Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com
One year ago today, Belgium went into its first lockdown since, probably, ever? We had heard the news come in from Italy, but it still felt as quite far off. Surely this could not travel as far as Belgium. Surely we’d be able to stop this. The previous pandemics, like SARS and the H1N1-virus had never really impacted us. But Covid appeared to be more persistent.
Initially, the whole idea of a lockdown was actually quite appealing to me. I didn’t have to go to school anymore. We didn’t have to get up so early. We didn’t have to show up at parties. Most of the ‘have to’s’ fell away and it felt calming and refreshing. My daughter really missed going to school from the start, but for my son it was a little slice of heaven. His ultimate dream is to always be at home, so any lockdown was a treat.
The first lockdown held specific lessons. The rest of the year offered very different ones. Overall, this year was calmer and yet I also experienced a lot of stress, often very much related to the specific circumstances of working, parenting and relating to others during a global pandemic.
Here are some of my biggest take-aways from Covid-19:
- Relationships are not helped by ‘have to’s’.
“Classic NVC (Non-Violent Communication)!” my partner says. And yet, many of us experience pressure when it comes to upholding a social calendar. We think we will be ostracized if we skip a family dinner or refuse to go to a team building. And we might be right. But this pressure also weighs down on the relationship and keeps us from reaching out from our desire to connect, instead of our fear for losing connection. Covid offered some relief of this pressure and the accompanying insights. I’m still working on how I’ll put them into practice once we return back to busier social calendars.
- Fear breeds all sorts of nasty things.
Fear is a powerful force. I wrote on it many times before, like in this post. It’s also very sneaky, and in the first lockdown, it crept up on me without me even really noticing. We went into a global fear frenzy over toilet paper, and fear brought some of us to target China and Chinese people, since that’s where the virus originated. We started viewing each other with suspicion and we kept to ourselves, protecting our own little bubbles. If I look back on the times I felt most fearful during the pandemic, they were the times it was the most difficult to be who I want to be.
- There are sooooooo many options.
When the first lockdown hit, all of a sudden everyone seemed to take up a new hobby, paint their house or start an exercising regime. All the things we wish we’d otherwise have time for, became possible (unless you have small children, like me, in which case your days became busier instead of more relaxed).
For me, like many others, this break in the rush of life also made me pause and look at my life from a distance. How did I go through my previous weeks, months and years? I noticed what I wanted to do differently. I took up a coaching course and started coaching some friends. And, importantly, I started this blog!
- In crisis, we unite.
Rutger Bregman shows this over and over in his book ‘Humankind‘, but I also saw it myself during the pandemic: As long as we can overcome our fear (the great divider) we can join together in a crisis (the great uniter) and find a strength that is larger than the sum of its parts. We didn’t only see it in the many volunteers who offered help in hospitals, but also in the protests around the globe surrounding the death of George Floyd. In the face of great threat, be it physical, sociological or natural, many of us find strengths within ourselves we didn’t know we had, and a faith in humankind we thought had been lost.
- Human connection is an essential need.
Even for introverts like me, who may, at times, find human contact a bit exhausting, it’s as essential to our wellbeing as rest, food and shelter. We crave touch from the time we’re born, and when we are deprived of it for long stretches of time, it affects our physical and mental health. Missing family, friends or colleagues became harder the longer the lockdown lasted. I started missing the simple things I had never really thought about before: Greeting my co-workers in the teacher’s lounge, or kissing my family on the cheek when meeting them. It feels odd not to hug my friend when saying goodbye, or not to shake a students hand when I congratulate them. It feels even stranger to see entire relationship move to the internet as we work and meet online. For those of us who are single, living alone, working from home, the effects must be that much harder still.
- Most issues are not black or white.
Finding truth in the many reports about Covid-19 sometimes proved tricky. I don’t really doubt the numbers we’re given, but numbers are always relative to something else. This many positive cases is relative to how many people were tested. This many deaths may or may not include those who passed away outside of the hospital. Much of the news seemed to play on our fear so we’d definitely adhere to any measures. Is there really no better way to communicate a situation with more nuance? Is there no other way to encourage people to act responsibly than through inspiring fear and giving fines? It feels like humankind as a whole still has some hurdles ahead.
- Being isolated together speeds up your relationships.
Whether your relationship was slowly growing closer or was slowly deteriorating, the lockdown seemed to speed up the process you were already in. For my children, it meant that they learned to play with each other a lot more peacefully than they had before. For me and my partner, it meant that, as our intimacy increased, we also saw our attachment issues rise up faster so we had to deal with them more intensely (which we did). For my relationship to my kids, it meant that I saw both the joy and the tension rise, and had to find new ways to tackle the latter. And for many couples, it meant finally filing for divorce.
- We’re losing touch with our natural habitat.
Covid-19 jumped from animals to humans. Not the animals we’ve domesticated, but wild ones that were caught and sold in unsanitary environments. The fact that these epidemics grow more frequent by the decade should give us food for thought (pun intended). What are we looking for when we consume wild animals? What part of our society do we feed when we lock up animals by the thousands in factory farms? What is this incessant need for more, more, more?
Corona didn’t stop at 2020, and even now, in March 2021, numbers are again on the rise in Belgium. We may have a vaccine, but that takes time to be implemented, isn’t 100% effective and does nothing to return those we’ve lost and the millions of businesses and billions of people that suffered through this crisis.
There is much to learn still from this pandemic, and many lessons which we may be eager to forget when things return back to ‘normal’, but I hope there are important ones we will remember, and putting these to paper (or this screen) is my way of preserving them in some fashion.
What have been your take aways from this crisis? What are lessons you’ve learned or lessons you hope we will all remember? I hope you’ve been healthy, resilient and loved throughout.