“Everything heals. Your body heals. Your heart heals. The mind heals. Wounds heal. Your soul repairs itself. Your happiness is always going to come back. Bad times don’t last.”
As the sun sets on this 2020, most want it to just end and move on from this disaster of a year. I completely understand this viewpoint, as most of us have never experienced so much loss in such a short time frame. People have lost lives, livelihoods, freedoms, joy – and all with no end in sight. This has been a bleak time for sure, but it also has forced me to realize many things as well. These are some of the lessons I experienced during this insane year, and I want to share them with you, without any expectations, without preaching that things will get better because they may not for a while. No, maybe someone just needs to read this.
At the end of 2019 I made the decision to buy my own place. This means more than you think, because although I had owned property before, it was for different reasons: to provide stable nest for my family, as an investment vehicle, etc. But after my divorce, I thought there was no point to buy a place “just” for me, as if I wasn’t important enough. I believe sometimes it’s easier to push ahead when we are doing it for the benefit of others, i.e. when parents don’t quit because they want their children to have what they did not have. So, it took a radical change in mindset to decide I was worthy to own my place, just for me. The timing couldn’t have been better (mid-February 2020), as the Pandemic lockdowns started, and I was all alone in my new place.
I am not the most trusting person. I have been burned a few times in my life, and some left me with deep scars. I also realized that sometimes I don’t trust even myself. Why is this? I believe it’s easier to support my life decisions when I have done my homework – this usually means listening to the “experts”. So, if there is a failure in my project, it’s not my fault. However, I realized this is no way to live my life. I must make decisions where I do not know the outcome. That is how we grow. This is not a video game, where we get many lives. We get one precious life, and we do our best with it. We do, we fail, we learn, we redo, we keep going. That’s it.
It was not easy at first to be mostly isolated, especially at the beginning of the year when there was so much uncertainty. The park in front of my home was shut down and converted into a militarized testing site, right out of the movies. During those weeks that turned into months, I learned to be self-reliant, since restaurants were closed, grocery stores had limited supplies, etc. I started cooking more, planning grocery runs, checking on family and friends, etc. Basically, I became a more responsible and caring person, in charge of making decisions. Most importantly, it made me realize that my pre-Covid life was so busy with non-importance. In much the same way that some people are classified as essential personnel, there are some essential activities and people that we must keep nearby.
The importance of being close to loved ones has never been lost on me. But this particular year made it crystal clear, when two things occurred that may have impacted my family in very profound ways. First, my dad had two minor strokes in February-March, where he spent weeks in hospital and then in rehab facility. Thankfully, and with the help of great doctors and staff, he was able to recover with minor damage to his brain and arms. Then, in September, my younger brother suffered from a burst appendix, and those who have gone through it, know it’s a very delicate situation, which could go sideways at any moment. Again, due to extremely caring professionals, he was able to recover after spending almost a month in the hospital.
The worst part of these events is the isolation that they went through, as we could not visit them. I can only imagine how they must have felt, and how close they may have come to giving up. I have heard horror stories from patients who have phoned their loved ones to say goodbye for one final time. I am eternally grateful that my dad and brother escaped from these life-threatening situations, and I hurt for those who lost their loved ones. This gave me a real perspective that material goals are nowhere as meaningful as losing the important people in our lives, which can happen in an instant.
One result from being isolated for so many months and save my mental health is that I started making routines. I have always thought of myself as someone who does not do daily habits, mostly play it by ear type of person. I started simple, making my bed every morning. That way, when I go to bed at night, it’s already in welcoming mood! Then I started walking around the block, which is about 3 miles. I figured once I get to halfway point, I have no choice but to finish. I would do it twice per week, then 3 times, etc. The goal was to create the habit, and to feel comfortable being uncomfortable. This is key for me, as my mind knows it will never enjoy walking 3 miles, so I must trick it into going out and benefitting from fresh air, natural vitamin D, walking meditation, etc.
Finally, I started doing intermittent fasting, which for someone used to eating three meals daily, it would have sounded impossible. I started by having black coffee (no sugar) for breakfast, and moving breakfast to 10, then 11, then noon, and then I combined it with lunch. Now I have coffee and my first meal is around 1pm. Then another meal around 6pm, and I don’t eat again until 1pm the following day. Again, this was very difficult the first few weeks, but then your mind realizes that skipping a meal won’t kill you. It’s almost like those long distance runners who trick their minds into running an extra mile.
Another very important thing that I have been doing during this time is writing. I don’t mean writing my blog, which I will improve next year and frankly, did not seem to matter much this year with so much loss. I mean writing my ideas, which come when I go out for walks, or when I am not consciously thinking. I have Evernote app handy so when an idea pops up, I write it down. At the end of each day, I have been writing down two lists. First, I write down those people or events for which I am grateful. Second, I write down my accomplishments for the day. This is a way to go to bed accomplished and grateful, and I have noticed how my improved mood affects my daily activities and interactions.
I realize creating routines may not seem that important in the face of Covid, but I believe they give us some control of our day, which is much needed when everything else seems out of sorts. When you keep your word to yourself, you gain confidence that you can handle whatever life throws at you. This terrible year was when I learned to love myself and others, to trust myself, to improve myself. The hard lessons will not be forgotten, and I promise myself I will carry them into this coming year. I wish you the best. Keep working on yourself, and never give up, no matter what obstacles you see ahead. You’ve got this!