The flashback to last year this time is real. What the feelings were, the mood in the air, the strangeness of the unknowns surrounding COVID-19, are all coming back to me now. It’s happening to everyone I talk to.
In step with the spring bulbs appearing, the memories of last year are unveiling themselves every day. I have been thinking over the past two weeks about where I am now and where I was last year. I recognize what a devastating year it has been with the death toll in the U.S. from COVID-19 over 500,000, and the mental health toll the disease has caused in the country still unknown. I wonder what the social and emotional effects will be on the students who have had to learn remotely, in hybrid, and by Zooming. And yet, while all those negatives are out there, I have this feeling of relief growing stronger day by day. There are many who have been vaccinated completely. There are decreasing COVID-19 case numbers. There are schools opening to full day in person instruction soon. If you are reading this, you have made it to the other side and survived. It doesn’t hurt to reflect on both the negatives and the positives of this past year.
From my perspective, the negative side of life in March 2020 stemmed from the fear. The immediate and palpable fear set in almost overnight. The fear felt physically paralyzing. At times, I remember thinking to take deep breaths, especially after reading or watching the news. I started to question and fear the end of humanity. I thought this must be the disease to end life as we know it, and we are all going to die in isolation. Such pessimistic thoughts, but it is the truth. And it is partially true in that this disease did end life as we knew it – at least life as it was leading up to 2020. Looking back, the end of life was the basis for most of my fears about COVID-19. Having gone through the death of my mom in 2019, I didn’t want anything like that to happen to anyone in my family again.
I have focused on the fear and tried to dissect it. For me, the biggest part of the problem at least mentally was the way in which it felt so sudden. It felt like being slapped in the face with my own mortality in March 2020 and the mortality of my husband and children. I wasn’t prepared. I had no warning or inkling this would happen to the extent that it did. No one really did. So once I got over that need for notice, I concentrated on what the fear was about. Death. I feared that for me, my husband who had to still go to the hospital if he was called in, my children especially, so young and innocent, and extended family, friends, the rest of America, Italy – really any human in a country that came across the news with extensive and severe displays of death and despair. The list went on and on. When I dug deeper I could see that if I didn’t have a fear of the end of life on Earth and instead a steadfast belief in heaven and eternal life, the panic that set in would have dissipated. It was a logical thought, but very hard for me to put into practice.
Over the course of many days at home starting March 13, 2020 to today, little by little, day by day, my attitude has changed to be less fearful, more faithful, and stronger. I wouldn’t say it was overnight at all. Nor was it completely of my own volition. I have consciously tried to will my attitude to change. But truly, I have to believe that the relief from utter fear came from God. Reading Bible verses, contemplating, and writing in a journal helped a lot. Attending Bible studies and participating in discussions via zoom calls gave me strength. Watching livestreaming church was uplifting, but difficult to stay engaged entirely. Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a direct trajectory or a complete relief from fear, but rather a roller coaster ride throughout 2020 and still the ride continues…
Part of my well-being practice is always to journal. To take a true, accurate look back at my journey through 2020, I have turned to the journal I wrote in every day starting on day 1 of the remote schooling: March 16, 2020. I happened to need to start a new journal that day and so it coincided. The journal started out as a quasi-day planner effort to structure the wide open days for my kids. The remote learning schedule quickly deteriorated and required resuscitation. Frequently. By Day 4, March 19, 2020, it was an overall, “horrible day from beginning to end of school.” A long recitation of the day’s failings concluded with a list of plans for tomorrow. Tomorrow I will do this, tomorrow I will do that, finally ending with, “need structure for the day – 30-45 min per subject.” Now I see my efforts to some degree were futile; the need for true age appropriate school structure will only be regained with full day in person instruction at school.
However, what glimmers during those first days are the signs of learning and growth that were taking place that I can see now. For example, it is evident in the journal we all needed (and still need) outside time for exercise, walking, or literally a change of scenery. Day 5 I wrote: “Recess @ 10am, noon, after school @ 3:15pm.” By Day 7, I started running in the morning with a friend. What was noticeable to me and my kids was that if I ran before starting managing the remote learning it made a difference in decreasing my stress level. I could attribute the exercise to my slightly increased patience level, but that didn’t always last the whole day or sometimes even until lunch. On Day 10, March 25, 2020, I ended the detailing of the day with, “make a themed schedule for spring break next week.” That sounds silly now, but I remember thinking back then that my main purpose during this panicked time was to provide my children and husband with a haven of security and as much love as I could.
This is only a reflection on the first ten days or so of the shelter-in-place time period. The fears that COVID-19 caused and continue to cause are still alive. The flashbacks probably will continue. The need to heal from what a traumatic year it has been is evident. What can help I see now is to seek relief from the fear. I found it through prayer, journaling, and exercise, but it can come in many ways. Hopefully the feeling of relief will continue to grow for everyone, across the country, and around the world.
© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail