Holly Richardson: Lessons learned from living through a pandemic

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Anju Thapaliya Sharma leads her neighbors in Midvale take part in a social distance Zumba session, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

“Live through a pandemic” probably wasn’t on your bucket list, and yet, here we are.

I’ve seen advice on getting through the curve-flattening that ranges from “Forget the freshman-15. I’ll be gaining the COVID-19” to “If you don’t learn a language, ramp up your online business and gain a six-pack of abs, you’ve wasted your quarantine.” (Only exaggerating slightly.)

I’ve seen social media posts of local people and businesses flouting the social-distancing and stay-home recommendations and I’ve seen others comply and adapt quickly. I rarely ordered take-out during the olden times of January and February, but I’m up to twice a week, aiming for a third in this brave new world of ours.

I’m trying to make note of the things I am learning. I’ve learned that some people lash out more in times of stress and some people reach out more. I’ve had anti-immigration memes texted to me from anonymous sources and I’ve had more friends than I can count reach out to their neighbors and friends and ask how they can help.

I’ve learned that re-activating my nursing license would require re-doing all of nursing school and retaking nursing boards, even though I held an active license for over 20 years.

I’ve learned (again) that I show love through food. The low-carb diet has gone out the window as I create kitchen yummies for my quarantine buddies. I’ve also learned that all the “extra” time I thought I would have by no longer commuting for hours every day did not, in fact, materialize. I still can’t figure that one out.

When I asked my friends for some of the lessons they have learned so far, man of them resonated with me. I’ve aggregated some of the ones they shared. Do they resonate with you?

• “I’ve learned that relationships with family are truly the most important thing. That family Zoom calls can be so good. That I haven’t made nearly the effort to stay connected in the past that I should have been and now, I treasure those times we can check in. I’ve learned I miss hugs with loved ones and I do not miss professional handshakes with people I don’t really know.”

• “I’ve learned a lot about people’s true nature and motivations. I’m thrilled that it’s confirmed that I work and live with amazing, dedicated, selfless people ... many of whom are also the calming influence I need even more than usual right now!”

• “I’ve learned I’m not as ‘tough’ as I was when I was younger — emotionally, physically. But I am ‘stronger’ — wiser, less fearful, more whole. My faith is strong and is up to the test; I feel great peace — no matter the outcome. I have been able to reach out to others — by phone, email, text — far more than I would have otherwise. I’m also greatly appreciating my age which gives me a pretty good perspective of simple gratitude.”

• “I’ve learned that it’s harder than I thought to stay productive. So many distractions, worries, more cooking than we’re used to. I am such a people person and it’s wearing on me. I’ve let my house go, which I thought if I didn’t have the grandson to watch, I’d be able to keep it clean more easily.”

• “I have realized just how closely my gym time and mental health are connected. Also that most of my emotions that aren’t love simply manifest as anger. It’s taken a lot to calm down and parse out exactly what I’m feeling and then push it aside and sing ‘Into the unknown’ ... again.”

• “I was already telecommuting but I’ve learned in this time, with everyone at home, trying to do homework, keeping the house going with everyone on top of each other, etc. I have to manage my own expectations about what I can and can’t accomplish. We can’t be too hard on ourselves.”

Perhaps that’s the most important point: We can’t be too hard on ourselves. Adapting to a new normal is, by definition, uncomfortable — painful even. It’s messy and uncertain. It’s scary. And, it comes with lessons. I hope we learn some good ones.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.