This winter, I hit the worst of my pandemic walls.

I like to think I’ve maintained a sense of hope and progress for a decent portion of the last year, but these last few months have taken their toll on me.

Maybe it was the cold. The short days and long nights, day-in and day-out, alone in my living room, connecting to humans through a blue-lit screen. Or reading the often-horrific news, slowly descending into despair.

Maybe it was grieving the humans I’d lost in the last year to the pandemic, both by way of the virus as well as to mental illness worsened by the isolation and fragmentation the virus caused.

Maybe it was the holidays being different than they’ve been my whole life. Not seeing my big family or being able to maintain the traditions I cling to so dearly to remind me who I am. Or the fact that two of my grandparents got very ill and I couldn’t go see them.

Maybe it was the guilt of living four hours away from my family, not to work in New York City, but to sit at home every day.

For a year.

Yes, that could be it. I’m sure you felt it too.

The daunting, discouraging yearly mark of the pandemic creeping up. The thought of the 365 days and how little I felt I accomplished in those days compared to prior years.

How few smiles I saw, new people I met, hugs I held on to for far too long.

The loss, felt so deeply and viscerally by everyone around me. Boarded-up storefronts and restaurants. Illness and poverty. Hatred and divisiveness. Fear and isolation. It felt like a heavy fog in the air, coating my lungs in every breath and suffocating my will to produce progress.

Instead of trying to maintain positivity and bake bread or whatever, I just decided to give in to the weight of the suffering all around me. Let it submerge me into darkness and quiet, where I didn’t have to fight anymore to see the light.

And I could sit here and blame many things for that. I listed just a few of them above.

I’m sure you have your own list. It could be better or worse than mine, different or similar. Longer or shorter.

But you have it.

The list of ways the pandemic royally (sorry mom) fucked everything up.

The reasons you’re unhappy right now.

The reasons life has been brutally unfair to you and your loved ones this past year.

The reasons you want to go into your room, curl up in a ball, and binge-watch serial killer documentaries instead of face the reality of the life you’re living in this exact moment.

A lost job, lost loved one, lost plan, lost opportunity.

A broken heart, broken system, broken family.

I get that. I spent months and months dwelling on my own list. But recently, I’ve had a change of heart. Because I had to. Maybe you do too.

The way I have been living is no way to live. It doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help the people I love. It doesn’t help the people I work with. It doesn’t help the people I write to. All it does is hold me down in one place, trap me in a cycle of despair and depression that circles on a constant loop until it’s forcibly broken. And the only way to break it is action.

That’s when I realized something very important.

I am still the master of my own story. Even if it isn’t the story I originally wrote. Even if it isn’t the story I’d be writing if we weren’t in a pandemic. It’s still mine.

And your story is still yours too.

This doesn’t diminish your suffering or in any way undermine the hardship and tragedy the pandemic has caused. It just means that even in the middle of all of that, you still have the power to make positive change for yourself and those around you. You can still be happy. You can still move forward.

You just have to stop and think about what you can change.

——-

Here’s what I have been doing wrong:

I’ve stopped certain habits that make me happy, that I KNOW are better for me, because I didn’t want to experience them in the fragmented way they exist in the pandemic. Even if they are still available in some capacity, they don’t look like they once did, so I felt as though I’d lost them.

But that isn’t true.

I just needed to look at it differently. We all do.

Readjusting our expectations is sometimes the only way to move forward in life after a lot of change has occurred. We can’t use the past as a crutch not to focus on the present and the future. Even in times as unprecedented as these.


Here are a few of my own examples:


Faith:

woman in black long sleeve shirt and white hijab

I didn’t want to go to church if it was a small number of people, wearing masks and six feet apart. I know that’s safe and am by no means disagreeing with CDC guidelines (disclaimer for this whole article), I just personally didn’t want to go because I told myself it wouldn’t feel the same.

Church to me is togetherness, it’s sitting next to strangers, giving them a hug or a handshake, hearing them sing along to the words right next to you and feeling like your souls are connected at that moment. I was afraid that going back to my church in this way would somehow ruin it, especially after I spent months and months tuning in online waiting for the real thing to come back.

But the fact of the matter is, some version of church is better than none at all for me. Even if it isn’t wanted I want it to be– faith, community and hope can be found in all formats.

So, guess who RSVPed to Sunday’s service and will be there with her mask on this weekend? This chick.


Exercise:

woman in black sports bra and blue denim jeans doing exercise

I did the same thing with my gym–avoided it in hopes that it would be normal again soon. I walked and jogged outside for most of the pandemic but when the cold hit I became sedentary and lethargic for months. Until I realized, “HEY LEX, working out is amazing for your mental health and body, even if it’s with a mask and they don’t have yoga classes anymore.”

So I went back. And guess what? It’s not that bad.


Therapy:

Image result for virtual therapist

Therapy was another thing I put off. I value in-person connection, and after spending a year of 8-hour days talking to faces on screens, I just wanted to wait to get back into therapy until I could form that level of relationship in-person. But that isn’t happening anytime soon.

I can either sit here and let my mental health deteriorate, or I can take ownership of my health and work on progress, even through the phone screen.

So, I got a new therapist. I haven’t met her in person, but that’s OK for now.


Do these examples bring anything to mind for you?


What have you been putting off, avoiding or lamenting during this time that you actually could impact in a positive way?

Cheerful African American woman with braids in protective mask and gloves standing with smartphone against brick wall and looking at camera

Maybe it’s a job search because you’re miserable in your current position and it’s time for a change. Maybe you got stuck professionally during the pandemic (reasonably so) and know you want to choose a new path. Now could be the time.

Maybe it’s getting back into fitness or focusing on health in a way that’s different than it was pre-pandemic but can still be effective.

Maybe it’s ending a stale, toxic or mismatched relationship that’s only gotten worse in the pandemic. Because in your heart you know you’d be better off alone, as scary as that may seem.

Maybe it’s reconnecting with hobbies or groups virtually that used to once bring you a lot of purpose and joy.

Whatever it is, remember that you still have control over it.

This last year, we have all learned a hard lesson about how little control we can have in this world. I get that and it’s terrifying. But try to focus on the things you CAN still control, and find confidence and empowerment in that.

2 women with face paint

–You can have a candid conversation with your boss about shaping your career and role to be more of what you want it to be.

–You can focus on your mental health, self-love, relaxation and healthy habits.

–You can reconnect with your partner and work on your marriage, establish even deeper intimacy in this time of uncertainty.

–You can love your children, hold on to your friends and find creative ways to cultivate your relationships.

–You can cook new recipes, try a new workout routine, read amazing books and gain more knowledge.

You can do so much. I promise. Don’t let hopelessness win. I’m not going to either.

I believe in you.

Cling to your own power to author your story in this life, even if the odds are against you. Even if everything looks different than you thought it would be.

You can still grow.

You can still find purpose.

You can still be happy.

Even in a pandemic.


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