.
The pandemic was a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
Let’s keep less traveling — it’s often a form of running and a way of using motion as a substitute for engagement.
Let’s keep social distancing so that we aren’t all up on each other like sardines in a can, which helps people learn boundaries and reduces the risk of unwelcome and unwanted sexual contact.
Let’s keep and improve our ability to say “no” in civil ways that others respect.
Let’s keep the focus on science as a dominant guide and reduce subjective disinformation.
Let’s read more, and let’s visit by distance more often.
Let’s spend more time on “we” and less time on “me,” which the pandemic has driven in terms of recognizing how much we need each other.
What, if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
Someday people will live off-planet for an extended period. We need to master how we communicate using Zoom tools because video conferencing will be how we visit and meet. The excess time on video-based platforms helped us remember that we can do many things by ear-to-ear instead of distant or local face-to-face. For example, in face-to-face meetings, we look around, check out our notes, look at each other. In Zoom meetings, we look only at the camera. I’ve changed the instructions I give about expected behavior in Zoom or other video-based meetings.
People can be very productive working remotely. Of course, folks with small children, or who don’t have space at home for an office area, or whose situations are in some way dangerous may be less productive — and nonetheless, employers learned that the Bell curve skews right. People adapted and got their work done. All these campuses and office buildings might need to repurposing. Micromanagement isn’t nearly as helpful as we might have thought it was. I wrote a new book in three weeks and am on track to do another and get it to my editor. Productivity can occur in a variety of places.
Keeping more distance between us when we are in person and using masks not only reduces COVID, it reduces colds (another COVID) and flu. People in Asian countries have masked up for a long time, and so can we. On the other hand, seeing the folks who refuse to wear masks has also given us a real grasp of how many people are committed to only their self-interest, making it easier to find “tribe” and community. I lost some friends who are unwilling to commit to the group’s good.
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?
The first six months were tough — after all, I hadn’t slept in my bed much in ten years! Nor had I stayed that close to home. I cried a lot those first months, some out of pent-up feelings, from terror and loss as friends around the country became ill and died.
My response was to decide to make lemonade. I spent a lot of time revisiting the tools I help others learn and reinstated my “athlete of the mind and emotions” program for myself. I had a few convos with myself being alone, lonesome, or lonely (all different). I worked on creating a new routine, mastering a breakfast that I eat every day instead of just grabbing whatever I could find. My life became much more intentional.
I set a schedule, limiting calls, meetings, and hours available (three days a week). I practiced smiling. I increased my curiosity by asking myself questions that start with “How might” and “I wonder…”. I set appointments with myself to think about the people who died, setting up a little shrine where I could offer prayers on their behalf. I let myself cry and started keeping my used teabags in the fridge to soothe my eyes when I did.
I chose to reframe my experience a million times. I wondered “how might this help prepare us for the future.” I chose to look at “stuff” I’d been avoiding and change it. I spent a lot of time looking to the heavens. I focused keenly on things, like lying down in the grass and looking at it, the plants around it, and the soil that holds it up. I wrote letters by hand. I identified older people who were alone, likely to be more isolated, and began to call them occasionally.
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?
The challenge of changing from an instructor-led, on-site delivery model to an online business caused the most significant discomfort. I planned a lot, engaged my team of virtual helpers, and began the shift. The terror of losing 90% of my revenue, having minimal savings, and rebuilding has been the hardest. I’ve come to terms with the possibilities of failure and remind myself that I have hope and opportunity as long as I have breath.
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.)
- Someday people will live off-planet. Zoom-like meetings will be their connection to Earth. I am lucky to have known astronauts and space scientists. I called up one of my space-loving friends and asked about what it is like to visit with their family from ISS. I looked at NASA feeds. I compared these to my first Zoom attempts. I asked friends in the National Space Society what they were seeing. I began to adopt some of the things I saw in those feeds to my meeting.
- Living in a still body is a challenge — for about six months. Then it’s easier. The same view does change with every passing week and season if you look closely. Decreasing range from wherever a plane can take me to my half-acre led me to look more deeply at here, now. It’s been good.
- I need to fill my cistern before the drought hits — and strengthen my ability to stay calm, soothe myself, and manage my feelings. Being to manage strong feelings in ways that avoid harm is essential when you’re in a socially restricted environment. While crime may drop initially, the longer people are frustrated and out of work, the more the risks rise. Sometimes folks can’t take it. There’s certainly a limit to what we should tolerate. Many of us cannot accept even mild discomfort without either missing it (denial and dissociation) or overreacting in response because we’ve never developed and mastered our own “volume control” for our emotions. The key to coping when difficulties arise is the degree to which we have developed practical, strong skills in adjusting our feelings before things get tough. I’ve learned that every bit of effort I’ve put into learning how to manage myself is well worth the outcome — much more peace and healing. I used to be a hothead — and just yesterday, something that would have chapped me no end and made me dance like a cat on a hot tin roof? I took a deep breath and smiled. Situation handled.
- A vaccine jab is much easier than a ventilator. I’m lucky. I understand creating vaccines and am unconcerned about this being “experimental.” There are processes and methods to reduce the risks dramatically, and they are good standard processes. I remember the ’50s when they did the polio shots and the sugar cube rollout. They vaccinated thousands of people a day. I know my friend Elizabeth Parker, who became a quadriplegic, would have preferred a jab instead of her body’s limits. So would others whom I know who survived polio. No one wants anyone to die, and I get why people of color and indigenous people might be hesitant to get the vaccine. Given the degree to which “white health” and “white healthcare” have been toxic, it’s understandable.
- Social distancing, now an almost ingrained habit, improves boundaries and decreases the risks of inappropriate contact. For years, we’ve all been touchy-feely. Kids are sexualized at very young ages. Standing six feet apart is a good thing to help people identify and build healthier physical boundaries. It’s hard to get accused of inappropriate touching from six feet.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
“Dig your well before you get thirsty” — helped me recognize and value the healing work I’ve done on me over the years. Developing skills and abilities before COVID hit made it easier! My well had more life-giving water.
“Don’t take a parking place in hell.” — keep going. People from Appalachia talk in pictures, and I remember when my mother said this to me. It’s about keeping on even when you only advance your cause a centimeter at a time. If life is hard, stopping and sitting in it is counterproductive. That saying is like, “the more you pat a cowpile, the worse it stinks, but the faster it becomes compost for the garden.”
I’ll stop there (LOL).
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.
Michelle Obama — the work The Obama Foundation is working to change the world for all people is remarkable. After all, a world good for women, and people of color, is a world that is good for everyone. I know that what I do makes a difference. I’d love to have a conversation about their work, my work, and how everyone’s family is doing through these strange times.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can access all of our sites and social media by clicking on https://linktr.ee/epower. Our website is elizabethpower.com, where folks will find program descriptions, our blog, and my CV.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.