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Wisdom from The Shortest Day of The Longest Year

Lessons on resilience from a Happiness Coach during a pandemic, pregnancy, and wildfire where the sun didn't rise.

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Sitting in my home office over looking the ocean on a sunny Winter Solstice day in California, I feel clarity, optimism, and hope. I’ve been looking at this view for 289 consecutive days. Although this sounds idyllic, what I have lived through during would’ve been unthinkable a year ago. And yet, my story is one shared by many and seemingly ordinary now.

On March 7th, 2020, I returned from a trip to Georgetown University to complete my coaching certification. I was 20 weeks pregnant and exhausted. I was standing in the grocery store chatting with a neighbor, and as I walked to my car, I coughed. I came down with what likely was an undiagnosed case of COVID-19. My OB/GYN team could not get me a COVID test but advised me to self-quarantine for 14 days. Little did I know how familiar my story would be to millions around the globe. Soon after, the Bay Area shut down and I was quarantined within my quarantine. I got word that the hospital I planned to give birth at shut down as a triage for Coronavirus patients. I felt trapped and out of control, and I was about to bring new life into the world as I was crumbling with guilt and confinement.

From studying positive psychology, I reminded myself to stay calm and that there is such a thing as post-traumatic growth if I could make meaning out of my experiences. I reminded myself that I have more control over my emotions than I think. I turned to mindfulness by signing up for a virtual hypnobirthing class and meditated every day. I prepared for my worst-case scenario birth plan where I had to wear a mask while laboring and only allowed one support person, I began to let go and accept my new normal. I found gratitude for any sense of normal.

I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on July 9th. Luckily, the Bay Area slowly began to re-open. My husband and I were confined to a hospital room for five days with one patient meal to split between us. The last day we were only given saltine crackers since I had been discharged but our baby was still in the NICU for jaundice. We were relieved to get home to find some ease.

A month later, it was 3am and I was awake to feed the baby. I heard rumblings outside and walked to my office and was overcome with awe and terror as I saw lightning strikes peppering the dark ocean as storm clouds rolled in. I stayed up all night praying the dry land would not spark fire. The next day we learned of some of the biggest wildfires in history surrounding us, with the closest only 20 miles away. When the town next door got evacuated, we packed our car, not sure where we would even go during a pandemic to seek safety. We were spared, but the quarantine tightened its grip when we couldn’t go outside for a month with the worst air quality in the world.

On September 9th, the sun didn’t rise. The sky was illuminated orange like a post-apocalyptic movie as I stood in front of the same window, holding my crying baby, as tears rolled down my cheeks. I had done all I could to stay hopeful, but I surrendered and let myself feel dark things that day. This was a turning point that shifted my understanding of resilience. Resilience is far beyond taking care of my mental state, resilience is also about being vulnerable with what is, and sitting with that uncomfortable experience. Stay patient. Greet each fleeting moment with gratitude and then let it pass. Trust that this too shall pass, and it will. Taking in each day mindfully and yet non-attached is what has gotten me through 2020.

The next day, I saw glimmers of blue sky through the gray clouds. I’d never felt so grateful or hopeful as I did in that moment. Since that day of darkness, life has slowly inched back to a place of optimism and hope.

There have still been stumbling blocks, like not seeing my family across the country while my baby grows up. I have learned to trust the process and greet even the scariest, darkest moments as a lesson in deepening my inner strength. And when the clouds part, take that opportunity to appreciate the simple joys that make life sweeter, like my daughter’s smile and laughter, or the green baby ferns I saw growing in the redwoods on my hike yesterday. Life always begins again. It is not my choice in what tomorrow holds. Yet, I will always be grateful that I get to choose how I show up for the lessons that tomorrow brings.

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