My life right now feels like one continuous loop of news. I wake up to it and it lulls me to sleep. I am glued to each and every press conference, hanging on the words of the experts, and obsessively checking social media and news sites for any updates. Even when it’s off, it’s always there with alerts on my phone or texts from my news obsessed friends (you know who you are!). I keep thinking there’s going to be some nugget of information that will shift us back to normal, but there is no “normal” anymore — just the “new normal.”
The “new normal” is not new to me. I have heard it over and over as I have learned to manage with living with cancer. All the feelings that I, along with many of you, am experiencing right now are very familiar. Fear, loneliness, isolation, uncertainty — I have lived through this before. In fact, I have never felt more prepared to face this type of crisis.
When I tell you that it is possible to see some light in your life and that there is hope, I truly mean it. As I faced the unthinkable in my own life, there were certain things that kept me going. I thought maybe you could all use some tips from a pro like me.
- Just Do It: People have always remarked at my strength and resilience. I was also told how they “could never do” what I do. That’s nice and all, but entirely untrue. You can do it! You are doing it! You are getting up every day and facing the most uncertain times of our lives (minus those of you who lived through the Great Depression). We are all doing our best to make it work. Keep going!
- Be Kind to Yourself: We all want to be tough and strong for the people who love us, but, in my experience, that is ex-haust-ing! So many of us are balancing working from home with caring for our families (including those of you juggling work and home schooling). Remember, it’s ok to take a break and have a moment of self-pity. Yes, this sucks. If you need to cry or scream or whatever you need to do to vent, go right ahead. Just don’t sit there too long.
- A Problem is an Opportunity in Work Clothes (credit to the late Gary Kent): Now is the time to do all those things you wanted to do — read the books on your bedside table, pick up that knitting project, train for a 5K, clean out your spare room, make that playlist. Whatever you’ve been yearning to do, minus skydiving, take advantage of this opportunity. While I was sick, I sewed like a madwoman, I baked like I was Ina Garten, and I started writing this blog. Embrace the time.
- Stay Connected: When I was at my lowest points, it was the connections with friends and family that saved my sanity. Texts, calls, emails, anything that reminded me I was still human. Today, it’s morning coffee on FaceTime with a dear friend, video chats with my folks, and virtual happy hours on Zoom. Even seeing colleagues and students on Google Hangouts helps me remember life is filled with more joy than fear and loneliness. I am part of a community larger than myself.
- Rely on Others: In the past, I had to rely on others because I had no choice, but I am terrible about asking for help these days. I was reminded today, however, to let go of my pride and ask for what I need. Because of my compromised immune system (Note: I am not more susceptible than anyone else to get the virus, I am just less likely to have the ability to easily fight it off), I have to be extra careful. This often means I cannot go to the store to get the things I need. I need to rely on the kindness of others in my life.
- Family: Keep your family, and friends who are like family, close. You all know how strong my family connections are, and they are even more so in times of crisis. These vital relationships are everything to me and are the light in my darkness.
For all of us, we have to mourn the old normal and embrace our “new normal.” For me, I need to quiet those voices in the media telling me it’s only going to get worse. I need to focus on what’s in front of me while still thinking towards the future. And, I need to take my own advice. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, we are all one “beloved community,” and we are in this together.