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What It Means to be Human in a Pandemic

Humanness During COVID-19

July 7, 2020

This blog post originally published on Thursday, June 25 on LinkedIn.

Over the past 48 hours, I heard from numerous clients, colleagues and friends sharing similar messages of fatigue, stress and burnout. “You don’t need to respond, Sarah, I just need to share this …” is how many of those messages started. Ok folks … we need to talk (flips chair around and straddles like a school counselor trying to be cool). Let’s jam.

During the first month of the pandemic there was a collective experience of disruption, disorientation, uncertainty and chaos. People shared how overwhelmed they felt. People were exhausted trying to figure out how to work from home. People were exhausted trying to figure out how to teach their children and please their bosses. People were exhausted trying to figure out how to stay safe and keep their families safer.

There was decision fatigue, Zoom fatigue, novelty fatigue, loneliness, economic hardship and a general sense of grieving of the life we once knew. My conversations with leaders quickly shifted from the usual conversations of development planning to deep topics like, “How do I support the intense emotions I see my team members feeling?” “How can I possibly support my team when getting out of bed in the morning feels impossible most days?”

Providing Leadership Through Emotional Support

The calls from companies to talk about and share practices about mental health, emotional resilience and empathetic leadership increased dramatically. While people knew that everyone was being challenged, somehow we convinced ourselves that we were the only one barely surviving. Somehow we told ourselves that everyone else has it figured out, and not only do they have it figured out but they are baking home made focaccia and starting a side hustle.

And so we think, “What is wrong with me?” “Why can’t I snap out of it?”

These are real questions shared with us through our work. When we asked people to share “How are you doing really?” The answers ranged largely navigated from anxiety to fear to stress with just a few hopefuls sprinkled in. People were surprised, validated and heard when they realized they weren’t alone.

I feel like we need another reminder.

You aren’t alone. You never were. And you never will be.

To live in a pandemic means to live with the constant hum of a threat. Some days the hum might be so quiet it will lull you into thinking things are “normal” and other moments it will roar back reminding you that while you might be done with it, it isn’t done with us.

To live in a pandemic means to have fewer moments of autopilot where our brain can properly rest while we still go about our day.

To live in a pandemic means we are having to face uncertainty every single day. Will I be able to get bread/meat/eggs this week? When will I be able to see my family again? How do I keep them safe? Will I be let go from my job? Will my children grow and learn? Do I have enough money for gas? Will my unemployment come through? Will I need to turn down this gig because they want it in person? Will I be able to support my team? Is this sniffle just allergies or something more? Should I wear a mask? Why don’t they wear a mask?

These questions are happening so fast — and sometimes unconsciously — that we don’t even realize our brain exploring the world of “what ifs.” and like an app that is running on our phone, it slowly drains our batteries without us realizing. Then suddenly until we find ourselves laying awake at 2 a.m. wondering why we can’t sleep or remember what day it was.

But now we are 100 days in. We have found new habits, new patterns, new norms. This sense of familiarity soothes us into thinking we should “be back to normal” and we are confused when the fatigue strikes faces us again. When we are struck with stress and worry. When we react more often than respond.

We ask, “Everyone else has it figured out, what is wrong with me?” “When will I snap out of it?”

So here is your friendly reminder again in case you forgot — we are living in a pandemic.

You aren’t alone. You never were. And you never will be.

And if you are feeling alone and struggling please reach out to me, to a friend, a family member or to a mental health professional.

Our resiliency reserves are slowly leaking out and the emptiness will hit you when you least expect it. Things that were hard before feel harder now.

We need to be OK that some moments are going to feel low when just a moment before felt high. Truthfully, I think I navigated at least 11 different emotions just today alone. Here is my favorite thing about emotions: they are temporary. They are always temporary. They don’t always feel that way in the moment, but they are.

And so, I invite you to be deeply compassionate with yourself and others. It is OK that you haven’t developed a sourdough starter or built a side hustle or worked out every day, and it’s OK if you did. We all need to recharge in ways that serve us. Just be sure to do so.

To my fellow humans — ride the waves when they come, rest when they are calm and keep looking to the horizon.

Find more information at covidrecoveryiowa.org.

Discover more about The Partnership’s tools to help Greater Des Moines (DSM) entrepreneurs and startups develop and grow their ventures with Small Business Resources.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.