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Don’t Let this Virus Define You

We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond.

Shellye & Scotty
Shellye & Scotty

It’s been three months since I wrote my last blog post about my husband passing away.  I’ve been grieving.  I’ve experienced many strong emotions: disbelief, profound sadness, loneliness, depression, etc…  I couldn’t sleep, found it hard to concentrate on work and lost the energy and motivation to workout.  I just hurt so much.

Time helps.  Many people told me that it just takes time and that I should be patient with myself.  They were right.  Today I’m doing better.  Time passed, and my head cleared enough to remember that I have a choice and I can choose to be happy.  

Recently I started a daily routine.   I wake up each morning and remind myself of all my blessings, the 30+ years I had with Scotty, the beautiful family we created together, the life and friendships we’ve built…  I remind myself that he is still with me.   After my mental process, I say out loud, “Today I choose to be happy”, and I get out of bed.

I fill my days with a combination of work and time with friends.  I seek out activities that can bring me joy.

Now I have more good nights than bad nights.  I’m going to the gym again and I’m spending time with family and friends.  They are giving me their energy.  I still have many sad moments, and I still cry.  My grieving isn’t over.  But I’m ready.  I’m ready to re-engage.  I’m ready to be happy… again.

We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond, and I choose to be happy. 

August 21, 2019

I wrote this almost nine months ago, yet when I re-read it, many of the emotions, feelings and approaches I had back then seem eerily relevant again. 

Covid-19 has upended our lives.  We have collectively lost so much in such a short period of time: our freedom of movement, getting together with friends and loved ones, going out to eat, exercising at the gym — and for many people, more serious and significant things like jobs, childcare, and access to the tools they need to manage their mental and physical health.

Our routines have been disrupted and we are isolated. It is affecting how we behave and feel. A friend in an area hit hard by Covid-19 pointed out to me that people no longer look each other in the eye when grocery shopping or taking a walk.  That simple act of humanity, acknowledging each other by catching someone’s eye, saying “hello” or simply nodding, is fading away during this time of crisis.  We are focused on social distancing.  Every other human being we encounter is suddenly a risk to our personal health and safety, as well as that of those around us.  It is almost like we’ve reverted back to our pre-school selves.  Remember how little kids think if they can’t see you then you can’t see them?  Suddenly the simple routine of grocery shopping has turned into a high-risk excursion.  We carry wipes or don gloves in an attempt to keep the virus at bay.  We walk in strange patterns to keep at least six feet of distance from strangers. 

Concerns for our safety are being compounded by concerns for our financial security.  Stores and restaurants are closing.  Events are being postponed and cancelled.  People are being furloughed, laid off and having wages cut.  Unemployment is skyrocketing. The ultimate economic toll of the virus is unknown and that uncertainty is nerve wracking. 

This is a stressful, emotional period that we didn’t see coming.  The emotions I experienced after Scotty’s loss are being experienced by many: disbelief, profound sadness, loneliness, depression. Then I saw the Harvard Business Review article, That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief, and it all made sense.

We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. 

I learned this lesson at a very young age as the only black girl in my elementary school during the racially charged 1960’s.  When I was bullied, harassed and beat up, my mother would say, “Don’t let them win”.  She wasn’t talking about anything physical. She was talking about mental strength.  She didn’t want me to develop a victim mentality.  If after an incident, I walked around with my head down, shied away from doing activities, or acted weak, then “they” won.  “Don’t let them win” means you carry on.

Don’t let the impact of this virus define you. 

Yes, we are adjusting to a new normal, but it won’t last forever.  Many of us have lived through many crises:  the dot-com bust, 9/11, and the 2008 financial crisis.  It will be hard, but we will get through this one, too. 

Develop a new routine for yourself.  Build in elements that will give you energy and some joy.  Initially you may have to push yourself, but eventually it will feel more routine and normal.  Find ways to help others.  Studies show that the act of giving and helping others triggers pleasure centers in our brains.  If you have the resources, donate to causes that are helping the most vulnerable in our communities.  If not, volunteer your time to pick up groceries or prescriptions for the elderly or shut in.  Call nursing homes and ask which residents would appreciate a call now that they can’t have visitors.  There are many ways to volunteer even when we have to stay home.

You aren’t a victim until you act like one.

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