I Thought We’d Learned Nothing From the Pandemic. I Wasn’t Seeing the Full Picture

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

M y first home had a back door that opened to a concrete patio with a giant crack down the middle. When my sister and I played, I made sure to stay on the same side of the divide as her, just in case. The 1988 film The Land Before Time was one of the first movies I ever saw, and the image of the earth splintering into pieces planted its roots in my brain. I believed that, even in my own backyard, I could easily become the tiny Triceratops separated from her family, on the other side of the chasm, as everything crumbled into chaos.

Some 30 years later, I marvel at the eerie, unexpected ways that cartoonish nightmare came to life – not just for me and my family, but for all of us. The landscape was already covered in fissures well before COVID-19 made its way across the planet, but the pandemic applied pressure, and the cracks broke wide open, separating us from each other physically and ideologically. Under the weight of the crisis, we scattered and landed on such different patches of earth we could barely see each other’s faces, even when we squinted. We disagreed viciously with each other, about how to respond, but also about what was true.

Recently, someone asked me if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, and my first thought was a flat no. Nothing. There was a time when I thought it would be the very thing to draw us together and catapult us – as a capital “S” Society – into a kinder future. It’s surreal to remember those early days when people rallied together, sewing masks for health care workers during critical shortages and gathering on balconies in cities from Dallas to New York City to clap and sing songs like “Yellow Submarine.” It felt like a giant lightning bolt shot across the sky, and for one breath, we all saw something that had been hidden in the dark – the inherent vulnerability in being human or maybe our inescapable connectedness .

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But it turns out, it was just a flash. The goodwill vanished as quickly as it appeared. A couple of years later, people feel lied to, abandoned, and all on their own. I’ve felt my own curiosity shrinking, my willingness to reach out waning , my ability to keep my hands open dwindling. I look out across the landscape and see selfishness and rage, burnt earth and so many dead bodies. Game over. We lost. And if we’ve already lost, why try?

Still, the question kept nagging me. I wondered, am I seeing the full picture? What happens when we focus not on the collective society but at one face, one story at a time? I’m not asking for a bow to minimize the suffering – a pretty flourish to put on top and make the whole thing “worth it.” Yuck. That’s not what we need. But I wondered about deep, quiet growth. The kind we feel in our bodies, relationships, homes, places of work, neighborhoods.

Like a walkie-talkie message sent to my allies on the ground, I posted a call on my Instagram. What do you see? What do you hear? What feels possible? Is there life out here? Sprouting up among the rubble? I heard human voices calling back – reports of life, personal and specific. I heard one story at a time – stories of grief and distrust, fury and disappointment. Also gratitude. Discovery. Determination.

Among the most prevalent were the stories of self-revelation. Almost as if machines were given the chance to live as humans, people described blossoming into fuller selves. They listened to their bodies’ cues, recognized their desires and comforts, tuned into their gut instincts, and honored the intuition they hadn’t realized belonged to them. Alex, a writer and fellow disabled parent, found the freedom to explore a fuller version of herself in the privacy the pandemic provided. “The way I dress, the way I love, and the way I carry myself have both shrunk and expanded,” she shared. “I don’t love myself very well with an audience.” Without the daily ritual of trying to pass as “normal” in public, Tamar, a queer mom in the Netherlands, realized she’s autistic. “I think the pandemic helped me to recognize the mask,” she wrote. “Not that unmasking is easy now. But at least I know it’s there.” In a time of widespread suffering that none of us could solve on our own, many tended to our internal wounds and misalignments, large and small, and found clarity.

Read More: A Tool for Staying Grounded in This Era of Constant Uncertainty

I wonder if this flourishing of self-awareness is at least partially responsible for the life alterations people pursued. The pandemic broke open our personal notions of work and pushed us to reevaluate things like time and money. Lucy, a disabled writer in the U.K., made the hard decision to leave her job as a journalist covering Westminster to write freelance about her beloved disability community. “This work feels important in a way nothing else has ever felt,” she wrote. “I don’t think I’d have realized this was what I should be doing without the pandemic.” And she wasn’t alone – many people changed jobs , moved, learned new skills and hobbies, became politically engaged.

Perhaps more than any other shifts, people described a significant reassessment of their relationships. They set boundaries, said no, had challenging conversations. They also reconnected, fell in love, and learned to trust. Jeanne, a quilter in Indiana, got to know relatives she wouldn’t have connected with if lockdowns hadn’t prompted weekly family Zooms. “We are all over the map as regards to our belief systems,” she emphasized, “but it is possible to love people you don’t see eye to eye with on every issue.” Anna, an anti-violence advocate in Maine, learned she could trust her new marriage: “Life was not a honeymoon. But we still chose to turn to each other with kindness and curiosity.” So many bonds forged and broken, strengthened and strained.

Instead of relying on default relationships or institutional structures, widespread recalibrations allowed for going off script and fortifying smaller communities. Mara from Idyllwild, Calif., described the tangible plan for care enacted in her town. “We started a mutual-aid group at the beginning of the pandemic,” she wrote, “and it grew so quickly before we knew it we were feeding 400 of the 4000 residents.” She didn’t pretend the conditions were ideal. In fact, she expressed immense frustration with our collective response to the pandemic. Even so, the local group rallied and continues to offer assistance to their community with help from donations and volunteers (many of whom were originally on the receiving end of support). “I’ve learned that people thrive when they feel their connection to others,” she wrote. Clare, a teacher from the U.K., voiced similar conviction as she described a giant scarf she’s woven out of ribbons, each representing a single person. The scarf is “a collection of stories, moments and wisdom we are sharing with each other,” she wrote. It now stretches well over 1,000 feet.

A few hours into reading the comments, I lay back on my bed, phone held against my chest. The room was quiet, but my internal world was lighting up with firefly flickers. What felt different? Surely part of it was receiving personal accounts of deep-rooted growth. And also, there was something to the mere act of asking and listening. Maybe it connected me to humans before battle cries. Maybe it was the chance to be in conversation with others who were also trying to understand – what is happening to us? Underneath it all, an undeniable thread remained; I saw people peering into the mess and narrating their findings onto the shared frequency. Every comment was like a flare into the sky. I’m here! And if the sky is full of flares, we aren’t alone.

I recognized my own pandemic discoveries – some minor, others massive. Like washing off thick eyeliner and mascara every night is more effort than it’s worth; I can transform the mundane into the magical with a bedsheet, a movie projector, and twinkle lights; my paralyzed body can mother an infant in ways I’d never seen modeled for me. I remembered disappointing, bewildering conversations within my own family of origin and our imperfect attempts to remain close while also seeing things so differently. I realized that every time I get the weekly invite to my virtual “Find the Mumsies” call, with a tiny group of moms living hundreds of miles apart, I’m being welcomed into a pocket of unexpected community. Even though we’ve never been in one room all together, I’ve felt an uncommon kind of solace in their now-familiar faces.

Hope is a slippery thing. I desperately want to hold onto it, but everywhere I look there are real, weighty reasons to despair. The pandemic marks a stretch on the timeline that tangles with a teetering democracy, a deteriorating planet , the loss of human rights that once felt unshakable . When the world is falling apart Land Before Time style, it can feel trite, sniffing out the beauty – useless, firing off flares to anyone looking for signs of life. But, while I’m under no delusions that if we just keep trudging forward we’ll find our own oasis of waterfalls and grassy meadows glistening in the sunshine beneath a heavenly chorus, I wonder if trivializing small acts of beauty, connection, and hope actually cuts us off from resources essential to our survival. The group of abandoned dinosaurs were keeping each other alive and making each other laugh well before they made it to their fantasy ending.

Read More: How Ice Cream Became My Own Personal Act of Resistance

After the monarch butterfly went on the endangered-species list, my friend and fellow writer Hannah Soyer sent me wildflower seeds to plant in my yard. A simple act of big hope – that I will actually plant them, that they will grow, that a monarch butterfly will receive nourishment from whatever blossoms are able to push their way through the dirt. There are so many ways that could fail. But maybe the outcome wasn’t exactly the point. Maybe hope is the dogged insistence – the stubborn defiance – to continue cultivating moments of beauty regardless. There is value in the planting apart from the harvest.

I can’t point out a single collective lesson from the pandemic. It’s hard to see any great “we.” Still, I see the faces in my moms’ group, making pancakes for their kids and popping on between strings of meetings while we try to figure out how to raise these small people in this chaotic world. I think of my friends on Instagram tending to the selves they discovered when no one was watching and the scarf of ribbons stretching the length of more than three football fields. I remember my family of three, holding hands on the way up the ramp to the library. These bits of growth and rings of support might not be loud or right on the surface, but that’s not the same thing as nothing. If we only cared about the bottom-line defeats or sweeping successes of the big picture, we’d never plant flowers at all.

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what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

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9 valuable lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic.

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

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We’re not going to lie: It’s been a little hard to find the silver lining at times this past year.

With so much stress, loss, and pain at the forefront of our minds, it sometimes feels like we’re in a constant waiting game, counting down the minutes until our “normal” lives are back. But after a year like this, there’s no going back to normal because we’ve all been changed forever in one way or another. We’ve lived 12 years in the past 12 months, and we’ve grown in the process – and that is a silver lining to be proud of!

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

So we decided the best way to acknowledge and appreciate the growth we’ve experienced is by taking a second to reflect on this past year and find the positives that were woven through each day.

To see the good that has come from these hard times, we adopted a lens of learning and growing, and it empowered us to do just that! Here are nine important lessons we’ve learned in the midst of COVID-19.

1. Family is nonnegotiable.

For many of us, this year brought with it quality family time that we never expected and, honestly, might never have had otherwise. It’s reminded us just how much family matters. And I don’t just mean blood relatives, I mean chosen family, too. 

We were encouraged to take a step out of the craziness of our former lives and deeply invest in those relationships again, whether it was face-to-face or not.

We’ve had the opportunity to not just catch up on life, but to also spend priceless time with our loved ones, asking personal questions, being there for the important moments, leaning on each other for support, and growing together. As a result, we remembered just how much we need each other! 

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

2. Prioritize health and wellness .

When the pandemic first began, the world started paying attention to health, wellness, and hygiene like never before. We realized just how effective our handwashing wasn’t , how much we shouldn’t be touching our faces, and the beauty of both modern and natural medicine. These are all crucial practices and levels of care that will hopefully stick with us in the future.

Not only that, but without the usual benefits of daily activity, in-person workouts, and restaurant dining, a microscope was placed on just how willing we were to maintain our wellness all on our own.

With the pandemic came a myriad of free cooking and workout classes on social media and a realization that, particularly when we’re stuck inside, our bodies really do need nutrients and activity to survive. 

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

3. We can get by on less. Much less.

The road to discovering how little we need was paved with uncertainty. With the overwhelming job loss that came with the pandemic, people had to learn how to pinch pennies, clip coupons, and trim excess like never before. 

Even for those who kept their jobs, without indoor dining, salons, gyms, and a wealth of other standard social activities, saving money actually became easier to do. Even though we’ll all be lining the doors when things are back to normal, we realized in the process that we actually can live on a lot less and still be content.

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

4. Build that nest egg.

In addition to pinching those pennies, we learned the endless value of having a rainy day fund – or more appropriately, an emergency fund. An emergency fund is one that is set aside for the most essential of needs, including rent, medical expenses, childcare, and food. 

As we’ve all heard over and over again, these are unprecedented times. The nature of unprecedented times is that we don’t see them coming, so we don’t plan for them.

If this year has taught us anything, it’s the importance of setting aside a little extra money and leaving it there until the day comes when we might need it. 

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

5. Slow down.

We’ve realized that not only is it OK to slow down, but it’s actually essential. 

When the pandemic hit, it was as if the whole world was running on overdrive and then, all at once, it crashed. We allowed it to get this way because we have a tendency to align our worth with our busyness. But luckily, this past year has shown us just how unbalanced that meter is. 

There are a few key points to remember moving forward. First of all, self-care is not self-indulgent; it’s one way that we keep ourselves healthy, both physically and mentally. Second, slowing down is what helps us truly live in the present and find contentment in our circumstances. 

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

6. We should be talking about mental health.

One of the best silver linings of this year is that we learned just how valuable mental health is. Studies show that ever since the pandemic hit, close to 40 percent of Americans now suffer from anxiety and depression. The causes are endless: financial stress, difficult home lives, boredom, loss, fear, and, perhaps the heaviest of all, loneliness. 

These universal mental health issues truly are a “second wave” of this global crisis, and the greatest benefit has been the light shed on their gravity.

People are being more vocal than ever about the importance of honesty and vulnerability when it comes to our mental health, just like we would a physical ailment. By doing so, we can get the love and support we need. 

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

7. Our thoughts on people have changed.

The more closed off we’ve had to become socially and the more we’ve noticed the deep need around us, the more we’ve realized whom we consider to be truly essential.

In our own lives, we’ve learned which friends we want close to us in times of trouble – and maybe even some relationships we’ve been needing freedom from. 

In our communities, we’ve finally realized the overwhelming value of our essential workers: in health care, education, food service, and the most underappreciated segments of our workforce. May we never forget how brave and resilient they have been for all of us these past 12 months. 

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

8. Becoming comfortable with uncertainty.

“The one thing that’s certain about this current crisis is the massive amount of uncertainty,” Paul Knopp, U.S. Chair and CEO of KPMG LLP, told Accounting Today . “In order to succeed, you must execute on the activities and behaviors that are within your control.”

We have definitely learned flexibility this year. From working and schooling from home, to rerouting our careers, to finding new ways to stay connected, to moving back in with our parents, our flexibility has been award-winning and record-breaking. 

A benefit of this growing pain is that it’s made us more comfortable with uncertainty. There’s so much about the future that we can’t possibly know or predict right now, so ultimately all we can do is be OK with it – and choose to find the wonder and joy in our present circumstances. 

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

9. We are deeply resilient.

We are capable of so much more than we ever knew. This year has been rife with chaos, unrest, injustice, loss, and pain – but we’ve survived. We’re still standing. Even in the darkest time, we’ve been able to look outside ourselves and pull through for those in need in remarkable ways. It’s helped us realize the stuff we’re made of . 

More than that, we’ve done it together. We’ve all been in isolation together, and we’ve survived together. It’s reminded us that at the end of the day, we are all just human beings, and we need each other.

And now we know with certainty that we can handle anything!

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

After the levels of stress we’ve lived through this past year, the best we can do is make sure it wasn’t for nothing. We can search for the good, continue to grow, and allow our circumstances to change us for the better. Only then will we continue to come out on the other side stronger, more resilient, more compassionate, and more hopeful than ever!

Share this story to remind others how much they’ve grown this year.

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

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Becoming a Teacher: What I Learned about Myself During the Pandemic

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Introduction to the Article by Andrew Stremmel

Now, more than ever, we need to hear the voices of preservice teachers as well as in-service teachers during this pandemic. How has the pandemic affected them? In what ways has the pandemic enabled them to think about the need to really focus on what matters, what’s important? What were the gains and losses? These are very important questions for our time.  In this essay, Alyssa Smith, a senior studying early childhood education, attempts to address the lessons learned from her junior year, focusing on the positive aspects of her coursework and demonstrating an imaginative, growth mindset. This essay highlights the power of students’ reflection on their own learning. But I think it does so much more meaningful contemplation than we might expect of our students in “normal” times. Alyssa gains a new appreciation for this kind of active reflection—the opportunity to think more critically; to be more thoughtful; to stop, step back, catch her breath, and rethink things. As a teacher educator and her mentor, I believe this essay represents how the gift of time to stop and reflect can open space to digest what has been experienced, and how the gift of reflective writing can create a deeper level of thinking about how experiences integrate with one’s larger narrative as a person.

About the Author

Andrew Stremmel, PhD, is professor in early childhood education at South Dakota State University. His research is in teacher action research and Reggio Emilia-inspired, inquiry-based approaches to early childhood teacher education. He is an executive editor of  Voices of Practitioners .  

I’ve always known I was meant to be a teacher. I could feel my passion guide my work and lead my heart through my classes. So why did I still feel as if something was missing? During the fall of my junior year, the semester right before student teaching, I began to doubt my ability to be a great teacher, as I did not feel completely satisfied in my work. What I did not expect was a global pandemic that would shut down school and move all coursework online. I broke down. I wanted to do more than simply be a good student. I wanted to learn to be a great teacher. How was I supposed to discover my purpose and find what I was missing when I couldn’t even attend my classes? I began to fret that I would never become the capable and inspirational educator that I strived to be, when I was missing the firsthand experience of being in classrooms, interacting with children, and collaborating with peers.

It wasn’t until my first full semester being an online student that I realized the pandemic wasn’t entirely detrimental to my learning. Two of my early childhood education courses, Play and Inquiry and Pedagogy and Curriculum, allowed limited yet meaningful participation in a university lab school as well as engagement with problems of substance that require more intense thinking, discussion, analysis, and thoughtful action. These problems, which I briefly discuss below, presented challenges, provocations, possibilities, and dilemmas to be pondered, and not necessarily resolved. Specifically, they pushed me to realize that the educational question for our time is not, “What do I need to know about how to teach?” Rather, it is, “What do I need to know about myself in the context of this current pandemic?” I was therefore challenged to think more deeply about who I wanted to be as a teacher and who I was becoming, what I care about and value, and how I will conduct myself in the classroom with my students.

These three foundations of teaching practice (who I want to be, what I value, and how I will conduct myself) were illuminated by a question that was presented to us students in one of the very first classes of the fall 2020 semester: “What’s happening right now in your experience that will help you to learn more about yourself and who you are becoming?” This provocation led me to discover that, while the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light (and at times magnified) many fears and insecurities I had as a prospective teacher, it also provided me with unique opportunities, time to reflect, and surprising courage that I feel would not otherwise have been afforded and appreciated.

Although I knew I wanted to be a teacher, I had never deliberately pondered the idea of what kind of teacher I wanted to be. I held the core values of being an advocate for children and helping them grow as confident individuals, but I still had no idea what teaching style I was to present. Fortunately, the pandemic enabled me to view my courses on play and curriculum as a big “look into the mirror” to discern what matters and what was important about becoming a teacher.

As I worked through the rest of the course, I realized that this project pushed me to think about my identity as an educator in relation to my students rather than simply helping me understand my students, as I initially thought. Instead, a teacher’s identity is formed in relation to or in relationship with our students: We take what we know about our students and use it to shape ourselves and how we teach. I found that I had to take a step back and evaluate my own perceptions and beliefs about children and who I am in relation to them. Consequently, this motivated me to think about myself as a classroom teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic. What did I know about children that would influence the way I would teach them?

I thought about how children were resilient, strong, and adaptable, possessing an innate ability to learn in nearly any setting. While there were so many uncertainties and fear surrounding them, they adapted to mask-wearing, limited children in the classroom, and differentiated tasks to limit cross-contamination. Throughout, the children embodied being an engaged learner. They did not seem to focus on what they were missing; their limitless curiosity could not keep them from learning. Yet, because young children learn primarily through relationships, they need some place of learning that helps them to have a connection with someone who truly knows, understands, and cares about them. Thus, perhaps more than any lesson, I recognized my relationship with children as more crucial. By having more time to think about children from this critical perspective, I felt in my heart the deeper meaning children held to me.

My compassion for children grew, and a greater respect for them took shape, which overall is what pushed me to see my greater purpose for who I want to be as an educator. The pandemic provided time to develop this stronger vision of children, a clearer understanding of how they learn, and how my identity as a teacher is formed in relationship with children. I don’t think I would have been able to develop such a rich picture of how I view children without an in-depth exploration of my identity, beliefs, and values.

In my curriculum course, I was presented a different problem that helped me reflect on who I am becoming as an educator. This was presented as a case study where we as students were asked the question, “Should schools reopen amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?” This was a question that stumped school districts around the nation, making me doubt that I would be able to come up with anything that would be remotely practical. I now was experiencing another significant consequence of the pandemic: a need for new, innovative thinking on how to address state-wide academic issues. My lack of confidence, paired with the unknowns presented by the pandemic, made me feel inadequate to take on this problem of meaning.

To address this problem, I considered more intentionally and reflectively what I knew about how children learn; issues of equity and inequality that have led to a perceived achievement gap; the voices of both teachers and families; a broader notion of what school might look like in the “new normal”; and the role of the community in the education of young children. Suddenly, I was thinking in a more critical way about how to address this problem from the mindset of an actual and more experienced teacher, one who had never faced such a conundrum before. I knew that I had to design a way to allow children to come back into a classroom setting, and ultimately find inspiration for learning in this new normal. I created this graphic (above) to inform families and teachers why it is vital to have students return to school. As a result, I became an educator. I was now thinking, feeling, and acting as a teacher. This case study made me think about myself and who I am becoming as a teacher in a way that was incredibly real and relevant to what teachers were facing. I now found inspiration in the COVID-19 pandemic, as it unlocked elements of myself that I did not know existed.

John Dewey (1916) has been attributed to stating, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Learning may begin in the classroom, but it does not end there. Likewise, teaching is not a role, but a way of being. The ability to connect with children and to engage them meaningfully depends less on the methods we use than on the degree to which we know and trust ourselves and are willing to share that knowledge with them. That comes through continually reflecting on who we are in relation to children and their families, and what we do in the classroom to create more meaningful understanding of our experiences. By embodying the role of being an educator, I grew in ways that classroom curriculum couldn't prepare me for. Had it not been for the pandemic, this might not have been possible.

Dewey, J. 1916. Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education . New York: MacMillan.

Alyssa Marie Smith  is currently an early childhood education student studying at South Dakota State University. She has been a student teacher in the preschool lab on campus, and now works as a kindergarten out of school time teacher in this same lab school. In the fall, she plans to student teach in an elementary setting, and then go on to teach in her own elementary classroom.

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8 Lessons We Can Learn From the COVID-19 Pandemic

BY KATHY KATELLA May 14, 2021

Rear view of a family standing on a hill in autumn day, symbolizing hope for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic

Note: Information in this article was accurate at the time of original publication. Because information about COVID-19 changes rapidly, we encourage you to visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and your state and local government for the latest information.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we know it—and it may have changed us individually as well, from our morning routines to our life goals and priorities. Many say the world has changed forever. But this coming year, if the vaccines drive down infections and variants are kept at bay, life could return to some form of normal. At that point, what will we glean from the past year? Are there silver linings or lessons learned?

“Humanity's memory is short, and what is not ever-present fades quickly,” says Manisha Juthani, MD , a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist. The bubonic plague, for example, ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages—resurfacing again and again—but once it was under control, people started to forget about it, she says. “So, I would say one major lesson from a public health or infectious disease perspective is that it’s important to remember and recognize our history. This is a period we must remember.”

We asked our Yale Medicine experts to weigh in on what they think are lessons worth remembering, including those that might help us survive a future virus or nurture a resilience that could help with life in general.

Lesson 1: Masks are useful tools

What happened: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its masking guidance for those who have been fully vaccinated. But when the pandemic began, it necessitated a global effort to ensure that everyone practiced behaviors to keep themselves healthy and safe—and keep others healthy as well. This included the widespread wearing of masks indoors and outside.

What we’ve learned: Not everyone practiced preventive measures such as mask wearing, maintaining a 6-foot distance, and washing hands frequently. But, Dr. Juthani says, “I do think many people have learned a whole lot about respiratory pathogens and viruses, and how they spread from one person to another, and that sort of old-school common sense—you know, if you don’t feel well—whether it’s COVID-19 or not—you don’t go to the party. You stay home.”

Masks are a case in point. They are a key COVID-19 prevention strategy because they provide a barrier that can keep respiratory droplets from spreading. Mask-wearing became more common across East Asia after the 2003 SARS outbreak in that part of the world. “There are many East Asian cultures where the practice is still that if you have a cold or a runny nose, you put on a mask,” Dr. Juthani says.

She hopes attitudes in the U.S. will shift in that direction after COVID-19. “I have heard from a number of people who are amazed that we've had no flu this year—and they know masks are one of the reasons,” she says. “They’ve told me, ‘When the winter comes around, if I'm going out to the grocery store, I may just put on a mask.’”

Lesson 2: Telehealth might become the new normal

What happened: Doctors and patients who have used telehealth (technology that allows them to conduct medical care remotely), found it can work well for certain appointments, ranging from cardiology check-ups to therapy for a mental health condition. Many patients who needed a medical test have also discovered it may be possible to substitute a home version.

What we’ve learned: While there are still problems for which you need to see a doctor in person, the pandemic introduced a new urgency to what had been a gradual switchover to platforms like Zoom for remote patient visits. 

More doctors also encouraged patients to track their blood pressure at home , and to use at-home equipment for such purposes as diagnosing sleep apnea and even testing for colon cancer . Doctors also can fine-tune cochlear implants remotely .

“It happened very quickly,” says Sharon Stoll, DO, a neurologist. One group that has benefitted is patients who live far away, sometimes in other parts of the country—or even the world, she says. “I always like to see my patients at least twice a year. Now, we can see each other in person once a year, and if issues come up, we can schedule a telehealth visit in-between,” Dr. Stoll says. “This way I may hear about an issue before it becomes a problem, because my patients have easier access to me, and I have easier access to them.”

Meanwhile, insurers are becoming more likely to cover telehealth, Dr. Stoll adds. “That is a silver lining that will hopefully continue.”

Lesson 3: Vaccines are powerful tools

What happened: Given the recent positive results from vaccine trials, once again vaccines are proving to be powerful for preventing disease.

What we’ve learned: Vaccines really are worth getting, says Dr. Stoll, who had COVID-19 and experienced lingering symptoms, including chronic headaches . “I have lots of conversations—and sometimes arguments—with people about vaccines,” she says. Some don’t like the idea of side effects. “I had vaccine side effects and I’ve had COVID-19 side effects, and I say nothing compares to the actual illness. Unfortunately, I speak from experience.”

Dr. Juthani hopes the COVID-19 vaccine spotlight will motivate people to keep up with all of their vaccines, including childhood and adult vaccines for such diseases as measles , chicken pox, shingles , and other viruses. She says people have told her they got the flu vaccine this year after skipping it in previous years. (The CDC has reported distributing an exceptionally high number of doses this past season.)  

But, she cautions that a vaccine is not a magic bullet—and points out that scientists can’t always produce one that works. “As advanced as science is, there have been multiple failed efforts to develop a vaccine against the HIV virus,” she says. “This time, we were lucky that we were able build on the strengths that we've learned from many other vaccine development strategies to develop multiple vaccines for COVID-19 .” 

Lesson 4: Everyone is not treated equally, especially in a pandemic

What happened: COVID-19 magnified disparities that have long been an issue for a variety of people.

What we’ve learned: Racial and ethnic minority groups especially have had disproportionately higher rates of hospitalization for COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people in every age group, and many other groups faced higher levels of risk or stress. These groups ranged from working mothers who also have primary responsibility for children, to people who have essential jobs, to those who live in rural areas where there is less access to health care.

“One thing that has been recognized is that when people were told to work from home, you needed to have a job that you could do in your house on a computer,” says Dr. Juthani. “Many people who were well off were able do that, but they still needed to have food, which requires grocery store workers and truck drivers. Nursing home residents still needed certified nursing assistants coming to work every day to care for them and to bathe them.”  

As far as racial inequities, Dr. Juthani cites President Biden’s appointment of Yale Medicine’s Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS , as inaugural chair of a federal COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. “Hopefully the new focus is a first step,” Dr. Juthani says.

Lesson 5: We need to take mental health seriously

What happened: There was a rise in reported mental health problems that have been described as “a second pandemic,” highlighting mental health as an issue that needs to be addressed.

What we’ve learned: Arman Fesharaki-Zadeh, MD, PhD , a behavioral neurologist and neuropsychiatrist, believes the number of mental health disorders that were on the rise before the pandemic is surging as people grapple with such matters as juggling work and childcare, job loss, isolation, and losing a loved one to COVID-19.

The CDC reports that the percentage of adults who reported symptoms of anxiety of depression in the past 7 days increased from 36.4 to 41.5 % from August 2020 to February 2021. Other reports show that having COVID-19 may contribute, too, with its lingering or long COVID symptoms, which can include “foggy mind,” anxiety , depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder .

 “We’re seeing these problems in our clinical setting very, very often,” Dr. Fesharaki-Zadeh says. “By virtue of necessity, we can no longer ignore this. We're seeing these folks, and we have to take them seriously.”

Lesson 6: We have the capacity for resilience

What happened: While everyone’s situation is different­­ (and some people have experienced tremendous difficulties), many have seen that it’s possible to be resilient in a crisis.

What we’ve learned: People have practiced self-care in a multitude of ways during the pandemic as they were forced to adjust to new work schedules, change their gym routines, and cut back on socializing. Many started seeking out new strategies to counter the stress.

“I absolutely believe in the concept of resilience, because we have this effective reservoir inherent in all of us—be it the product of evolution, or our ancestors going through catastrophes, including wars, famines, and plagues,” Dr. Fesharaki-Zadeh says. “I think inherently, we have the means to deal with crisis. The fact that you and I are speaking right now is the result of our ancestors surviving hardship. I think resilience is part of our psyche. It's part of our DNA, essentially.”

Dr. Fesharaki-Zadeh believes that even small changes are highly effective tools for creating resilience. The changes he suggests may sound like the same old advice: exercise more, eat healthy food, cut back on alcohol, start a meditation practice, keep up with friends and family. “But this is evidence-based advice—there has been research behind every one of these measures,” he says.

But we have to also be practical, he notes. “If you feel overwhelmed by doing too many things, you can set a modest goal with one new habit—it could be getting organized around your sleep. Once you’ve succeeded, move on to another one. Then you’re building momentum.”

Lesson 7: Community is essential—and technology is too

What happened: People who were part of a community during the pandemic realized the importance of human connection, and those who didn’t have that kind of support realized they need it.

What we’ve learned: Many of us have become aware of how much we need other people—many have managed to maintain their social connections, even if they had to use technology to keep in touch, Dr. Juthani says. “There's no doubt that it's not enough, but even that type of community has helped people.”

Even people who aren’t necessarily friends or family are important. Dr. Juthani recalled how she encouraged her mail carrier to sign up for the vaccine, soon learning that the woman’s mother and husband hadn’t gotten it either. “They are all vaccinated now,” Dr. Juthani says. “So, even by word of mouth, community is a way to make things happen.”

It’s important to note that some people are naturally introverted and may have enjoyed having more solitude when they were forced to stay at home—and they should feel comfortable with that, Dr. Fesharaki-Zadeh says. “I think one has to keep temperamental tendencies like this in mind.”

But loneliness has been found to suppress the immune system and be a precursor to some diseases, he adds. “Even for introverted folks, the smallest circle is preferable to no circle at all,” he says.

Lesson 8: Sometimes you need a dose of humility

What happened: Scientists and nonscientists alike learned that a virus can be more powerful than they are. This was evident in the way knowledge about the virus changed over time in the past year as scientific investigation of it evolved.

What we’ve learned: “As infectious disease doctors, we were resident experts at the beginning of the pandemic because we understand pathogens in general, and based on what we’ve seen in the past, we might say there are certain things that are likely to be true,” Dr. Juthani says. “But we’ve seen that we have to take these pathogens seriously. We know that COVID-19 is not the flu. All these strokes and clots, and the loss of smell and taste that have gone on for months are things that we could have never known or predicted. So, you have to have respect for the unknown and respect science, but also try to give scientists the benefit of the doubt,” she says.

“We have been doing the best we can with the knowledge we have, in the time that we have it,” Dr. Juthani says. “I think most of us have had to have the humility to sometimes say, ‘I don't know. We're learning as we go.’"

Information provided in Yale Medicine articles is for general informational purposes only. No content in the articles should ever be used as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician. Always seek the individual advice of your health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition.

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What I’ve learned about myself during the COVID-19 pandemic

A lot has changed over the last few weeks, but Adam has taken this as a chance to grow and learn new things

Written by Adam Lambe

Voices - Experiences

Young people share their personal experiences..

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The COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of strain on everyone. The pandemic has affected me in a lot of ways, mostly my productivity, motivation and my mental and physical health . However, during this time I have learned more about myself and my habits than I have in a very long time. In spite of the trouble these past few weeks have caused me, I have found some solutions that have made my life easier.

Being productive each day

The first thing that left me when we got off school was my productivity. I lost all motivation to do any schoolwork and spent most of my day in bed. I could hardly find the willpower to get up before noon. This took a while to change and it was hard to see the point in getting up to do schoolwork when you could just pretend your internet was down! After a few days of not doing work, it was beginning to pile up and was becoming more daunting.

To start to change my bad habit I first had to figure out what I need to do in order to motivate myself. After a bit of thinking, I figured that I would eventually have to face some sort of assessment and I wanted to do well. I want to get into a college course I will enjoy. This was a big stride in motivating me to be productive and do my school work. After this, I decided I needed to prioritise my schoolwork and break it into smaller sections so it wouldn’t feel as daunting.

I have discovered that rest is key for me to have a fun and productive day so finding a good balance between work and play was very important to me. I decided to work early in the day as I am most focused, calm, and I can get most of my work done. I always put my phone on silent so as not to distract me, but I also make sure I take a break from schoolwork every 45 minutes as I find I start to lose focus after that.

Dealing with loneliness

Although we may live with our family or in the company of other people this can still feel like a lonely time and maybe even an unsafe time. I feel this is a very important time for us to look after ourselves. The most important way to do this for me was to reach out to my friends and keep in touch with them, calling sometimes daily to check up on them. I use my usual apps like Snapchat and Instagram to keep in touch, as well as Zoom, Google Duo and Hangouts.

For many reasons, some people may feel like they can’t reach out to friends. Thankfully there are many amazing people that are on hand to chat with when we are feeling lonely , sad or anxious during this time. People working with SpunOut.ie, Jigsaw, Samaritans and Childline are all there to talk.

Exercise, sleep and healthy food

Apart from feeling lonely this time can also bring days where I just feel shit and I have found that exercise , sleep and a good diet has dramatically improved this. Anytime I heard that trio of suggestions I felt they were cliché and wouldn’t actually help, but they do! Recently I have decided to structure my days very rigidly. In this schedule, I include my meal and exercise plan for the day as well as periods to relax and watch TV and most importantly, time in the evenings to wind down so I can have a good night’s sleep. Each day I plan time to have a walk and a cycle, within 2km of my house to stick to HSE guidelines ! The extra bit of exercise along with eating healthier has greatly increased my mood, my energy and my productivity each day. While this approach definitely does not suit everyone, I would suggest to anyone, give it a go!

Focusing on the positives

To help me from feeling too worried or anxious, I try to see the bright side to this situation and to keep an optimistic view of the future. For me, one of the positive aspects of this situation is the extra free time I have! This is an opportunity to learn new skills, adopt new hobbies and even a time to work on self-improvement! During my free time, I have done small but exciting things such as rearranging my room, working on my writing skills and working on projects with my local Comhairle Na nÓg. I have also used some of my newfound time to learn new delicious recipes for my dinner and have improved my cooking. Since I value my rest and relaxation a great deal, I always set aside time every evening to watch a new movie and I have begun many new series on Netflix and Disney+.

The pandemic likely won’t end tomorrow, so it is really important that we adapt our lifestyles to this new environment so we do not lose track of our schoolwork nor ourselves. Finding a balance that suits you and a structure that allows you to be productive and have fun makes this time a lot easier to deal with. If you were to walk away from this with anything, make time in your day to do the things you enjoy, stay in contact with your friends and explore different ways that you work best.

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Things I Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Antoinette Pecaski

By Antoinette Pecaski

There are things to learn even in the most challenging of times, and sometimes it’s what we learn in those everyday moments of life that gives us a renewed perspective.

I learned to appreciate the big things. Like toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap. I nearly fell on my knees and wept when I spotted a lone bag of bread flour on the grocery shelf.

I learned that woman does not live by bread alone. On my first foray to the grocery store I prepped like I was going out for a night on the town. Eye shadow, mascara, eyeliner, foundation, blush and, of course, lipstick. I looked in the mirror and said, “Where have you been?” No one in the store could see my efforts. But, it felt so “normal,” even if it did look like I was robbing the place.

I learned to appreciate the really, really big things. The sight of my grandchildren’s faces on Facetime, the sound of my grown children’s voices on the phone, the warmth and support of my husband’s presence, the sound of my friends’ voices on the phone. My heart would swell with affection, my spirit parched with the need for friendship, for companionship, for a sense of normalcy.

When we could finally bubble, I learned to share my Italian heritage with my grandchildren (and appreciate it more myself). “Look,” I said as I gave them each some homemade dough. As their little hands kneaded and shaped the dough, I told them about the small mountain village where I was born. “Nana taught me this when I was a little girl, and her mother taught her and her mother taught her, going back many generations in our family.”

As we shaped the dough into pasta and gnocchi and lasagna noodles, I told them, “You know, they had to prepare their own food back then. There were no Sobeys’ or Pizza Huts.” I winked at them, “and that’s how RaRa caught DinDin.” But, I didn’t tell them that when we got married, I said to DinDin, “You do realize that there are lots of Sobeys’ and Pizza Huts!”

I learned to upgrade my computer skills. “You know,” I said to my son on the phone, “I’ve learned to do all kinds of stuff online: order groceries, pay my bills, order our new printer, and (my chest nearly bursting with pride), I actually programmed our new printer to our computer!” I didn’t tell him about the naughty words that assisted the process.

“That’s great Mom. Welcome to 2004.”

“Hey, listen,” I said, “I did all my university papers on that old rusty Remington Rand typewriter in the basement. You probably don’t even know what Whiteout is!"

I learned to channel my pioneer spirit. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were afraid to venture out even to the grocery store, I learned to be resourceful. We needed hamburger buns. “No problem, I’ll make them.” Of course, they turned out like Frisbees and even the grandchildren wouldn’t eat them. And they eat everything!

I researched how to make your own hand sanitizer, homemade soap and lavender oil. I thought it prudent to be prepared for anything.

I cut my husband’s hair. He is a brave man. I viewed YouTube videos, bought barber scissors, and then kept my fingers crossed (obviously not literally). I’m happy to say he still has two ears and neither of them is pointy…although I did stab myself a few times.

And I learned to find solace and hope in nature. When my Dogwood tree bloomed in May after almost dying the previous year (it had to be transplanted), I was overjoyed, and saw it as a sign of hope.

When I spotted a small green weed with its small white and yellow flowers, defying its bed of gravel, I took its picture. Its tenacity to survive, to thrive and to flourish despite its adversity was overwhelming. Now, its picture is memorialized on my fridge, a constant reminder of what hope and courage look like.

And, when the pandemic is over, and we are free again, I think we will all have learned, that there are no little things in life. We will look at the world, like my little green plant, with renewed vigor and courage and a better understanding of this gift of living.

— Antoinette Pecaski

Antoinette (Toni) Pecaski is a writer of humorous essays from Ontario, Canada.  She seeks to find the humor in our everyday lives and believes humor helps us to connect with each other. She takes the advice of Mark Twain to heart:  “Humor without a tinge of philosophy is but a sneeze of laughter.” She is currently working on her book,  My Mother Gave Me Booze for Breakfast.

Who's Publishing What: Black Dog, White Couch, and the Rest of My Really Bad Ideas

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Your Say: What lessons have you learned during the pandemic?

At the Farmers Market in Little Italy on April 4, 2020, Stephen Clark from J.R. Organics

We asked: What have you learned about yourself, your family and your community after one year of the pandemic?

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Anger lingers, along with hope for future

I have learned from this pandemic the sad results of an overly contagious disease. Each night our news has the latest totals of illnesses and deaths. These totals flash me back to the days of the Vietnam War when the numbers of dead and wounded soldiers were announced. It sickened us each dinner hour. The horror is even greater now, for our numbers are staggering.

I learned that personal contact and socialization play a bigger part in all our lives than I ever understood. As a lucky senior with a loving supportive husband, not alone in isolation, and encouraging, friendly neighbors, friends and family, I’ve suffered. The distancing, the lack of activities in groups, all dimmed my spirit. As an upbeat, laughing sort, surprisingly I was hit in spite of being blessed.

I think of family — our grandkids struggling with school, their adolescence stifling in confinement, missing senior school year activities, experiencing college online. They have lost learning opportunities and personal growth from interactions with others. Their lives have forever changed. Sadly, this happened at the beginning of their life’s journey. Their loss is infinitely greater than mine. So, too, those without loving support and jobs have suffered immeasurably.

My sadness is lifting with the promise of tomorrow, thanks to vaccinations. Concerns are letting up due to a stable federal-state response to this disease. Anger lingers over the past president’s uncaring, negligent response. But I am hopeful for our future. We are a resilient people.

Sharon Smith, La Mesa

Next week: After the vaccine

What is the first thing you did or will do after being fully vaccinated and feeling safe to live the way you did before the pandemic hit? Please email your 500-word essay to us at [email protected] by Wednesday and we may publish it in the newspaper and online. Please include your name, community and a phone number we won’t publish. More on today’s Your Say topic at sandiegouniontribune.com/lessons.

Crisis may floor us but we can rise again

What have I learned about myself, my family and my community after one year of the pandemic?

I have learned a huge amount about myself. I come from a sports background and that results in a cannot-be-defeated attitude. I love tennis and when the pandemic struck, our leaders thought it would be beneficial to lock tennis courts so no one could play tennis. I found places to play, thanks to my wonderful tennis partners, and I continued to play at beautiful places like a private court in Rancho Bernardo and courts near Sunset Cliffs, which gave me the opportunity to discover the beautiful cliffs again even though I’ve lived here 64 years of my 65 on Earth. Because of this never-say-die attitude I was able to stay in contact with my son’s beautiful family after tennis on Saturdays. I guess the saying is, where there is a will, there is a way, or from one of our greatest poets, “All limitations are self-imposed.”

I love my family; however, we are just returning to the point where I feel I can call any one of my siblings to safely visit and hug them all much more often than I have during the past year. My wife, Kim, my shorty Jack Russell Terrier Stella and I have not missed a beat at home; in fact, we may be closer as a result of the pandemic.

As for my community, I honestly feel we have been dealt a huge straight right that has knocked us down for the count. With the resilience I know we have, though, all our businesses and high school sports will bounce back to deliver blows of our own until we become the victors in the last round of this most important fight of our lives.

Jim Valenzuela, Poway

The value of a loving pet became apparent

What I have learned after one year of the pandemic is a lot about cats.

We acquired a cat in our household last July. I have learned a lot about how humans can relate to cats that I was not aware of growing up with these lovely animals. I also learned that you can connect with such an animal at a level I never thought possible or perhaps never really explored.

This cat, during this pandemic, has served as our therapist, yoga instructor, meditation guide and fellow afternoon nap enthusiast. I know there are other animals that have served as pets to help people with the stress of the pandemic. I would expect people in my community to have had a similar experience with their pets and the bonds they have made with them.

David Terry, Lakeside

We have all shared an historic experience

This past year I’ve learned that I took many things for granted and expected that life wouldn’t change that much in my day-to-day routine. I think most of us did.

I was really looking forward to seeing The Rolling Stones at SDCCU Stadium last May, but the concert was canceled and now the stadium has been demolished. Weekends I would have spent looking forward to seeing the latest Hollywood blockbuster like “Top Gun: Maverick” or “No Time to Die” became weekends learning about the infamous rivalry of big cat enthusiasts Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin on Netflix.

Going out to a restaurant on a Friday night to start off the weekend became downloading the DoorDash app and bringing that food home. Those nights out became nights in. I’ve learned that as much as it’s nice to stay home in my pajamas, I really miss going out to social events and seeing people’s smiling faces.

I always look forward to seeing my family during the holidays and months when I can take time off of work, but this year, like many of us, I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas on Zoom. I learned, and knew all along, that I have a strong family. We have come together well during a global pandemic. My mom even asked if she needed to mail me toilet paper. As fun as it was seeing everyone on my computer screen, in 2021 I will not take for granted that something as terrible as this pandemic couldn’t happen again, and I will make it a priority to see my family as soon as I can.

I’ve learned the community of San Diego comes together very well during a crisis. We’re all human, and no one wants to see their business or the livelihood they worked so hard for destroyed. I saw organizations, restaurants and animal shelters come together to feed families and the pets of those who lost their jobs.

People were shopping local more to support locally owned businesses. When we started to have to wear masks in public, I saw that people were nicer to each other, but now I see mask fatigue and people just wanting to get on with their lives. I hope as the year goes on and we slowly get back to normal with vaccines getting out into the community that we maintain that positive energy and remain a strong, friendly community.

We don’t always know what’s going on in the lives of those we pass every day at the store, but we have all gone through something unprecedented in our generation together and should never forget how it made us feel.

Megan DePalo, Oceanside

Hope for the best but prepare for the worst

After a year of the coronavirus pandemic, I learned that I had better be prepared for the worst at any time. After seeing lines of people at the grocery stores, loading up with groceries and toilet paper overflowing from their carts, I realized that many people are out for themselves without a care for anyone else. I didn’t understand the reason why so many people stocked up on toilet paper, as the coronavirus was not going to cause a bad case of diarrhea for those infected. Going to stores to find empty shelves where toilet paper once was only made me shake my head in wonder. Hoarding took place at every level and made me think of countries where things like that are familiar.

With bare shelves and some money in my pocket, things became disheartening. I decided I needed to eat less so that my stomach could shrink and I wouldn’t be as hungry. It worked. I lost more than 20 pounds, and I am now feeling better when I have to bend down to pick something up. I no longer just keep eating because it’s there and it tastes good. I eat half a sandwich and get up to do something and I’ve been drinking more liquids. Even if some of those liquids are beer, I’m still down over 20 pounds and continue to lose a little more as the days pass.

It is nice that businesses are starting to open and things are slowly getting back to the way they were, and I hope this pandemic has taught everybody some good lessons.

Allen Stanko, Alpine

Glad this challenging time may soon end

Regarding the one-year lockdown anniversary: The last year has been without a doubt one of the most trying and difficult of my life. I work in senior long-term care, and I have seen fear and illness and loneliness and death. I have seen healthy people become deathly ill and pass away without family to comfort.

I have seen people trying to express love through glass windows with masks on. The loneliness and isolation is as detrimental as the virus. Holidays and birthdays pass in this odd world.

And I have seen courage and strength and resiliency. I feel I have been scarred on my heart but have learned patience and trust.

I am glad the vaccines are here and maybe we can turn the corner and hug each other again.

Angela Reynolds, Boulevard

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Columbia College | Columbia University in the City of New York

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“What Has Your Pandemic Experience Been Like?”

Fourteen alumni tell us how COVID-19 has shaped their lives.

I n March, when we were considering CCT’s Summer 2020 issue, we knew that we wanted to address the shockwave that had upended and overtaken all of our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic was — is — that rare event that affects everyone with ties to the College. Even as this introduction is written, its vast, global story continues to evolve, expanding and deepening in ways that resist easy comprehension.

Against this backdrop, we knew we could tell a more personal story, create a record of how the coronavirus and its many ripple effects had been experienced by our community. And so, in April and early May, we asked 14 alumni to offer a keyhole into their daily lives: What did their new routines look like? How had work changed? What had been challenging, and where were they finding their joys?

The responses were varied, shaped by age, profession, location and all the personal variables that distinguish one life from the next. And what began as a kind of time capsule became, slowly, so much more. The reflections enlarged our view beyond the walls that had all too literally been hemming us in. They invited us to exercise our empathies, take comfort in shared experiences and — with so many of us social-distanced into solitude or small groups — feel the warmth of connection.

It will be a long time before we can fully reckon with all that’s happened and is happening during this pandemic. But we are going through it together, and we hope that our contribution can help.

— The Editors

Lea Goldman ’98

Editor-at-large, iHeartMEDIA; chief content officer at Nineteen Twenty Media

“T hough I was an English lit major at Columbia, these days I find myself immersed in the sciences, living out Einstein’s definition of insanity on the regular: watching the news, then instantly regretting it; begging/bribing/browbeating my kids to sit for home-schooling, only to surrender an hour later; channeling Alice Waters for breakfast, Chester Cheetah by lunch. Our days here at Casa Goldman (me, two grade-schoolers, one eye- rolling husband) are — wait, what day is it, again? We ditched the skim for half-and-half. We subscribed to Hulu. We pray to the broadband gods to keep our signal strong. We are, as the kids say, hashtag blessed.

“As a writer, I wrestle with a strange new tension: I have never felt more creative and yet so hard-pressed to eke out the time and focus to write. But I’ve still managed to bank a win or two. I launched a podcast called Hazmat Hotel , in which I interview interesting people about how coronavirus has upended their professions. (Hit me up if you’d like to be a guest.) I finished my one-woman show about Jim Comey. I am knee-deep in a new screenplay. In the past eight weeks, one of my boys has discovered Seinfeld, the other ‘Shark Week,’ so that Hulu subscription is basically paying for itself now. The news from Casa G is that we are all OK, hanging in and enormously grateful, thank you for asking.”

Bianca Guerrero '17

Policy analyst, NYC Mayor’s Office of Policy and Planning; volunteer coordinator, Bowman for Congress

“I work for the Office of the Mayor in New York City full-time and coordinate volunteers on Jamaal Bowman’s congressional campaign in NY-16 part-time. With local government on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis and, as I write, the June 23 primary less than two months away, I am busier than I have ever been.

Earings

“I try my best to work out a few times a week and use Friday evenings to catch up on TV shows and work on crafts. I rediscovered my pottery tools when quarantine began and ordered polymer clay and embroidery floss to make earrings. A friend recommended that I order a weaving loom to make tapestries and rugs — it just arrived, so I am going to try that this week. My roommate’s mom might drop off an old sewing machine so I can try my hand at that, too.

“Work can be a bit overwhelming, so using my hands to make things for myself, family and friends is a welcome reprieve from corona madness.”

AMARI HAMMONDS ‘09

COURTESY AMARI HAMMONDS ‘09

Associate deputy solicitor general, Office of the Solicitor General in the California Department of Justice

“W hat if I had to go about my life not knowing the next time it’d be OK to touch another person? I’m single and I live alone, so this has become an abiding question in the weeks, now months, since March 16, when the Bay Area announced its first-in-the-nation shelter-in-place order.

“I’ve learned that isolation makes the memory of my last human contact more indelible — a Kid ’n Play-inspired kickstep as my friend Colin left what would be our last Sunday pancakes together. We now connect through FaceTime meals; from afar, he’s taught me how to make a poached egg. But I’ve also learned that regardless of health orders, video calls won’t cut it. I’m grateful to have cultivated relationships with a select few who, like me, crave connection in the absence of the pandemic-friendly community offered by roommates or romantic partners ‘adjacent’ to their households. A conversation while biking 6 ft. apart is critical nourishment. I once petted a gentle old dog named Loki after one such ride to the Sausalito waterfront, and it was like oxygen for me — though for her, probably more about the hot pastrami sandwich in my hand.

“Most importantly, I’ve learned to be gentle with myself for the swirl of feelings this all brings. It is possible to feel at once abandoned by friends who have hunkered down with the privilege of companionship, while also compassionate toward their choice — one I’d likely make, if given the option. It’s OK to spend one night crying myself to sleep, wishing I could join my mom across the country, then the next cutting up playing Codenames over Google Hangouts as if I’d lived my life this way all along.

“Until ‘normal’ returns at some indeterminate point, in some indeterminate form, I’m learning what that looks like for now and receiving sweetness in every form. My friend and her husband recently invited me for a socially distant picnic, and to meet their puppy. I’ll be there with a fashionably colorful mask and hand sanitizer at the ready.”

BRENDON JOBS ‘05

COURTESY BRENDON JOBS ‘05

Director of diversity and inclusion, The Haverford School; social studies methods instructor at the Penn Graduate School of Education

“S chool closed suddenly in March as the threat of pandemic became a real crisis. Like many, I’ve been going through a grieving process for the life, vigor and human connection that the schoolhouse offered me in all my years of teaching.

“At the start, I was overwhelmed with the multitude of tasks needed to make the transition [to remote learning] work for my students, faculty and other communities that I serve. Fear and duty defined my feelings in that moment. But it wasn’t long before anger and resentment grabbed hold of me. Hopeful proclamations that ‘we’re all in this together’ came from official channels; they offered encouragement that if we adhered to social distancing we could flatten the curve and ‘get back to normal.’ It wasn’t long afterward that nasty disparities in race and class, in keeping with pre-COVID-19 patterns, magnified. As an educator, I wondered: How can I explain this to kids? How does what they’re witnessing shape their understanding of how the world works?

“As a black queer man growing up in the 1990s, I remember living with the fear of the AIDS virus. Implicitly, I was fed the message that I lived with greater risk of contracting the disease in a way that stigmatized me. Those old feelings have reemerged as I have witnessed COVID-19 transform from a foreign threat into a health crisis disproportionately infecting and killing Black and Brown people; meanwhile, violent, armed calls to reopen businesses rage from white protestors in Michigan and Pennsylvania despite these deaths. My mother and sister still report to their jobs as ‘essential workers,’ and my father lost his job abruptly as an early casualty of the predicted economic crash. These disparities will only grow as long as we continue to allow politics and business interests to make us willfully ignorant to wild differences in the human experience of this moment. I often struggle to imagine a different, more hopeful outcome.

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

COURTESY DR. JOSH JOHNSON ‘13

Surgical resident, NewYork Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center

“R inging loudly in the background of my day is a cacophony of alarms and notifications that are meant to signify an imminent medical emergency — yet they have become so ubiquitous that I can no longer distinguish among them. The hours I spend on the wards have not changed much; I am here for anywhere between 12 and 24 hours a shift, depending on the day. However, the intricacies of my work have shifted dramatically. Willing or not, I am greeted each day by an endless list of patients with tarnished lungs who require the utmost interventions possible to keep oxygen flowing throughout their bodies. It has been truly taxing.

“The difficulty lies in having to carry on and continue my duties without the time to grieve our losses, to celebrate our wins and to reflect upon our struggles. Yet what has been remarkable is that my connection to my patients and their families has never been deeper. Though my patients cannot speak to me, I hear their pain. Though I cannot see their loved ones in person I have had immensely intimate conversations with them, and I have forged relationships based solely on trust and hope. During this pandemic I have healed others more through compassion and understanding than I have through modern science. That is the lesson I hope to never forget.”

Rabbi Alvin Kass ’57

COURTESY NYPD

Chief chaplain, NYPD; adjunct professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

“L ife in the Age of COVID-19 has not been simple or easy for any of us. I’ve had to respond to new challenges: teach classes remotely, conduct Zoom funeral services, attend virtual meetings and counsel the troubled by telephone. Perhaps the most awe- some responsibility of all was to fulfill a request to do a video with a message of ‘uplift’ and ‘encouragement’ for our police officers. Quite frankly, reading the newspaper reports every day about the ever-mounting casualty figures, and discovering that many of the victims are people I know and love, leaves me in need of uplift and encouragement. However, I felt this was really important because police officers are among the first responders to have suffered the heaviest casualties. After all, they are required to answer the call of duty regardless of the risks, including the coronavirus.

“Somehow, notwithstanding my own concerns and anxieties, I managed to put something together. It was based on Mark Twain’s observation that courage isn’t the ‘absence of fear but the mastery of it.’ There are two ways to transcend anxiety: faith in God and faith in each other. To believe in God is not simply to believe that there is a deity who will intervene and alter reality to accord with our wishes. Even more basically, it is the confidence that there is a Benevolent Intelligence undergirding the universe that fills us with the hope, optimism and trust that human beings possess the wisdom and skills required to solve the toughest problems.

“Then there is the most effective therapy of all — each other. Men and women, helping and supporting one another by doing things they don’t have to do, is the essence of love and closest we shall ever come to experiencing genuine spirituality. It is true that COVID-19 requires us to stay apart physically, but getting in touch with each other — as well as family, friends and neighbors assisting each other — can be so important and pivotal in transcending this crisis. I certainly cherish the calls and emails I have received as I cope with the physical distancing of this experience. What they proclaim in the most eloquent and dramatic way possible is that we don’t have to struggle with this alone.”

Ian Lendler ’96

COURTESY IAN LENDLER ‘96

Children’s book author

“L ike so many others, the virus, alas, has afflicted me.

“For I, you see, am a writer, and I write things of terrible importance. I am a Creator of Truths, a conjuror of metaphors. Every morning I sit at my desk and I call to my Muse; she answers, and we begin a delicate dance of words and images and — oh yes! — similes as well! And just as my prose begins to touch the great mysteries of Life —

“‘DAD! DAD!’ My children burst into the room. ‘Can we have some Goldfish crackers?’

“‘Be still!’ I shriek. ‘What matters your aquatic-shaped snacks when I seek Beauty?’ “But it is too late. My Muse begins to back out of the room. She says, ‘You never told me you had kids.’

“‘You don’t understand,’ I splutter. ‘Normally they’re at school now.’ But she is already gone.

“Then, my wife shouts from a different room that she’s on a Zoom call and the kids need lunch.

“So I make my kids lunch.

“In the afternoon, once again, I tap at my keyboard, calling my Muse back, and with a curtsy and an impish wink, she and I begin to weave our —

‘Dad! DAD! We’re playing Fortnite with our cousins. We need your computer!’ and my kids snatch my laptop away.

“And so I wander the house, alone, bereft of my computer (and thus, all meaning), until my wife shouts from a different room that she’s on a Zoom call and can I get dinner started?

“And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this sheltered-in-place ... until ... what’s this?!

“I have been asked to do an ‘Instagram live reading,’ whatever that is ... But I seize my chance to perform for my adoring audience. To conjure worlds for them; to shaman their imaginations to an ethereal realm.

“So for your undoubted delight (and the consideration of Nobel Prize committees), I give you what I believe to be my most harrowing and important work to date. ”

Steve Martinez ’11

COURTESY STEVE MARTINEZ ‘11

Television producer, ESPN’s The Jump

“T he show must go on, but my daily routine has been altered significantly. The Jump is now entirely produced from home: on-air talent, producers, directors and so on; we’re doing our best to help deliver to folks a 30-minute slice of escapism every day. Most of our work in production is now done the night before a show (previously, most of the production occurred the morning of ). We complete our daily tapings by 11:30 a.m. PT, but by 1:00 p.m. PT, we are on a conference call discussing the plan for the next day’s show. The current production strategy involves a balance between staying ahead in terms of preparation and being ready for news to break at a moment’s notice.

“Communication has been a challenge at times. It might not look like it at home when you see three people on your screen, but it takes dozens of talented folks to put on a TV show. My previous routine heavily relied upon face-to-face communication for most of my catching up with staff members.

STEVE MARTINEZ ‘11

“I find joy in spending time with my wife, Stephanie, and my dog, Callie, here in my Los Angeles home. I also take great pride in the ability to get a show on the air with the entire staff working from home, something we never knew was possible until we were confronted with that problem. Mainly, I just want the NBA back.”

MIKE MELLIA ‘02

PHOTOS BY MIKE MELLIA ‘02

Director, photographer, creator of advertising for fashion and lifestyle brands

“M any of the world’s greatest successes took place in a garage — Apple, Google, Disney. By the same token, I always loved seeing pictures of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, two great abstract expressionist painters, painting in outdoor barns on Long Island during the 1950s and 1960s. They said they liked the light. What I really think they needed was the isolation and the silence.

BY MIKE MELLIA ‘02

BY MIKE MELLIA ‘02

“To me, painting is a performance with an audience of zero, and the record of that performance is the physical object created, a mysterious enigma. Over tens of thou- sands of hours of practice, you train yourself to not even be conscious of yourself; it feels like I’m watching someone else paint a picture. There is also some element to painting that feels like robbing a bank: the intensity, the speed and the risk that you can only experience after learning to transcend all your experience and training. These large oil paintings are inspired by the wild chaos, the light and the color of nature I’m experiencing with my wife and two babies at our home in Southampton, N.Y. I hope they will bring you some joy.”

Ron Padgett ’64

P ASCAL PERICH

Geezer Fitness

I just did twenty-five push-ups, then vacuumed the floor and then dropped down and did twenty more, for what reason I cannot say or even want to think about, especially at this moment when I am still breathing hard.

I almost didn’t know what day it is and then I did, locked into time, suddenly more secure that it’s Thursday! Which means nothing or next to nothing. I am next to nothing— it’s in this room with me, an old pal.

Snow falling from gray sky, it’s time to bake, scones, I mean, and right out of the oven take one and butter it, with jam, teapot hot at hand, and exult in the fact of everything horrible.

David Peng ’83

COURTESY DAVID PENG ‘83

Head of Asia Pacific Ex Japan at Legal & General Investment Management; president, Columbia University Alumni Association Hong Kong

“T hough I am a New Yorker, I have spent my professional life in North Asia and this is my fourth posting in Hong Kong, with in-between postings in Taipei, Shanghai and Beijing. I was in Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic in 2003. Most people in Hong Kong remember that period well. When news broke in January about what was happening in Wuhan, people in Hong Kong quickly realized the potential of another epidemic.

“The Hong Kong government was quick to put in place restrictive measures. To date, Hong Kong has never had an official lockdown, but people take the lead from the government, which asked all civil servants to work from home under two orders. People in Hong Kong are very careful to protect themselves and others, and mask wearing is universally practiced. With one of the highest population densities in the world, Hong Kong has managed to ward off a high level of viral transmission and achieved minimal death.

“When I traveled to London for meetings at the end of January through the middle of February, friends and colleagues were not concerned.They also thought it was odd that there would be runs on basic supplies like toilet paper. We know now how quickly the virus traveled and the devastation it has inflicted on our world, with the highest rates of infection and death in Europe and the United States.

“At my office in Hong Kong, we continue to practice a work- from-home policy. Our U.K. head office went into lockdown. This forced many businesses to operate remotely and digitally. For many of us, it was a continuation of the restrictions we have become accustomed to.

“My proudest moment thus far during this pandemic is how the Columbia community in Greater China and Singapore banded together to raise funding to procure and donate PPE to our frontline medical professionals and essential workers. We raised more than $2.1 million in a matter of weeks, which allowed us to donate masks, respirators, gowns, gloves, eye protectors, hazmat suits and more to Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital and other affiliated hospitals and emergency service providers.

“During my time at Columbia, I was an official University tour guide. The highlight for me was always Low Memorial Library, where I would stop my tour group in front of the Columbia motto. In Latin, it reads: In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lvmen (‘In thy light we shall see light’).

“During these dark times, it is my great hope that the pandemic has shown us how we can be better ourselves and that, united, we shall continue to see the light.”

JILL SANTOPOLO ‘03

PHOTOS COURTESY JILL SANTOPOLO ‘03

Editor and author

“O n March 12, when Penguin Random House (PRH)’s work-from-home policy began, I grabbed my laptop and headed out of New York City, down to Washington, D.C., where my husband works and where we have a second small apartment. I figured we’d be there for a week at the most, until he began to work from home, and then we’d head back to Manhattan. I’m writing this on May 8. We haven’t yet been back. We are grateful to have jobs we can do from home — his in data and analytics, mine as an editor and novelist. But both of us working from home has meant getting creative with our 700-sq.-ft. space. The bedroom is his office, the rest of the apartment, mine, with a desk — actually, a table that formerly held our record player — next to the refrigerator.

Washington DC

COURTESY JILL SANTOPOLO ‘03

“But at the same time, I can’t stop thinking about New York City. I lived there during 9-11, the 2003 blackout, Hurricane Sandy. I feel like I’ve abandoned my city in its time of need. Neoclassical buildings are beautiful, but so are skyscrapers.

“This pandemic might have made me a Washingtonian, but it also made me realize that in my heart I will always be a New Yorker.”

Simon Schwartz ’17

Entrepreneur; founder, Locasaur

“I left New York in mid-March thinking I’d be back in a matter of weeks, and my packing reflected this. As the situation became more clear, I realized I’d be staying here for a while, on my family’s farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Those who know me know I’m not exactly upset by this. I grew up here, alongside a rotating menagerie of horses, chickens, sheep and the occasional goat. There are 10 shades of green in every direction, and I’ve never been more thankful for the wide open, secluded space. “So much of what’s great about New York happens after dark, and waking up early is done at your own peril. When I’m home, however, I’m on ‘farm time.’ Coffee is on and the house is buzzing by 6:00 a.m. My company Locasaur’s daily standup isn’t until 10:00 a.m., so early mornings are usually given to farm tasks and chores. There is a rhythm that you get into living on a farm; days keep churning, things keep needing to get done. A farmer’s mindset is that no matter the day’s challenge, you find a fix.

Tractor

C OURTESY SIMON SCHWARTZ ‘17

“The majority of my day is devoted to re- mote work of the most urgent kind. Locasaur is a relationship app for local businesses and their regulars, and right now local businesses need their regulars more than ever. Every creative solution demanded by the reality of COVID-19 — the bakery now doing road- side pickup, the florist who started delivering, the bartender selling premixed cocktails — starts with a business having a group of core customers who truly care about it. Our goal is to power some of those creative solutions and help these businesses go digital without giving up the ‘personal touch’ that means so much to their survival. The next 12–18 months won’t be easy, but local business owners are uniformly some of the toughest people I know. In many ways they, too, have a farmer’s mindset.”

MARGARET TRAUB ‘88

COURTESY MARGARET TRAUB ‘88

Head of global initiatives, International Medical Corps

“M y work is emergency medical relief, so the pandemic has taken over my daily life in every way. My organization normally works in conflict and disaster zones overseas, but with COVID-19, in addition to responding to the pandemic in 30 countries, we have deployed healthcare workers and supplies on the front-lines here in the United States — at hospitals in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Puerto Rico, so far.

“My days start around 5:30 a.m. — bleary-eyed in bed, scrolling through emails and the latest news. I learned early that if I don’t get into the shower by 6:30 a.m., I wind up chained to Skype and video calls in my PJs (and sometimes a nice blouse) until 5:00 p.m. Yes, that’s happened more times than I’m comfortable admitting.

“In between calls with our teams — mostly about procuring PPE, or moving supplies and clinicians, or raising money — I’m checking in with my family in New York, Utah and Arizona. I have a severely immuno-compromised sister and healthy but 90-ish-year-old parents, so I worry constantly about them and have to resist the urge to go be with them. I frequently text and call friends, including my Columbia pals. And at some point during my days I try to squeeze in a workout — usually to old episodes of 30 Rock. Another important COVID-19 distraction: cooking and baking, which I love.

“My heart breaks every day, thinking of the suffering going on around us. And not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful to be healthy and to have a mostly healthy family and a job that puts a roof over our head and food on our table.

“Thanks to all those heroes out there, putting their lives on the line to serve their fellow humans. Everyone stay safe and healthy!”

Issue Contents

Published three times a year by Columbia College for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends.

Columbia Alumni Center 622 W. 113th St., MC 4530, 4th Fl. New York, NY 10025 212-851-7852 [email protected]

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5 things the pandemic taught me

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

Now officially a year into this pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on what lessons I learned during this ever-challenging time. It felt like every week came with a new batch of trials, changes and forced adaptations in a world of COVID-19.

I for one grew in ways I never imagined I could. I came to understand myself, my career journey and the young professional inside me on a whole new level.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned

1. boundaries are key.

I learned setting healthy boundaries is a crucial form of self-care that is not always easy. I still have to work at it, but now I am trying to set boundaries about how I spend my time and what commitments are achievable for me. I prioritize people and activities that fill my cup.

2. It’s OK to take a step (or four) back

The stress of the pandemic took a toll on our mental health and ability to accomplish our goals. Taking a beat and some distance to evaluate what I can and cannot handle is a big part of finding balance in school, in work and in my personal life.

3. Asking for support is a strength

I had to learn it was okay to ask for support when I needed it and I learned how to ask for it. You can get support from your family, friends, coworkers, supervisor, faculty, advisors and career coaches. They are your support system in times of crisis.

4. Celebrate the little things

Day to day, everything seemed the same for me during this pandemic, so I learned to celebrate the little victories I rarely enjoyed before. Sending an email, letting someone know where I was (emotionally or otherwise), reaching out to a friend, making coffee—all became celebratory moments for me.

5. We are always learning new skills

The pandemic put me in positions where I had to develop skills I rarely used before, such as adaptability. I learned to make the best of the challenges presented and found new ways to connect and collaborate with people.

People say hindsight is in 20/20 vision (pun intended) and that is true of the last year. It gave me a greater perspective on my career path as I evaluated my coping strategies and worked through what was and wasn’t working for me. It gave me a new trajectory, kickstarting Turby Talks and teaching me how to share my voice.

Through it all, I learned more about myself getting closer to the person I want to be. I learned to be a friend, a professional, a student amidst so many new trials and I believe I am better for it.

What did you learn this year?

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Tiny Buddha

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can find a number of helpful coronavirus resources and all related Tiny Buddha articles here .

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.” ~Kitty O’Meara

While this pandemic is turning out to be a very confusing and difficult time for many people, it is undoubtedly giving humanity an incredibly rare opportunity to learn some challenging lessons. I believe these lessons will trigger a much-needed change of perspective for how we do things on this planet and will hopefully enable us to turn over a new leaf.

For so long it felt that we had been living in a way that went against everything that is natural and sacred.

We had been living in a way that neither serves humans nor the natural world, and yet we continued on this path seemingly powerless to stop what we were doing.

It’s as if we were all part of this machine that kept on chugging along, but no one could find the stop button. Well, that stop button has arrived and it’s not like anything we could have ever imagined.

Over the last several weeks we have seen a massive change in our priorities, and the economy has echoed this to a great degree. Sales of food and health products have gone through the roof, while sales of clothes, makeup, cars, etc, (you know, the stuff we don’t really need but think we need to attain some kind of happiness) has plummeted.

In my personal life, I can feel that my priorities have massively shifted due to this pandemic, and it has been eye-opening to see how so much can change in such a short space of time.

I recently found myself looking at pictures I had taken a couple months ago of me and my daughter out and about, and suddenly this strange thought came to my mind: In some way, life will never be the same again.

I think most of us are wondering what the future will hold and how this pandemic will change the way we do things, but I feel there is no way to escape the change in perspective that it will bring.

This is our silver lining, and it will hopefully allow us to look back on this time and feel there were some benefits.

Here are six valuable lessons I think we will learn from this.

1. The power of stillness.

Our lives were put on pause, many were forced to work from home, and we can longer travel unless necessary.

With this, we were given the power of stillness and the opportunity to unapologetically slow down. There is no other situation other than an outbreak of a virus where our world would come to such a pause. This will most likely be an opportunity that we never get again (and ironically, we are all hoping we won’t ever get again).

As such, now more than ever—for those who are still under lockdown—this is the time to go within and be still with yourself. Heal, remove emotional blockages, meditate, and practice yoga. Take this opportunity to do the inner work that you previously had no time for. If ever there was time for personal transformation, it’s now.

And as the lockdowns begin to lift perhaps we will see the value in living a quieter and more peaceful life.

2. Friends and family mean everything.

Probably the most difficult part of this journey for most people is being separated from their friends, family, and maybe even a romantic partner.

I once heard someone say that “connection is something that all humans need, but we are just not very good at it.” Who here feels that maybe they took human interaction for granted before this? I will raise my hand to that.

Connection is something that is so critical for our emotional and mental well-being, yet it something we often take for granted.

After this is over, I think people will reach out to each other like never before and everyone will be so overjoyed to see their loved ones again. And just maybe we might be a little bolder and share our smiles and greetings with those we don’t even know.

3. Nature continues to thrive even if the world has shutdown.

For many during this lockdown, including myself, nature has been a life saver. Whether we spend time in our garden, walk through a park, do gardening, grow food (I grant that not everyone has been able to enjoy these luxuries), or simply poke our head out of our window for some fresh air and sunlight, the serenity of nature has been something we can rely on. While the world stopped, nature remained constant.

Incredible stories have also emerged about wild animals taking over quiet city centers and dolphins returning to waters that they haven’t been spotted in for hundreds of years. Nature never stops, and the sad truth is that less human activity has meant that nature has been able to thrive in a way that most of us haven’t seen in our lifetime.

Yet, maybe seeing nature in full force with all its beauty will prompt us to create new systems where humans and nature can thrive together. I can’t bear to think of losing our new fresh air or the animals that have finally felt safe enough to come closer to us. Perhaps this will be the big wake up call we needed.

Either way, I believe humans will make a renewed relationship with nature and just hopefully this might lead to big environmental change.

4. Material goods mean nothing.

As I have already mentioned, this pandemic has forced us to completely rearrange our priorities, and I can’t help but feel this is a good thing. What good are material things when your health, safety, and access to food are jeopardized? They mean zero at times like this, which I think just helps us put into perspective exactly what we should be prioritizing in our lives.

Since realizing this virus was going to be something that was very serious, I have barely bought anything that isn’t absolutely essential. And of course, this doesn’t mean that I am done with buying beautiful clothes or things to make my life more enjoyable, but it has cast a light on how little I actually need and what truly makes me happy.

5. Our health is gold.

Health is something we so easily take for granted until it is at risk. The possibility of our health taking a downturn has made many of us pay more attention to our nutrition intake and cleanliness. Some of us have even been taking preventative health measures and steps to boost our immune system.

If we have a working body with no serious physical ailments, we should be beyond grateful!

6. Essential workers are heroes.

Every good story needs its hero, and in the story that is playing out on our planet right now, our heroes are of course key workers—healthcare workers, delivery drivers, bus and train drivers, and those who work in the supermarkets and food distribution. These are the people who are keeping everything going and right now risking their health and safety every day to do it.

In the past, so many of these professions were deemed as jobs that require little skill or don’t deserve much pay, but right now there is no saying what we would do without these people.

I hope in the future these professions shall be seen with high esteem, and the soldiers fighting on the frontline will be remembered. If this pandemic is teaching us one thing, it is not to take anyone or anything for granted.

What Will Be the Outcome of All This?

I think everyone is wondering what exactly will come out of this crisis and whether we will really change our ways. Will we learn the lessons or go back to the way we were before—our unhealthy ‘normality’?

This is yet to be seen. However, as individuals we can make our own choices, and it is our individual choice that will make all the difference.

Let us learn from this situation and do what we can to preserve nature, to bring more stillness into our lives, and to never take people or our health and safety for granted again. As always, individual change and transformation will always triumph.

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About Arabella Lumley

Arabella Lumley is the creator and author of  Small Ripples , a blog that inspires individuals to create positive inner change and step into their “Divine Power.” She has also created the “Step Into Your Divine Power” workbook with meditations, ceremonies, and healing protocols to help connect you with your divinity, which you can  download here . Connect with her on  Instagram  for spiritual guidance, affirmations, and more!

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Our most valuable lessons from 2 pandemic years

Andee Tagle

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what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

It's been two years since the world as we knew it was forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic .

We know you probably don't need that reminder, and there are probably a lot of people out there who don't want one.

This essay first appeared in NPR's Life Kit newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus weekly tips that can help make life a little easier.

But if you're reading this, it means you've been through a lot:

Through unemployment and essential work; lockdowns and empty grocery store shelves and social distancing or even isolation; Zoom rooms and tiger kings and sourdough starters and all the sweatpants ; mask mandates and police brutality; a presidential election and an insurrection ; vaccines and boosters and masks off and on and off and on again .

It's been a revolving door of fear and fatigue and anger and uncertainty and suffering and loss . But we've also experienced a surprising amount of joy , and kindness, and new discovery, and delight , even.

Feeling blah? Take a joy break

Mental Health

Feeling blah take a joy break.

All of this to say: it feels all but impossible to qualify two years of pandemic living in any one way, but one thing is certain: we're still here – and we're changed.

The Life Kit team looked back on some of the most valuable lessons from the last two years that can help you look forward. Here are moments that helped change our mindsets and kept us moving through the past two years:

How to let more joy into your life

Producer Janet W. Lee grew to appreciate the small things:

While recent years have made it harder for me to look at the world with a more positive outlook, poet Ross Gay taught me to let more joy into my life . Gay is the author of The Book of Delights , where he shares the practice of calling out the delights in his everyday. This practice of taking a second to say the smell of coffee is lovely or to smile at the sound of my cat purring has brightened up my life.

Laziness does not exist

Managing producer Meghan Keane thanks Dumptruck for finding worth beyond productivity:

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

Dumptruck the chinchilla Devon Price hide caption

Dumptruck the chinchilla

Before the pandemic, I was all about hustle culture: get to work early, leave late, ignore any signs that I might need to slow down. But then a chinchilla named Dumptruck changed everything. We interviewed social psychologist (and owner of Dumptruck) Devon Price about his book Laziness Does Not Exist . Price says he never questions Dumptruck's worth because he lies around all day, but we're extra hard on ourselves when we aren't being productive. He says what we often see as laziness is actually a signal from our bodies to rest – we all still have worth when we are simply breathing on the couch.

Time is the building block of life

Producer Clare Marie Schneider learned the value of time:

Four Thousand Weeks author Oliver Burkeman says he's in recovery from productivity. Now, he thinks of time as a precious resource – the building block of our lives. When we interviewed him, he said, "The sum total of all the things you paid attention to will have been your life." To me, this way of looking at time leaves a little more room to embrace taking out the trash, over and over again, and to move towards what feels most exciting in life.

Finding passion outside of work

Producer Audrey Nguyen shifted her energy to find what she loves outside of her work:

A field guide for fledgling birders

A Field Guide for Fledgling Birders

I've struggled with pouring too much of myself into my work, and not leaving enough gas in the tank for my life outside of the 9-to-5. One of the most useful lessons I learned came from our interview with sociology professor Erin Cech , author of The Trouble With Passion: How Searching For Fulfillment At Work Fosters Inequality . She recommends finding ways to "diversify your meaning-making portfolio." Taking a step back and figuring out how to make room for passion outside of work has been really helpful for my mental health. I've been birding , and I'm currently taking a pottery class with my partner at our local community college!

Find your "resilience circle"

Visual and digital editor Beck Harlan built community in a time of isolation:

The last two years have felt particularly uncertain. That makes it hard to plan, hard to dream and hard to cope. Author Elizabeth White faced some uncertainty of her own during the Great Recession, and she has a piece of advice: don't go it alone. White found support in a "resilience circle" – essentially, "a few people that I could tell the truth to." Having those folks who'll be a sounding board and a cheer squad in your corner, can get you through a lot. It doesn't matter how you connect — Whatsapp, Marco Polo, postcards, a weekly walk — just that you DO.

From all of us to you: we're grateful for the time you've spent with us today and throughout the pandemic. We're still here.

If you liked this excerpt from NPR's Life Kit, consider subscribing to our newsletter to get new tips every week.

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15 Lessons the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Taught Us

What we've learned over the past 12 months could pay off for years to come.

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For the past year, our country has been mired in not one deep crisis but three: a pandemic , an economic meltdown and one of the most fraught political transitions in our history. Interwoven in all three have been challenging issues of racial disparity and fairness. Dealing with all of this has dominated much of our energy, attention and, for many Americans, even our emotions.

But spring is nearly here, and we are, by and large, moving past the worst moments as a nation — which makes it a good time to take a deep breath and assess the changes that have occurred. While no one would be displeased if we could magically erase this whole pandemic experience, it's been the crucible of our lives for a year, and we have much to learn from it — and even much to gain.

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AARP asked dozens of experts to go beyond the headlines and to share the deeper lessons of the past year that have had a particular impact on older Americans. More importantly, we asked them to share how we can use these learnings to make life better for us as we recover and move forward. Here is what they told us.

Lesson 1: Family Matters More Than We Realized

"The indelible image of the older person living alone and having to struggle — we need to change that. You're going to see more older people home-sharing within families and cohousing across communities to avoid future situations of tragedy."

—Marc Freedman, CEO and president of Encore.org and author of  How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations

Norman Rockwell would have needed miles of canvas to portray the American family this past year. You can imagine the titles: The Family That Zooms Together. Generations Under One Roof. Grandkids Outside My Window. The Shared Office . “Beneath the warts and complexities of all that went wrong, we rediscovered the interdependence of generations and how much we need each other,” Freedman says. Among the lessons:

Adult kids are OK. A Pew Research Center survey last summer found that 52 percent of the American population between ages 18 and 29 were living with parents, a figure unmatched since the Great Depression. From February to July 2020, 2.6 million young adults moved back with one or both parents. That's a lot of shared Netflix accounts. It's also a culture shift, says Karen Fingerman, director of the Texas Aging & Longevity Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “After the family dinners together, grandparents filling in for childcare, and the wise economic sense, it's going to be acceptable for adult family members to co-reside,” Fingerman says. “At least for a while.”

What We've Learned From the Pandemic

•  Lesson 1: Family Matters •  Lesson 2: Medical Breakthroughs •  Lesson 3: Self-Care Matters •  Lesson 4: Be Financially Prepared •  Lesson 5: Age Is Just a Number •  Lesson 6: Getting Online for Good •  Lesson 7: Working Anywhere •  Lesson 8: Restoring Trust •  Lesson 9: Gathering Carefully •  Lesson 10: Isolation's Health Toll •  Lesson 11: Getting Outside •  Lesson 12: Wealth Disparities’ Toll •  Lesson 13: Preparing for the Future •  Lesson 14: Tapping Telemedicine •  Lesson 15: Cities Are Changing

Spouses and partners are critical to well-being . “The ones who've done exceptionally well are couples in long-term relationships who felt renewed intimacy and reconnection to each other,” says social psychologist Richard Slatcher, who runs the Close Relationships Laboratory at the University of Georgia.

Difficult caregiving can morph into good-for-all home-sharing.  To get older Americans out of nursing homes and into a loved one's home — a priority that has gained in importance and urgency due to the pandemic — will take more than just a willing child or grandchild. New resources could help, like expanding Medicaid programs to pay family caregivers, such as an adult child, or initiatives like the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, a Medicare-backed benefit currently helping 50,000 “community dwelling” seniors with medical services, home care and transportation.

"A positive piece this year has been the pause to reflect on how we can help people stay in their homes as they age, which is what everyone wants,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP's chief advocacy and engagement officer. “If you're taking care of a parent, grandparent, aging partner or yourself, you see more than ever the need for community and government support, of having technology to communicate with your doctor and of getting paid leave for family caregivers. The pandemic has forced us to think about all these things, and that's very positive.”

Family may be the best medicine of all . “Now we know if you can't hug your 18-month-old granddaughter in person, you can read to her on FaceTime,” says Jane Isay, author of several books about family relationships. “You can send your adult kids snail mail. You can share your life's wisdom even from a distance. These coping skills may be the greatest gifts of COVID” — to an older generation that deeply and rightly fears isolation.

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Lesson 2: We Have Unleashed a Revolution in Medicine

" One of the biggest lessons we've learned from COVID is that the scientific community working together can do some pretty amazing things."

—John Cooke, M.D., medical director of the RNA Therapeutics Program at Houston Methodist Hospital's DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center

In the past it's taken four to 20 years to create conventional vaccines. For the new messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, it was a record-setting 11 months. The process may have changed forever the way drugs are developed.

"Breakthroughs” come after years of research . Supporting the development of the COVID-19 vaccines was more than a decade of research into mRNA vaccines, which teach human cells how to make a protein that triggers a specific immune response. The research had already overcome many challenging hurdles, such as making sure that mRNA wouldn't provoke inflammation in the body, says Lynne E. Maquat, director of the University of Rochester's Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics.

Vaccines may one day treat heart disease and more. In the near future, mRNA technology could lead to better flu vaccines that could be updated quickly as flu viruses mutate with the season, Maquat says, or the development of a “universal” flu shot that might be effective for several years. Drug developers are looking at vaccines for rabies, Zika virus and HIV. “I expect to see the approval of more mRNA-based vaccines in the next several years,” says mRNA researcher Norbert Pardi, a research assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

"We could use mRNA for diseases and conditions that can't be treated with drugs,” Cooke explains.

It may also target our biggest killers . Future mRNA therapies could help regenerate muscle in failing hearts and target the unique genetics of individual cancers with personalized cancer vaccines. “Every case of cancer is unique, with its own genetics,” Cooke says. “Doctors will be able to sequence your tumor and use it to make a vaccine that awakens your immune system to fight it.” Such mRNA vaccines will also prepare us for future pandemics, Maquat says.

In the meantime, use the vaccines we have available. Don't skip recommended conventional vaccines now available to older adults for the flu, pneumonia, shingles and more, Pardi says. The flu vaccine alone, which 1 in 3 older adults skipped in the winter 2019 season, saves up to tens of thousands of lives a year and lowers your risk for hospitalization with the flu by 28 percent and for needing a ventilator to breathe by 46 percent.

Lesson 3: Self Care Is Not Self-Indulgence

"Not only does self-care have positive outcomes for you, but it also sets an example to younger generations as something to establish and maintain for your entire life."

—Richelle Concepcion, clinical psychologist and president of the Asian American Psychological Association

As the virus upended life last spring, America became hibernation nation. Canned, dry and instant soup sales have risen 37 percent since last April. Premium chocolate sales grew by 21 percent in the first six months of the pandemic. The athleisure market that includes sweatpants and yoga wear saw its 2020 U.S. revenue push past an estimated $105 billion.

With 7 in 10 American workers doing their jobs from home, “COVID turned the focus, for all ages, on the small, simple pleasures that soothe and give us meaning,” says Isabel Gillies, author of  Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World.

Why care about self-care? Pampering is vital to well-being — for yourself and for those around you. Activities that once felt indulgent became essential to our health and equilibrium, and that self-care mindset is likely to endure. Whether it is permission to take long bubble baths, tinkering in the backyard “she shed,” enjoying herbal tea or seeing noon come while still in your robe, “being good to yourself offers a necessary reprieve from whatever horrors threaten us from out there,” Gillies says. Being good to yourself is good for others, too. A recent European survey found that 77 percent of British respondents 75 and younger consider it important to take their health into their own hands in order not to burden the health care system.

Nostalgia TV, daytime PJs. It's OK to use comfort as a crutch. Comfort will help us ease back to life. Some companies are already hawking pajamas you can wear in public. Old-fashioned drive-ins and virtual cast reunions for shows like  Taxi, Seinfeld  and  Happy Days  will likely continue as long as the craving is there. (More than half the consumers in a 2020 survey reported finding comfort in revisiting TV and music from their childhood.) Even the iconic “Got Milk?” ads are back, after dairy sales started to show some big upticks.

So, cut yourself some slack. Learn a new skill; adopt a pet; limit your news diet; ask for help if you need it. You've lived long enough to see the value of prioritizing number one. “Not only does self-care have positive outcomes for you,” Concepcion says, “but it also sets an example to younger generations as something to establish and maintain for your entire life."

Lesson 4: Have a Stash Ready for the Next Crisis

"The need to augment our retirement savings system to help people put away emergency savings is crucial."

—J. Mark Iwry, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former senior adviser to the U.S. secretary of the Treasury

Before the pandemic, nearly 4 in 10 households did not have the cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 expense, according to a Federal Reserve report. Then the economic downturn hit. By last October, 52 percent of workers were reporting reduced hours, lower pay, a layoff or other hits to their employment situation. A third had taken a loan or early withdrawal from a retirement plan , or intended to. “Alarm bells were already ringing, but many workers were caught off guard without emergency savings,” says Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of the Transamerica Institute. “The pandemic has laid bare so many weaknesses in our safety net."

Companies can help . One solution could be a workplace innovation that's just beginning to catch on: an employee-sponsored rainy-day savings account funded with payroll deductions. By creating a dedicated pot of savings, the thinking goes, workers are less likely to tap retirement accounts in an emergency. “It's much better from a behavioral standpoint to separate short-term savings from long-term savings,” Iwry says. (AARP has been working to make these accounts easier to create and use and is already offering them to its employees.)

Funding that emergency savings account with automatic payroll deductions is a key to the program's success. “Sometimes you think you don't have the money to save, but if a little is put away for you each pay period, you don't feel the pinch,” Iwry notes.

We're off to a good start . Thanks to quarantines and forced frugality, Americans’ savings rate — the average percentage of people's income left over after taxes and personal spending — skyrocketed last spring, peaking at an unprecedented 33.7 percent. On the decline since then, most recently at 13.7 percent, it's still above the single-digit rates characterizing much of the past 35 years. Where it will ultimately settle is unclear; currently, it's in league with high-saving countries Mexico and Sweden. The real model of thriftiness: China, where, according to the latest available figures, the household savings rate averaged at least 30 percent for 14 years straight.

Lesson 5: The Adage ‘Age Is Just a Number’ Has New Meaning

"This isn't just about the pandemic. Your health is directly related to lifestyle — nutrition, physical activity, a healthy weight and restorative sleep."

—Jacob Mirsky, M.D., primary care physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital Revere HealthCare Center and an instructor at Harvard Medical School

Just a few months ago, researchers at Scotland's University of Glasgow asked a big question: If you're healthy, how much does older age matter for risk of death from COVID? The health records of 470,034 women and men revealed some intriguing answers.

Age accounted for a higher risk, but comorbidities (essentially, having two or more health issues simultaneously) mattered much more. Specifically, risk for a fatal infection was four times higher for healthy people 75 and older than for all participants younger than 65. But if you compared all those 75 and older — including those with chronic health condition s like high blood pressure, obesity or lung problems — that shoved the grim odds up thirteenfold.

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Live healthfully, live long . More insights from the study: A healthy 75-year-old was one-third as likely to die from the coronavirus as a 65-year-old with multiple chronic health issues. The bottom line: Age affects your risk of severe illness with COVID, but you should be far more focused on avoiding chronic health conditions. “Coronavirus highlighted yet another reason it's so important to attend to health factors like poor diet and lack of exercise that cause so much preventable illness and death,” says Massachusetts General's Mirsky. “Lifestyle changes can improve your overall health, which will likely directly reduce your risk of developing severe COVID or dying of COVID."

Exercise remains critical . In May 2020 a British study of 387,109 adults in their 40s through 60s found a 38 percent higher risk for severe COVID in people who avoided physical activity. “Mobility should be considered one of the vital signs of health,” concludes exercise psychologist David Marquez, a professor in the department of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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a remote controlled delivery robot on a sidewalk amongst pedestrians

Lesson 6: We Befriended Technology, and There's No Going Back

"Folks who have tried online banking will stay with it. It won't mean they won't go back to branches, but they might go back for a different purpose."

—Theodora Lau, founder of financial technology consulting firm Unconventional Ventures

Of course, the world has long been going digital . But before the pandemic, standard operating procedure for most older Americans was to buy apples at the grocery, try the shoes on first before buying, have your doctor measure your blood pressure and see that hot new movie at the theater.

Arguably the biggest long-term societal effect of the pandemic will be a grand flipping of the switch that makes the digital solution the first choice of many Americans for handling life's tasks. We still may cling to a few IRL (in real life) experiences, but it is increasingly apparent that easy-to-use modern virtual tools are the new default.

"If nothing else, COVID has shown us how resilient and adaptable humans are as a society when forced to change,” says Joseph Huang, CEO of StartX, a nonprofit that helps tech companies get off the ground. “We've been forced to learn new technologies that, in many cases, have been the only safe way to continue to live our lives and stay connected to our loved ones during the pandemic.”

The tech boom wasn't just video calls and streaming TV. Popular food delivery apps more than doubled their earnings last year. Weddings and memorial services were held over videoconferences (yes, we'll go back to in-person ones but probably with cameras and live feeds now to include remote participants). In the financial sector, PayPal reported that its fastest-growing user group was people over 50; Chase said about half of its new online users were 50-plus. In telehealth, more doctors conducted routine exams via webcam than ever before — and, in response, insurance coverage expanded for these remote appointments. “It quickly became the only way to operate at scale in today's world,” Huang says, “both for us as patients and for the doctors and nurses who treat us. Telemedicine will turn out to be a better and more effective experience in many cases, even after COVID ends."

Tech is for all . To financial technology expert Lau, the tech adoption rate by older people is no surprise. She never believed the myth that older people lack such knowledge. “There's a difference between knowing how to use something versus preferring to use it,” Lau says. “Sometimes we know how, but we prefer face-to-face interaction.” And now those preferences are shifting.

man at his home computer on a telemedicine call

Lesson 7: Work Is Anywhere Now — a Shift That Bodes Well for Older Americans

"One of the major impacts of the new working-from-home focus is that more jobs are becoming non-location-specific."

—Carol Fishman Cohen, cofounder of iRelaunch, which works with employers to create mid-career return-to-work programs for older workers

Necessity is the mother of reinvention : Forced to work remotely since the onset of the pandemic, millions of workers — and their managers — have learned they could be just as productive as they were at the office, thanks to videoconferencing, high-speed internet and other technologies. “This has opened a lot of corporate eyes,” says Steven Allen, professor of economics at North Carolina State University's Poole College of Management. Twitter, outdoor-goods retailer REI and insurer Lincoln Financial Group are a few of the companies that have announced plans to shift toward more remote work on a permanent basis.

Face-lift your Face-Time . Yes, many workers are tied to a location: We will always need nurses, police, roofers, machine operators, farmers and countless other workers to show up. But if you are among the people who are now able to work remotely, you may be able to live in a less expensive area than where your employer is based — or work right away from the home you were planning to retire to later on, Cohen says. As remote hiring takes hold, how you project yourself on-screen becomes more of a factor. “This puts more pressure on you to make sure you show up well in a virtual setting,” Cohen notes. And don't assume being comfortable with Zoom is a feather in your cap; mentioning it is akin to listing “proficient in Microsoft Word” on your résumé.

Self-employed workers have suffered during the pandemic — nearly two-thirds report being hurt financially, according to the “State of Independence in America 2020” report from MBO Partners — but remote work could fuel their comeback. Before the pandemic, notes Steve King, partner at Emergent Research, businesses with a high percentage of remote workers used a high percentage of independent contractors. “Now that companies are used to workers not being as strongly attached physically to a workplace, they'll be more amenable to hiring independent workers,” he says.

Travel less, stay longer . Tired of sitting in traffic to and from work? Can't stand flying across country for a single meeting? Ridding yourself of these hassles with an internet connection and Zoom calls may be the incentive you need to work longer. People often quit jobs because of little frustrations, Allen says. But now, he adds, “the things that wear you down may be going by the wayside."

Ageism remains a threat . Older workers — who before the coronavirus enjoyed lower unemployment rates than mid-career workers — have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. In December, 45.5 percent of unemployed workers 55 and older had been out of work for 27 weeks or more, compared with 35.1 percent of younger job seekers. Some employers, according to reports this fall, are replacing laid-off older workers with younger, lower-cost ones, instead of recalling those older employees. Psychological studies, Allen says, indicate that older workers have better communication and interpersonal skills — both of which are critical for successful remote work. But whether those strengths can offset age discrimination in the workplace is unknown.

Lesson 8: Our Trust in One Another Has Frayed, but It Can Be Slowly Restored

"Truth matters, but it requires messaging and patience.”

—Historian John M. Barry, author of  The Great Influenza

Even before our views perforated along lines dotted by pandemic politics, race, class and whether Bill Gates is trying to save us or track us, we were losing faith in society. In 1997, 64 percent of Americans put a “very great or good deal of trust” in the political competence of their fellow citizens; today only a third of us feel that way. A 2019 Pew survey found that the majority of Americans say most people can't be trusted. It's even tougher to trust in the future. Only 13 percent of millennials say America is the greatest country in the world, compared with 45 percent of members of the silent generation. No wonder that by June of last year, “national pride” was lower than at any point since Gallup began measuring. To trust again:

As life returns, look beyond your familiar pod. “Distrust breeds distrust, but hope isn't lost for finding common ground, especially for older people,” says Encore.org's Freedman. “Even in the era of ‘OK, boomer’ and ‘OK, millennial’ — memes that dismiss entire generations with an eye roll — divides are bridgeable with what Freedman calls “proximity and purpose.” Rebuilding trust together, across generations, under shared priorities and common humanity.” He points to pandemic efforts like Good Neighbors from the home-sharing platform Nesterly, which pairs older and younger people to provide cross-generational support, and UCLA's Generation Xchange, which connects Gen X mentors with children in grades K-3 in South Los Angeles, where educational achievement is notoriously poor. “Engaging with people for a common goal makes you trust them,” he says.

Be patient but verify facts. History also provides a guide. In the wake of the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed between 50 million and 100 million people, trust in authority withered after local and national government officials played down the disease's threats in order to maintain wartime morale. Historian Barry points out that the head of the Army's’ division of communicable diseases was so worried about the collective failure of trust that he warned that “civilization could easily disappear ... from the face of the earth.” It didn't then, and it won't now, Barry says.

Verify facts and then decide. Check reliable, balanced news sources (such as Reuters and the Associated Press) and unbiased fact-checking sites (such as PolitiFact) before clamping down on an opinion.

Perhaps most important, be open to changing conditions and viewpoints. “As we see vaccines and therapeutic drugs slowly gain widespread success in fighting this virus, I think we'll start to overcome some of our siloed ways of thinking and find relief — together as one — that this public health menace is ending,” Barry adds. “We have to put our faith in other people to get through this together.”

aerial photo of people in a grassy park staying within social distancing circles painted on the grass

Lesson 9: The Crowds Will Return, but We'll Gather Carefully

"Masks and sanitizers will be part of the norm for years, the way airport and transportation security measures are still in place from 9/11."

— Christopher McKnight Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University and founder of the Citizenship and Crisis Initiative

The COVID-19 pandemic won't end with bells tolling or a ticker-tape parade . Instead, we'll slowly, cautiously ease back to familiar activities. For all our fears of the coronavirus, many of us can't wait to resume a public life: When 1,000 people 65 and older were asked which pursuits they were most eager to start anew post-pandemic, 78 percent said going out to dinner, 76 percent picked getting together with family and friends, 71 percent chose travel, and 30 percent cited going to the movies.

Seeing art , attending concerts, cheering in a stadium — even going to class reunions we might have once dreaded — we'll do them again. But how will we return to feeling comfortable in groups of tens, hundreds and thousands? And will these gatherings be different? How we come together:

Don't expect the same old, same old . Just as the rationing, isolation and economic crisis caused by World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic “led to a kind of awakening of how we assembled,” Nichols says, expect COVID to shake up the nature and personality of our public spaces. Back in the 1920s, it was the rise of jazz clubs, organized athletics, fraternal organizations and the golden age of the movie cinema. As the pandemic subsides, we'll probably see more temperature-controlled outdoor event and dining spaces, more pedestrian and bicycling options, more city parks and more hybrid events that give you the option to attend virtually.

Retrain your brain . Psychologists say the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy can help people at any age regain the certainty and confidence they need to venture into the public space post-pandemic. “Visualizing good outcomes and repeating a stated goal can help overcome whatever obstacles are holding you back,” says Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University, who suggests making an “if-then plan” to reacclimate to public life. If eating indoors at a restaurant is too agitating, even if you've been vaccinated, then try a table outside first. If a bucket-list family vacation to Italy feels too daunting, then book a stateside trip together first. “There's always an alternative if something stands in the way of you fulfilling your wish,” she says. “Eventually, you'll get there.”

Lesson 10: Loneliness Hurts Health More Than We Thought

"What we've learned from COVID is that isolation is everyone's problem. It doesn't just happen to older adults; it happens to us all."

— Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University

How deadly is the condition of loneliness? During the first five months of the pandemic, nursing home lockdowns intended to safeguard older and vulnerable adults with dementia contributed to the deaths of an additional 13,200 people compared with previous years, according to a shocking  Washington Post  investigation published last September. “People with dementia are dying,” the article notes, “not just from the virus but from the very strategy of isolation that's supposed to protect them.”

Isolation may be the new normal . Fifty-six percent of adults age 50-plus said they felt isolated in June 2020, double the number who felt lonely in 2018, a University of Michigan poll found. Rates of psychological distress rose for all adults as the pandemic deepened — increasing sixfold for young adults and quadrupling for those ages 30 to 54, according to a Johns Hopkins University survey published in  JAMA  in June. And it's hard to tell whether the workplace culture many of us relied on for social support will fully return anytime soon.

Those 50-plus have a leg up. “Older adults with higher levels of empathy, compassion, decisiveness and self-reflection score lowest for loneliness,” says Dilip Jeste, M.D., director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego. “Research shows that many older adults have handled COVID psychologically better than younger adults. With age comes experience and wisdom. You've lived through difficult times before and survived.”

Help yourself by helping others. Jeste says that when older adults share their wisdom with younger people, everyone benefits. “Young people are reassured about the future,” he adds. “Older adults feel even more confident. They're role models. Their contributions matter."

a couple poses for a photograph at a scenic overlook at yosemite national park in california

Lesson 11: When Your World Gets Small, Nature Lets Us Live Large

"For older people in particular, nature provided a way to shake off the weight and hardships associated with stay-at-home orders, of social isolation and of the stress of being the most vulnerable population in the pandemic."

— Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington

One silver lining to COVID-19's dark cloud : Clouds themselves became more familiar to all of us. So did birds, trees, bees, shooting stars and window gardens. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans have a new appreciation for nature because of the pandemic, according to one survey that also found three-quarters of respondents reported a boost in their mood while spending time outside.

By nearly every measure, the planet got more love during COVI D. And wouldn't it be nice if that continued going forward? The ins and outs on our new outdoor life:

Move somewhere greener (or at least move around more outside). How you access nature is up to you, but consider the options. Nearly a third of Americans were considering moving to less populated areas, according to a Harris Poll taken last year during the pandemic. Walking, running and hiking became national pastimes. One day last September, Boston's BlueBikes bike-share system saw its highest-ever single-day ridership, with 14,400 trips recorded. Stargazers and bird-watchers helped push binocular sales up 22 percent.

Once known mainly as a retirement activity, pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in America, with almost 3.5 million U.S. players of all ages participating in the contact-free outdoor net game designed for players of any athletic ability. The return of the pandemic “victory garden” reflects research that finds 79 percent of patients feel more relaxed and calm after spending time in a garden.

Make the city less gritty . The University of Washington's Wolf thinks that our collective nature kick will go beyond a run on backyard petunias. Her research brief on the benefits of nearby nature in cities for older adults suggests we may rethink the design of neighborhood environments to facilitate older people's outdoor activities. That means more places to sit, more green spaces associated with the health status of older people, safer routes and paths, and more allotment for community gardens. “It's impossible to overestimate the value these outdoor spaces have on reducing stressful life events, improving working memory and adding meaning and happiness in older people's lives,” Wolf says.

If you can't get out, bring nature in . Even video and sounds of nature can provide health gains to those shut indoors, says Marc Berman of the University of Chicago's Environmental Neuroscience Lab. “Listening to recordings of crickets chirping or waves crashing improved how our subjects performed on cognitive tests,” he says.

Above all, the environment is in your hands, so take action to protect it . “We've seen a lot of older folks stepping up their activity in trail conservation, stream cleaning, being forest guides and things like that this year, which indicates a shift in how that age group interacts with nature,” says Cornell University gerontologist Karl Pillemer.

"There's an old saw that older people care less than younger people about the environment. But given this year's nature boom, I'm expecting that to change. As the generation that gave birth to the environmental movement enters retirement, we're likely to see a wave of interest in conservation among those 60 and up."

Lesson 12: You Can Hope for Stability — but Best Be Prepared for the Opposite

"COVID-19, perhaps more than any other disaster, demonstrated that we need to continue ensuring response plans are flexible and scalable. You can't predict exactly what a disaster will bring, but if you know what tools you have in your tool kit, you can pull out the right one you need when you need it."

— Linda Mastandrea, director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

The pandemic was among the toughest slap-in-the-face moments in recent history to remind us that everything —  everything  — in our lives can change in a moment. While older Americans may have a deep-seated desire for stability and security after all it took to get to an advanced age, we certainly cannot bank on it. Which is why the word of the year, and perhaps the coming century, is “resilience.” Not just at the individual level but at every social tier, from family to community to the nation as a whole.

Banish fear . “We don't have to live in fear” of some looming disaster, says former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden, now president and CEO of global public health initiative Resolve to Save Lives. “By strengthening our defenses and investing in preparedness, we can live easier knowing that communities have what they need to better respond in moments of crisis."

Preparation must start at the top . For government, that means a new commitment to plans that allow, not so much for stockpiles but for the ability to ramp up production of crucial equipment when needed. “We need increased, sustained, predictable base funding for public health security defense programs that prevent, detect and respond to outbreaks such as COVID-19 or pandemic influenza,” Frieden says.

Being creative and even entrepreneurial helps , says Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Earth Institute. Warehouses full of masks could have helped us initially, he says, but stockpiles of equipment aren't the answer on their own. In a free market there is pressure to sell off surpluses, so he suggests we reimagine our manufacturing capacities for times of emergency. When whiskey distillers stepped up to make hand sanitizer, and auto manufacturers switched gears to build ventilators, we saw “glimmers of solutions,” Schlegelmilch says, the sort of responses we may need to tee up in the future.

Focus on health care . Prime among the areas that need to be addressed, crisis management consultant Luiz Hargreaves says, are overwhelmed health care systems. “They were living a disaster before the pandemic. When the pandemic came, it was a catastrophe.” But Hargreaves hopes we will use this wake-up call to produce new solutions, rather than to return to old ways. “Extraordinary times,” he says, “call for extraordinary measures."

Lesson 13: Wealth Inequality Is Growing, and It Affects Us All

"It's outrageous that somebody could work full-time and not even be able to pay rent, let alone food and clothing. There's a recognition that there's a problem on both the left and right. "

— Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize–winning economist, Columbia University professor and author of  The Price of Inequality

"The data is pretty dramatic,” says Stiglitz, one of America's most-esteemed economists. Government economists estimate that unemployment rates in this pandemic are less than 5 percent for the highest earners but as high as 20 percent for the lowest-paid ones. “People at the bottom have disproportionately experienced the disease, and those at the bottom have lost jobs in enormous disproportion, too."

As white-collar professionals work from home and stay socially distant, frontline workers in government, transportation and health care — as well as retail, dining and other service sectors — face far greater health risks and unemployment. “We try to minimize interactions as we try to protect ourselves,” he says, “yet we realize that minimizing those interactions is also taking away jobs.” The disparate effects of the pandemic are particularly evident along racial lines, points out Jean Accius, AARP senior vice president for global thought leadership. “Job losses have hit communities of color disproportionately,” he says. And there's a health gap, too, with people of color — who have a greater likelihood than white Americans to be frontline workers — experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalizations and mortality, and lower rates of vaccinations. “What we're seeing is a double whammy for communities of color,” Accius says. “It is hitting them in their wallets. And it's hitting them with regard to their health."

Those economic and health crises, along with protests over racial injustice over the past year, says Accius, “have really sparked major conversations around what do we need to do in order to advance equity in this country."

A rising gap between rich and poor in any society, Stiglitz argues, increases economic instability, reduces opportunities and results in less investment in public goods such as education and public transportation. But the country appears primed to make some changes that could help narrow the wealth gap, he says. Among them are President Biden's proposals to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, increase the earned income tax credit for low-income workers and provide paid sick leave. Stiglitz also proposes raising taxes on gains from sales of stocks and other securities not held in retirement accounts. “The notion that people who work for a living shouldn't pay higher taxes than those who speculate for a living seems not to be a hard idea to get across,” Stiglitz says.

"Many people continue to say, ‘It's time for us to get back to normal,'” Accius says. “Well, going back to normal means that we're in a society where those that have the least continue to be impacted the most — a society where older adults are marginalized and communities of color are devalued. We have to be honest with what we are going through as a collective nation. And then we have to be bold and courageous, to really build a society where race and other social demographic factors do not determine your ability to live a longer, healthier and more productive life.”

Who Owns America's Wealth?

For some, hard times bring opportunity.

Want a positive reminder of the American way? When the going got tough this past summer, many people responded by planning a new business. In the second half of 2020, there was a 40 percent jump over the prior year's figures in applications to form businesses highly likely to hire employees, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Significantly, no such spike occurred during the Great Recession, points out Alexander Bartik, assistant professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “That's cause for some optimism — that there are people who are trying to start new things,” he says. One possible reason this time is different: Unlike during that recession, the stock market and home values have held on, and those sources of personal wealth are often what people draw upon to fund small-business start-ups.

High-propensity* Business Applications in the U.S.

*Businesses likely to have employees

the number of applications to form businesses likely to hire employees greatly increased during the pandemic

Lesson 14: The Benefits of Telemedicine Have Become Indisputable

"The processes we developed to avoid face-to-face care have transformed the way we approach diabetes care management.”

— John P. Martin, M.D., codirector of Diabetes Complete Care for Kaiser Permanente Southern California

If there was ever any truth to the stereotype of the older person whose life revolved around a constant calendar of in-person doctor appointments, it's certainly been tossed out the window this past year due to the strains of the pandemic on our health care system. The timing was fortuitous in one way: Telemedicine was ready for prime time and has proved to be a godsend, particularly for those with chronic health conditions.

Say goodbye to routine doctor visits . Patients who sign up for remote blood sugar monitoring at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California use Bluetooth-enabled meters to transmit results via a smartphone app directly to their health records. “ Remote monitoring allows us to recognize early when there should be adjustments to treatment,” Martin says.

We need to push for more access . The pandemic underlines the need for more home-based medical help with chronic conditions. But that takes both willingness and a lot of gear, such as Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure monitors and, on the doctor side, systems to store and analyze the data. “People need access to the equipment, and health care systems have to be ready to handle all that data,” says Mirsky of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Group doctor visits may be a way forward . Mirsky is conducting virtual group visits and remote monitoring of blood sugar for his patients with type 2 diabetes. “Instead of having a few minutes with each person to talk about important issues — like blood sugar testing, diet and exercise — we get an hour or more to go over it,” he says. “At every meeting somebody in the group has a great tip I've never heard of, like a new YouTube exercise channel or fitness app. There's group support, too. I see group visits like this continuing into the future, becoming part of routine chronic disease care for all patients who want it."

Bottom line: The doctor is in (your house) . Managing chronic health conditions like diabetes “can't just be about getting in your car and driving to your doctor's office,” Martin says. Taking care of your health conditions yourself is the path forward.

Lesson 15: Our Cities Won't Ever Be the Same

"This is obviously a very big watershed moment in how we live, how we organize our cities and our communities. There are going to be long-lasting changes."

— Chris Jones, chief planner at Regional Plan Association, a New York–based urban planning organization

"When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go downtown,” Petula Clark sang in her 1964 chart-topping ode to city life. Well, things change. Suddenly, crowds are the enemy, public buses and subways a health risk, packed office towers out of favor, and a roomy suburban home seems just where you want to be. But don't write off downtowns just yet.

The office and business district will look different. Many workers have little interest in returning to a 9-to-5 life. For those who do make the commute, they may find cubicles replaced with more flexible work spaces focused on common areas, with ample outdoor seating space for meetings and working lunches. And some now-empty offices will likely be converted into apartments and condos, making downtowns more vibrant. “Now you have an opportunity to remake a central business district into an actual neighborhood,” says Richard Florida, author of  The Rise of the Creative Class  and a cofounder of  CityLab,  an online publication about urbanism.

Public spaces will serve more of the public. Those areas set up for outdoor restaurant dining — some of those will likely remain. Streets and parking lots have been turned into plazas and promenades. Many cities have already opened miles of bike lanes; in 2020, Americans bought bikes, including electric bikes, in record numbers. “This idea of social space, where you can get outside and enjoy that active public realm, is going to become increasingly important,” says Lynn Richards, the president and CEO of Congress for the New Urbanism, which champions walkable cities.

Contributors to this report: Sari Harrar, David Hochman, Ronda Kaysen, Lexi Pandell, Jessica Ravitz and Ellen Stark

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Coronavirus: What students have learned living in pandemic: Student Voices winners

As students settle into their new routines, the appreciation for many things taken for granted becomes more evident. The once dreaded chore of walking your dog or countless complaints of hectic school schedule are now simply not that bad. The freedom to leave your home and spend time with friends is replaced with face masks,  social  distancing rules and sheltering in place.

In this month's Asbury Park Press Student Voices Essay and Video contest, we posed the question: What is the most important lesson you learned from having to live through the coronavirus pandemic?

Below are the winning essays and videos for May in the Asbury Park Press Student Voices contest.

First place winner: Grades 7-8

Simple Strolls

When everything was normal in my life, I failed to appreciate the little things in my life. For example, going on walks with my dog was like a chore without pay. To me, it was forced labor. My dog would tug on the leash, and I would try to stand my ground as we awkwardly avoided what seemed like thousands of happy walkers with their barking dogs. People would walk past us, and we would exchange smiles, but it was very boring because I knew there was something they didn't. There is a better way to use my time, I would think: studying, doing homework, exercising, etc. However, once COVID-19, the virus that changed life as we all know it entered the scene like an unwanted guest,  I was exposed to another perspective…

7:00 AM Thursday / Day Three of Distance Learning

“Chloe,” my mom yelled, “Hurry, we have to walk the dog before breakfast!”

“Coming,” I replied while I trudged down the stairs. As we walked out the door, I noticed the tension in the air.

Every walker was avoiding everyone else by staying six feet away. No smiles were exchanged. (And even if there were, who would know, they were covered by masks.)

My dog frolicked along like a bad deer impersonator while my mom and I lumbered down the streets. The fog made the walk more depressing. At the end of the walk, while we slumped down my driveway towards the back door, I began to miss the walks that I once hated. 

Walking may not seem like much to you, but the coronavirus has taught me to enjoy the little things in life. Before, typical walks with my dog were a bore, but once the luxury was taken away, I began to miss the most boring part of my average day. Luckily, everyone is staying safe. However, when everything returns to normal, I will never take for granted the fun strolls with my dog. I will enjoy the tiny part of my average day.

Chloe LaForge

Spring Lake Heights Elementary School

Teacher: Nicole Kirk

First place video winner: 

First place winner: grades 9-12.

Hot Air Balloon

My room is filled with the carnage of apathy. Three empty water bottles slump underneath my dresser. My drawers are neat for once because I’ve been wearing only pajama pants and the same two shirts the entire quarantine. My alarm clock is the only thing that resembles normality, and even that is different. Before this pandemic, I had never used the snooze button. Now, I use it every day.

I’ve always prided myself on being hardworking and capable. If only I had more time, was how my theme song went. More time to cook, more time to read, more time to have the fun you need, my brain would croon to itself. Now I have endless hours to fill with whatever I please. And yes, I’ve cooked meals for my family and finished five books during the quarantine, but I haven’t been having fun. I do these things because I feel like I would be nothing if I didn’t, like I would be incomplete. Because I’m hardworking and capable, but ever since this pandemic I’ve wanted to do nothing but sleep.

During quarantine, I’ve realized that I’m a hot air balloon, filled with hopeful gusts and shiny blue ideas. I need a tether to keep me from soaring away through the clouds to the beckoning land of nostalgic poetry and YouTube videos about eighteenth-century European monarchs. That tether is studying with my friends, visiting a teacher during my lunch break, practicing for the spring musical so late that I have no choice but to get my homework done right after school. I miss feeling like I have something important to do and goals to achieve. Schools everywhere are adjusting to our “new normal” with standardized testing scores waived and school days reduced to only a few video chats. I feel like someone ripped a hole in me. My hot air balloon is getting battered by the waves of uncertainty, and it feels like only a matter of time before it sinks into the thick grayish water.

If I’ve learned anything during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that I need the hectic normality of my everyday life. I need my friends and my teachers and those homework assignments that never seem to end. Because without them, I don’t remember how to fly.

Kimberly Koscinski

Point Pleasant Borough High School 

Teacher: Shannon Orosz

Second place winner: Grades 7-8 

Use Your Time Wisely 

2020 has been a rollercoaster of events, emotions and some unpleasant surprises. This pandemic has deprived us of many things we took for granted, such as leaving your house or meeting your friends. It shut down businesses and schools, and it made the busiest cities standstill for the first time. During this pandemic, I learned that we should never take what privileges and opportunities we have for granted; and also to enjoy the little things that life has to offer, such as spending time with friends or going out with your family.

Before the pandemic, back in 2019, I used to take for granted my ability to go to school, to get out of my house, and do things on my own. There were countless times when I could have spent more time with friends and family, but instead, I chose to hide away in my room. Sometimes I wish I had gone out more, that I had enjoyed my free time better rather than just looking at a phone screen. It's an understatement to say that school is underrated. We never take time to appreciate how school affects our lives, and how the teachers and classmates influence us. I indeed enjoy having my own time to do work. However, nothing will ever compare to going to a classroom to learn, and having a teacher explain the topic in detail.

I am happy that I've gotten more time to spend with my family. I'm connecting with them more than I had ever before since it was rare for all of us to spend time together. I've also learned some things about myself; there are some things I'm not proud of, but I'm happy I got to know what they were. Now, I can improve myself and my character to be a better person. 

This pandemic certainly feels like the end of the world. Still, I know that if everyone follows instructions and stays quarantined, we will be able to overcome it. We don't know what the future has to bring, but hopefully, it will be better than what has already happened. I think it's important to understand that despite having a fortune, money could never buy time, so don't waste it.

Maria Reyes-Hernandez

G Harold Antrim Elementary School 

Teacher: Stephanie Woit

Second place video winner: 

Second place winner: grades 9-12.

Lessons In Quarantine

It's quite a strange thing to think about, honestly. Everyday we always consider what we could really do if we had just one more hour of time on our hands. What we could achieve with an extra day of personal work. Yet, in a time like today when we have been suddenly thrust into having so much free time stuck at home, we realize just how much of that time we actually had and how much of it we took for granted. If there was anything I learned from my newly awarded hours of contemplation during quarantine, it's this: we should never take our time for granted. Start that personal project you’ve been wanting to head off. Go out on that weekend evening and let yourself unwind. Step back from those obscene work hours and take some time for other things. 

Let me paint you a picture. Throw away the quarantine for a second and place yourself in the shoes of what we used to know as normalcy. It's a school night, you’ve got a test in a couple of days and, honestly, you know you’re a shoe in for at the very least a B+. Dinner is being cooked in the kitchen a few doors down from your room, and right as you just settled into bed for a nightly study session, you get a text. Your friend wants you to go party with them tomorrow night. You freeze up for a moment. While parties have never been your scene, you have some small spike in confidence and almost type out a response. However, that burst quickly subsides, and you decline. After all, there'll be plenty more parties and plenty more chances to go out, right? Well, while that might be true, it's a mindset that sets us up countless missed opportunities. Take that decision, and now put it into perspective. 

What if that was the last chance you had to ever see your friends in person again? What if that was your last chance to get some time out of your house for two, three, four months? With all that in mind, would you still stay behind? Time is fixed. We only have a certain amount of time, ever, making it just as precious as life itself, something we should seldom take for granted.

Gregory Rivera

Point Pleasant Borough High School

Teacher: Mrs. Orosz

Third place winner: Grades 7-8

The Little Things

The sound of a bell. A noisy hallway. Twenty-two of your peers fills the empty desks. Six incredible teachers, you see throughout the course of your day. It is almost hard to even imagine how a routine so basic can change in an instant. Now no bell. No one surrounds you. You see your favorite teachers through webcams and videos. Your fingers ache from clicking on the keys and you get a headache from the pixels on your screen. After eight long hours of work, all you want to do is see your friend, be able to hug your family and be with the people who matter most. Apparently, that seems like a lot to ask for.

Over these past two months of being stuck inside our homes, we have come to appreciate many things that we take for granted in this world. Now everyone is thinking the same thing, “When can I leave the house”, or, “Is this ever going to be over.” The truth is, it will be over someday. We will all be able to be together again like we used to. There’s no reason for complaining about being in your own home with the people who love you. I have learned to appreciate the little things in life. Because when we can finally go to stores, and eat at our favorite restaurants, you will have a new respect for all the little things that surround you.

Wherever you go on social media, or out on a run, you see these people who completely ignore the rules of doctors and the government who are ultimately trying to keep us safe. I would have never thought that two words could have such an impact on people. Stay home. It is maybe the simplest task that any one person could carry out. But it seems so impossible to people. Stay home with the people who love you. Be with the people who matter. You can go without a haircut or a trip to the gym. Enjoy the little things. An afternoon walk with your dog, or a running workout. The little things. Those are what matters most.

Brady Durkac

Memorial Middle School

Teacher: Lynn Thompson

Third place video winner:

Third place winners: grades 9-12.

Take control

What is the most important lesson you learned from having to live through the coronavirus pandemic?

The most important lesson I have learned from having to live through the coronavirus pandemic is that not everything goes your way. But no matter what’s happening, you must take control of the situation. That means get your work done, deal with what’s being thrown at you in these times, make the most out of it, and never lose your motivation. I find it helpful to invest as much energy as I can into each new day because once this is all over, I don’t want to look back on what I did during quarantine and regret it. 

At the beginning of quarantine, I was miserable, sluggish, bored out of my mind, and sad. I still made the time to deal with the hectic load of work that was thrown my way while also finding the time to enjoy myself by doing what I want. I started working out, making music, editing videos, and watching new shows. I have learned to dedicate the beginning of each day to being productive, getting work done, doing chores, laundry, and cleaning the house, etc. By the end of the night, I am chilling and doing whatever I’m in the mood to do.

 For the time being, I’m gonna keep doing what I can. I’m just waiting till I can be back with the boys and enjoy the last bit of the time I have before college begins. I don’t know what new things each day is going to bring me. But if this pandemic taught me anything it’s to do what I can, and to focus on the things that are in my control.

Rodney Wotton

Christian Brothers Academy

Teacher: Despina Manatos

Honorable Mention Winners

Logan Mesh, Grade 7, Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School, Teacher: Cassandra Capadona

Maddie Scalabrini, Grade 8, Memorial Middle School, Teacher: Lynn Thompson

Tatum Serett, Grade 8, The Seashore School, Teacher: Sharon Villapiano 

Reese Willis, Grade 8, Manasquan Elementary School, Teacher: Andrea Trischitta

Brian Stefanski, Grade 12, Christian Brothers Academy, Teacher: Despina Manatos

Chris Coleman, Grade 12, Christian Brothers Academy, Teacher: Despina Manatos

Grades 9-12

Sydney Cole, Grade 11, Point Pleasant Borough High School, Teacher: Susan Kuper

Anna Roth, Grade 9, Lacey Township High School, Teacher: Sandy Laird

Sarah Caldes, Grade 11, Point Pleasant Borough High School, Teacher: Susan Kuper

3 lessons about what really matters in life, learned in the pandemic

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what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

The last year has been like no other.

Since March 2020, every person on the planet has had their life shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way. In the midst of the hardship and challenges, there’s been the sense among many people that this period has helped us evaluate our lives and focus on what’s truly important.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ve learned something from this moment.

In response to the pandemic, StoryCorps — a nonprofit dedicated to recording the largest collection of human stories and winner of the 2015 TED Prize — created StoryCorps Connect , a new tool to bring together loved ones via video conferencing and record the audio of their conversations.

Below are excerpts from a handful of the thousands of interviews recorded in recent months through StoryCorps Connect.

Lesson #1: The pandemic has helped us find deeper meaning in our work

Two mail carriers see the value in every delivery they make

Before getting a job as a mail carrier in Palm Beach, Florida, Evette Jourdain was going through a hard time — she’d lost her father, her brother and then her home. Finding reliable work helped tremendously, but then came COVID-19.

As Jourdain talked to her coworker , fellow postal worker Craig Boddie, she shared how she was feeling. “My anxiety levels are always on 10,” she says. “I pray on my way to work, I pray on my lunch break, I pray when I’m at the box. What keeps me going is just the fact that I need to keep going.”

Boddie agreed. His wife has autoimmune disease, and as he puts it, “Every day I wake up and wonder, ‘Is this the day that COVID-19 is gonna come home with me?’”

But he also knows that his work is more important than ever, and he thinks about how each package he carries contains something to keep people afloat in some way. “We’re like a lifeline — getting these people their medicines, their supplies.”

A health care provider gains inspiration from a classic novel 

Josh Belser and Sam Dow are good friends who grew up in Tampa, Florida, and who now both work in healthcare 400 miles apart — Belser as a nurse in Syracuse, New York, and Dow as a health technician in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

And with COVID-19, they’ve both found themselves on the frontlines. “My floor was one of the first that was converted to strictly dealing with COVID patients. Our jobs changed like overnight,” says Dow in their StoryCorps conversation. “There was no dress rehearsal — the numbers started to go up and it was show time.”

So how did they get through? Dow tells his friend he found some inspiration in Albert Camus’s classic novel The Plague . “It’s about an epidemic, and the main character was a doctor,” he explains. “And he says the way to get through something like this is to be a decent person. Somebody asks him, ‘What makes a decent person?’ He says, ‘I don’t know but, for me, it’s just doing my job the best way I can.’”

Dow says he’s tried to do exactly that. “Hopefully I made a difference in people’s lives.”

Lesson #2: Family rhythms have shifted, but our ties are as important as ever

A grandmother takes strength from her ancestors

Like so many other people, COVID-19 took Jackie Stockton by surprise. One day, she was at her church in Long Beach Island, New Jersey, celebrating her 90th birthday — and the next thing she knew, she was in the hospital. What’s more, she was part of a community cluster, and five members of the church eventually died from the virus, including Stockton’s best friend as well as her son-in-law.

Stockton spoke to her daughter , Alice Stockton-Rossini, about these losses. She says, “I remember 9/11 as though it just happened, but then it was over. This will never, ever be over.”

As a way to cope, she finds herself thinking of her great-grandmother. “She lost half of her children. She lived through the worst kind of hell,” she recalls. “She was an amazing woman, and so was her husband. They just did the things they needed to do. And they survived.”

The pandemic brings together a mother and daughter

In 2005, attorney Chalana McFarland of Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted of mortgage fraud and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The judge hoped this harsh sentence would deter others from similar crimes, but it had severe consequences for McFarland’s 4-year-old daughter, Nia Cosby.

In 2020, with the onset of COVID-19, McFarland was transferred to home confinement. Upon being released, the first person she saw was her now college-age daughter. In a candid conversation during their first weekend together in 15 years, Nia describes their reunion as “one of the best moments of my life.”

McFarland agrees. “When I left, you were driving a Barbie car, and now you’re flexin’ in the Honda Accord,” she says. “We’ve had a relationship over the years, but it’s like pieces of a puzzle that we’re just now putting together. I can’t wait for you to discover how much alike we really are, because you haven’t really gotten to know who I am. But I see so much of me in you. Out of all the things that I’ve done in my life, you are the absolute one thing that I got right.”

A canceled reunion highlights the power of family stories

The Quander family has a long history in the US. Its matriarch, Nancy Carter, was one of 123 enslaved people owned by George Washington, and she was freed in his will. She later married Charles Quander, and in 1926, their descendents held the first Quander family reunion.

It took place every year since 1926 — until now.

“This one would have been the 95th reunion,” Rohulamin Quander, 76, tells his 18-year-old cousin , Alicia Argrett.

In lieu of gathering in person, Argrett asks him: “What would you like to pass on to me?” His reply: “That you are the keeper of the stories.”

Argrett appreciates his call to take this responsibility seriously. “As we’ve seen this year, you never know when your last [family reunion] could be,” she says. “I think it’s important to capture those opportunities while you still have them in your grasp. And I’m going to do what I can on my end to keep the spirit of the family alive.”

Lesson #3: Small gestures have a huge impact on our well-being

This pandemic led to the best date of her life — a staircase apart

As the director of microbiology at a hospital in Rochester, New York, Roberto Vargas’s job is to diagnose infectious disease. With his lab running constant COVID-19 tests, he needed to isolate himself from his wife, Susan Vargas, and their four children.

Initially, he stayed in a hotel but found it too lonely. So he moved into the family’s basement, stipulating that no one else was to go beyond the top of the stairs. One night, as the Vargases recall in their conversation, a coworker brought them all a home-cooked meal. “You sat at the bottom of the stairs in a rocking chair, and I was at the top. It was the first time we had been able to connect in so long,” says Susan.

This simple moment, she says, helped get her through the months of the pandemic, and it will forever be what she remembers most from this time: “As crazy as it sounds, it’s the best date I’ve ever had with you in my life.”

Mother and son reflect on a special, shared memory

In 2015, nine-year-old William Chambers went to work with his mother. Not to an office, but to a senior center near Boston, Massachusetts, where Ceceley Chambers works as an interfaith chaplain providing spiritual counsel to those with memory loss. Ceceley knew the seniors would enjoy spending time with a young person.

What she didn’t expect was for William to sit down at a table with a woman cradling a baby doll she thought was real, and talk to her as easily as if she were his friend. “You just jumped into her world,” she recalls.

As Ceceley continues her work during the pandemic, both she and William have been thinking about that moment a lot. Although the structure of her days hasn’t changed, she’s seeing much more fear in those she’s counseling. William says he has been working hard to cultivate empathy for whatever mood she comes home with. Thinking of that woman with the doll and the other patients helps him.

He adds, “They made me think you should enjoy life as much as you can, ‘cause it doesn’t happen forever.”

Want to record an interview with a loved one — nearby or far away — about their experiences during the pandemic? Here’s how to get started . You can also explore more StoryCorps stories here .

Watch StoryCorps founder Dave Isay’s TED Prize Talk here:

About the author

Kate Torgovnick May is a journalist and writer based in Los Angeles. A former storyteller at TED, she has worked with the ambitious thinkers of the TED Prize and Audacious Project, helping them share their stories in video and text. She's also the author of the narrative nonfiction book, CHEER!: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders, and has written for the television series NCIS and Hellcats. Read more about her work at KateTorgovnickMay.com.

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Coping with Uncertainty and Transition

The last few years have been challenging for many people and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated stressors for graduate students in the health care professions. For example, you may be navigating your own experiences of stress and grief while working with patients and clients affected by similar experiences. Additionally, the scale and unpredictability of traumatic global events may bring up various feelings including uncertainty, danger, shock, confusion, frustration, disillusionment, and worry. You may face some, many, or none of these emotions over time as you work to process your experience. It is important to remember these emotional responses are valid.

The information shared below may offer some guidance as you identify strategies to support your mental health.

Start with Your Stress Response

Stress responses are different ways that we’ve learned to adapt to threatening circumstances. Knowing your stress response can help you figure out the best coping strategies that align with your needs.

Which of the following patterns resonate with your current stress response?

I feel out of control.

Response: I feel out of control and confused about what to do.

Coping Strategy: There is no way to prepare for the unexpected. When feeling out of control, take a break to care for yourself and focus on the things that are within your control.

I feel immobilized.

Response: I feel immobilized . I don’t feel like doing anything and can’t motivate myself.

Coping Strategy: Try to identify the cause of these feelings through reflection: take a break, try meditation, keep a journaling practice, and/or speak with a trained mental health clinician. Support your mood by increasing rest and practicing self-compassion.

I feel disconnected.

Response: I feel disconnected . I compartmentalize negative feelings and avoid addressing them.

Coping Strategy: Make time to reflect and connect with distressing feelings in small doses. Journal or talk with friends. Move on to something lighter when you begin to feel overwhelmed.

I feel overwhelmed.

Response: I feel overwhelmed .

Develop a mental health plan that fits your current stress response and needs. Remember that your response and needs may fluctuate over time depending on a variety of factors. Be sure to remember that most people—yourself included—are doing their best with the knowledge, uncertainty, and stressors that they have. Be gentle with yourself on particularly hard days.

Structure Your Day

At times, your schedule can have an impact on your mood and functioning. Review your schedule to identify potential challenges especially when you are feeling overwhelmed. Are there tasks that you can reschedule, cancel, or adjust? Even finding one event to reschedule can be helpful when feeling overwhelmed. Another alternative is blocking some time in your calendar just for you. You can use this time to relax, connect with others, or engage in self-care.

Tips for Structuring Your Day

Keep your schedule as consistent as possible when it comes to class, meals, and bedtime. Use familiar apps and programs for scheduling and reminders. Gently re-evaluate your expectations and focus on what you can realistically accomplish.

  • Create boundaried spaces to work and rest to help you shift mind states. For example, have a designated study/workspace. If you live with housemates, consider having or revisiting conversations about guests in your home.
  • Stay active and exercise. Explore virtual workouts if going to the gym isn’t a feasible option—many workout plans do not require equipment and are free or low cost. 50 Haven Athletic Center may have options that are accessible to CUIMC students.

Schedule time to do things that lighten your mood: take breaks, read, watch movies, make music, dance, play games, and revisit past hobbies or start a new one. Consider checking out programming offered through Well-Being and Health Promotion .

Connect with Others

It can be helpful to maintain a sense of belonging by structuring opportunities to engage with friends, family, colleagues, or community.

Tips for Staying Connected

  • Schedule time to communicate with friends, classmates, coworkers, as well as biological and chosen family. Video chat, telephone calls, text, and email are ways to stay connected with others if in-person contact doesn’t feel possible. Connect with family members at your comfort level. If you find yourself in situations where you need to interact with people with whom you do not have a good relationship, identify and communicate boundaries as a compassionate way to preserve your energy and emotional health.
  • Seek additional support and resources from people you trust. For example, connect with your therapist, doctor, spiritual leader, or friends and family for support.
  • Revisit a hobby, interest, or a new creative endeavor. Share this with your support network. It’s important to allow space for creativity and okay and helpful to experience some pleasure and levity.

Set Boundaries with E-mail and Social Media

It’s okay not to be “on” all the time. Identify the most important communication channels and manage how often you engage with them.

Tips for Setting Boundaries with E-mail and Social Media

  • Set a schedule for interacting with social media and email. For example, limiting screen-time before bed can decrease anxiety and improve sleep quality.
  • Reconfigure your notification settings and consider which emails or messages should be reviewed immediately and which can wait (e.g., updates from your school or program vs. shopping deals).
  • Uninstall social media apps from some of your digital devices to decrease usage, or even move them away from your home screen to limit their accessibility. Block social media for a few hours a day on your browser.

Set Boundaries for Media Consumption

Information is rapidly changing and news outlets supply constant coverage. Consider what level of media consumption is right for you. Aim to be informed and updated without feeling overwhelmed. Remember that you are not responsible for being aware of everything that’s happening.

Tips for Setting Boundaries for Media Consumption

  • Be intentional about which issues or events are most important to you and focus your attention and energy on those.
  • Obtain information from credible media outlets, public health websites (e.g., CDC ), local public health authorities ( NYC Public Health Department ), and CUIMC . Consider signing up for automated texting or email alerts so you have peace of mind that relevant updates will be promptly communicated with you.
  • Maintain distance from sensational media coverage that may be exaggerated or not grounded in scientific evidence.
  • Consider setting concrete limits on the number of minutes or hours per day that you spend obtaining news updates. If structure is helpful for you, schedule this into your day.

Manage Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Uncertainty can bring up many different thoughts and feelings related to change and uncertainty. Take time to reflect on your mood and what emotions are coming up for you.

Tips for Managing Negative Thoughts and Feelings

  • Identify and label your feelings. Are you feeling disappointed, bored, excited? Soothe big feelings by meditating, journaling, shifting environments, or doing something until the feeling passes (e.g., cook a tasty meal or take a hot shower for 15 minutes).
  • Build a tolerance for uncomfortable and challenging feelings—while recognizing there are multiple ways to cope with and tolerate these feelings. It is okay to seek comfort and distractions from time to time as you continue to process. Reach out for help from Counseling Services and explore individual therapy or group support so you don’t have to do this challenging work alone.
  • Let go of what “should” work—sometimes you can’t meditate or journal away a feeling and that is both valid and human. Coping is a complex process; give yourself some space to explore what works for you, even if it may not align with what helps other people.
  • Identify negative thinking patterns. Are you catastrophizing, fortune telling, or defining things in black and white terms? Take some time to reflect and reframe negative thought patterns.
  • If you use alcohol, cannabis, or other substances, also consider harm reduction techniques and/or setting up a confidential appointment with Addition Information and Management Strategies (AIMS). Additional resources about harm reduction and resources for people with substance use disorders are available under Resources.

Reduce the discomfort of uncertainty by choosing to focus on what you can control. Develop plans that balance your needs with the needs of other people in your life.

Tips for Making Plans

  • Develop a general plan for when you aren’t feeling well before you’re in a situation where you aren’t feeling well. Identify resources to access when feeling unwell and in need of more support. Student Health on Haven is here to support all CUIMC students.
  • Update emergency contacts and keep helpful phone numbers in an accessible place.
  • Make a simplified contingency plan with your support network for when you aren’t feeling well. Who can help you with daily activities like shopping and errands? How will you notify professors or supervisors?
  • Think through how you might want to support someone you know who becomes seriously ill or who experiences a loss or other significant life change; consider adapting similar strategies for yourself.

Connect with Resources

Student Health on Haven and Columbia University are committed to supporting our students’ mental health and well-being. Check out the following resources to learn more about what's available to CUIMC students. 

Connect with Counseling Services

  • Staying Connected to Care: People with existing mental health conditions may find that they need additional support beyond their routine care or treatment regimen. Reach out to established providers for support, medication refills, and update your treatment plan as needed. If you are already in treatment with a clinician at Counseling Services, you can contact your provider via secure message through the Student Health Portal .
  • Connecting to Care for the First Time: If you are not already connected to a mental health clinician, consider initiating contact with a provider. Most insurance carriers offer in-person or telehealth services, including psychiatry and psychotherapy. You can schedule an initial telephone appointment to talk through some of your options with Counseling Services through the Student Health Portal .
  • Group Support: Counseling Services also offers support groups for a range of topics (e.g., grief and loss, transitioning to graduate school, relationships with food/body image). Groups offer a safe space for reflection, grounding and support with a clinician and peers.
  • My SSP (Student Support Program) offers 24/7 support via chat and phone as well as counseling for students located around the world. Chat-based services are available in English, Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Spanish, and French. Counseling is available in up to 60 different languages. You can download the app or call 1-877-297-1198.
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
  • NYC Well : 1-888-692-9355
  • For life-threatening emergencies, call 911 and go directly to the nearest emergency room. View the Emergencies page for more information.

Connect with Well-Being and Health Promotion

  • The team at Well-Being and Health Promotion offers support with confidential problem solving and connecting to resources. We can help you prioritize self-care, problem-solve, and think through how to establish new routines or adapt/optimize existing ones. We can discuss coping techniques, give suggestions and tips for practicing mindfulness, provide ideas for communication strategies, offer a listening ear, and more.  Check the Appointments and Services page for updates and how to connect with us.
  • Get Involved: Students interested in participating in campus-wide conversations and action around CUIMC student mental health and well-being can find ways to support existing projects or share feedback and ideas. Check out the Student Well-Being Collective page and reach out to [email protected] for more information

Connect with AIMS for Concerns about Substance Use or Pattern Behaviors

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline : 1-800-662-4357 (HELP)
  • Online Intergroup Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous Meetings
  • Get Involved: Students interested in participating in campus-wide conversations and action around recovery and substance use in our community can find ways to support existing projects or share feedback and ideas. Check out the AIMS Council page to learn more.

Additional Columbia University Resources

  • The Sexual Violence Response (SVR) Helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be accessed confidentially at 212-854-4357(HELP). Our survivor advocates continue to provide students, faculty, and staff with information, referrals, reporting options, and telephonic support through crisis counseling and intervention. They are also able to conduct confidential appointments with survivors and co-survivors via phone or the secure Zoom platform.
  • Disability Services facilitates equal access for students with disabilities by coordinating accommodations and support services, including virtual drop-in hours.
  • The Ombuds Office serves as a confidential resource that provides a safe space for all Columbia affiliates to discuss work-related issues, academic concerns, clarification of policies, and many other concerns and issues. This can be a good place to start if you aren’t sure what resources you’re looking for.
  • The Office of the University Chaplain offers confidential spiritual and or religious individual, couples, family, and group pastoral care and counseling to CUIMC students. Appointments are available both in person and via Zoom.
  • The Food Pantry at Columbia is available for currently registered students within any of the 21 Schools of Columbia University, including CUIMC students. The Food Bank for NYC is also a resource available for people staying in the city.
  • Title IX is the non-confidential University office on policy for gender-based misconduct. Columbia University is committed to fostering an environment that is free from gender-based discrimination and harassment, including sexual assault and all other forms of gender-based misconduct.
  • Non-Emergency: 212-305-8100
  • Emergency: 212-305-7979

Free Tools & Videos

  • Free Meditations with Headspace
  • UCLA Health: Free Guided Meditations
  • UCSD: Free Guided Meditations
  • Mindful.org: Mindfulness Apps to Try
  • Healthline: Relaxation Strategies to Try
  • Beyond Blue: Tips for Coping with Stress and Anxiety
  • NHS: Breathing Exercises for Stress
  • Dartmouth: Strategies for Coping with Uncertainty
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Essays reveal experiences during pandemic, unrest.

protesting during COVID-19

Field study students share their thoughts 

Members of Advanced Field Study, a select group of Social Ecology students who are chosen from a pool of applicants to participate in a year-long field study experience and course, had their internships and traditional college experience cut short this year. During our final quarter of the year together, during which we met weekly for two hours via Zoom, we discussed their reactions as the world fell apart around them. First came the pandemic and social distancing, then came the death of George Floyd and the response of the Black Lives Matter movement, both of which were imprinted on the lives of these students. This year was anything but dull, instead full of raw emotion and painful realizations of the fragility of the human condition and the extent to which we need one another. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for our students to chronicle their experiences — the good and the bad, the lessons learned, and ways in which they were forever changed by the events of the past four months. I invited all of my students to write an essay describing the ways in which these times had impacted their learning and their lives during or after their time at UCI. These are their voices. — Jessica Borelli , associate professor of psychological science

Becoming Socially Distant Through Technology: The Tech Contagion

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

The current state of affairs put the world on pause, but this pause gave me time to reflect on troubling matters. Time that so many others like me probably also desperately needed to heal without even knowing it. Sometimes it takes one’s world falling apart for the most beautiful mosaic to be built up from the broken pieces of wreckage. 

As the school year was coming to a close and summer was edging around the corner, I began reflecting on how people will spend their summer breaks if the country remains in its current state throughout the sunny season. Aside from living in the sunny beach state of California where people love their vitamin D and social festivities, I think some of the most damaging effects Covid-19 will have on us all has more to do with social distancing policies than with any inconveniences we now face due to the added precautions, despite how devastating it may feel that Disneyland is closed to all the local annual passholders or that the beaches may not be filled with sun-kissed California girls this summer. During this unprecedented time, I don’t think we should allow the rare opportunity we now have to be able to watch in real time how the effects of social distancing can impact our mental health. Before the pandemic, many of us were already engaging in a form of social distancing. Perhaps not the exact same way we are now practicing, but the technology that we have developed over recent years has led to a dramatic decline in our social contact and skills in general. 

The debate over whether we should remain quarantined during this time is not an argument I am trying to pursue. Instead, I am trying to encourage us to view this event as a unique time to study how social distancing can affect people’s mental health over a long period of time and with dramatic results due to the magnitude of the current issue. Although Covid-19 is new and unfamiliar to everyone, the isolation and separation we now face is not. For many, this type of behavior has already been a lifestyle choice for a long time. However, the current situation we all now face has allowed us to gain a more personal insight on how that experience feels due to the current circumstances. Mental illness continues to remain a prevalent problem throughout the world and for that reason could be considered a pandemic of a sort in and of itself long before the Covid-19 outbreak. 

One parallel that can be made between our current restrictions and mental illness reminds me in particular of hikikomori culture. Hikikomori is a phenomenon that originated in Japan but that has since spread internationally, now prevalent in many parts of the world, including the United States. Hikikomori is not a mental disorder but rather can appear as a symptom of a disorder. People engaging in hikikomori remain confined in their houses and often their rooms for an extended period of time, often over the course of many years. This action of voluntary confinement is an extreme form of withdrawal from society and self-isolation. Hikikomori affects a large percent of people in Japan yearly and the problem continues to become more widespread with increasing occurrences being reported around the world each year. While we know this problem has continued to increase, the exact number of people practicing hikikomori is unknown because there is a large amount of stigma surrounding the phenomenon that inhibits people from seeking help. This phenomenon cannot be written off as culturally defined because it is spreading to many parts of the world. With the technology we now have, and mental health issues on the rise and expected to increase even more so after feeling the effects of the current pandemic, I think we will definitely see a rise in the number of people engaging in this social isolation, especially with the increase in legitimate fears we now face that appear to justify the previously considered irrational fears many have associated with social gatherings. We now have the perfect sample of people to provide answers about how this form of isolation can affect people over time. 

Likewise, with the advancements we have made to technology not only is it now possible to survive without ever leaving the confines of your own home, but it also makes it possible for us to “fulfill” many of our social interaction needs. It’s very unfortunate, but in addition to the success we have gained through our advancements we have also experienced a great loss. With new technology, I am afraid that we no longer engage with others the way we once did. Although some may say the advancements are for the best, I wonder, at what cost? It is now commonplace to see a phone on the table during a business meeting or first date. Even worse is how many will feel inclined to check their phone during important or meaningful interactions they are having with people face to face. While our technology has become smarter, we have become dumber when it comes to social etiquette. As we all now constantly carry a mini computer with us everywhere we go, we have in essence replaced our best friends. We push others away subconsciously as we reach for our phones during conversations. We no longer remember phone numbers because we have them all saved in our phones. We find comfort in looking down at our phones during those moments of free time we have in public places before our meetings begin. These same moments were once the perfect time to make friends, filled with interactive banter. We now prefer to stare at other people on our phones for hours on end, and often live a sedentary lifestyle instead of going out and interacting with others ourselves. 

These are just a few among many issues the advances to technology led to long ago. We have forgotten how to practice proper tech-etiquette and we have been inadvertently practicing social distancing long before it was ever required. Now is a perfect time for us to look at the society we have become and how we incurred a different kind of pandemic long before the one we currently face. With time, as the social distancing regulations begin to lift, people may possibly begin to appreciate life and connecting with others more than they did before as a result of the unique experience we have shared in together while apart.

Maybe the world needed a time-out to remember how to appreciate what it had but forgot to experience. Life is to be lived through experience, not to be used as a pastime to observe and compare oneself with others. I’ll leave you with a simple reminder: never forget to take care and love more because in a world where life is often unpredictable and ever changing, one cannot risk taking time or loved ones for granted. With that, I bid you farewell, fellow comrades, like all else, this too shall pass, now go live your best life!

Privilege in a Pandemic 

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

Covid-19 has impacted millions of Americans who have been out of work for weeks, thus creating a financial burden. Without a job and the certainty of knowing when one will return to work, paying rent and utilities has been a problem for many. With unemployment on the rise, relying on unemployment benefits has become a necessity for millions of people. According to the Washington Post , unemployment rose to 14.7% in April which is considered to be the worst since the Great Depression. 

Those who are not worried about the financial aspect or the thought never crossed their minds have privilege. Merriam Webster defines privilege as “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.” Privilege can have a negative connotation. What you choose to do with your privilege is what matters. Talking about privilege can bring discomfort, but the discomfort it brings can also carry the benefit of drawing awareness to one’s privilege, which can lead the person to take steps to help others. 

I am a first-generation college student who recently transferred to a four-year university. When schools began to close, and students had to leave their on-campus housing, many lost their jobs.I was able to stay on campus because I live in an apartment. I am fortunate to still have a job, although the hours are minimal. My parents help pay for school expenses, including housing, tuition, and food. I do not have to worry about paying rent or how to pay for food because my parents are financially stable to help me. However, there are millions of college students who are not financially stable or do not have the support system I have. Here, I have the privilege and, thus, I am the one who can offer help to others. I may not have millions in funding, but volunteering for centers who need help is where I am able to help. Those who live in California can volunteer through Californians For All  or at food banks, shelter facilities, making calls to seniors, etc. 

I was not aware of my privilege during these times until I started reading more articles about how millions of people cannot afford to pay their rent, and landlords are starting to send notices of violations. Rather than feel guilty and be passive about it, I chose to put my privilege into a sense of purpose: Donating to nonprofits helping those affected by COVID-19, continuing to support local businesses, and supporting businesses who are donating profits to those affected by COVID-19.

My World is Burning 

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

As I write this, my friends are double checking our medical supplies and making plans to buy water and snacks to pass out at the next protest we are attending. We write down the number for the local bailout fund on our arms and pray that we’re lucky enough not to have to use it should things get ugly. We are part of a pivotal event, the kind of movement that will forever have a place in history. Yet, during this revolution, I have papers to write and grades to worry about, as I’m in the midst of finals. 

My professors have offered empty platitudes. They condemn the violence and acknowledge the stress and pain that so many of us are feeling, especially the additional weight that this carries for students of color. I appreciate their show of solidarity, but it feels meaningless when it is accompanied by requests to complete research reports and finalize presentations. Our world is on fire. Literally. On my social media feeds, I scroll through image after image of burning buildings and police cars in flames. How can I be asked to focus on school when my community is under siege? When police are continuing to murder black people, adding additional names to the ever growing list of their victims. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. David Mcatee. And, now, Rayshard Brooks. 

It already felt like the world was being asked of us when the pandemic started and classes continued. High academic expectations were maintained even when students now faced the challenges of being locked down, often trapped in small spaces with family or roommates. Now we are faced with another public health crisis in the form of police violence and once again it seems like educational faculty are turning a blind eye to the impact that this has on the students. I cannot study for exams when I am busy brushing up on my basic first-aid training, taking notes on the best techniques to stop heavy bleeding and treat chemical burns because at the end of the day, if these protests turn south, I will be entering a warzone. Even when things remain peaceful, there is an ugliness that bubbles just below the surface. When beginning the trek home, I have had armed members of the National Guard follow me and my friends. While kneeling in silence, I have watched police officers cock their weapons and laugh, pointing out targets in the crowd. I have been emailing my professors asking for extensions, trying to explain that if something is turned in late, it could be the result of me being detained or injured. I don’t want to be penalized for trying to do what I wholeheartedly believe is right. 

I have spent my life studying and will continue to study these institutions that have been so instrumental in the oppression and marginalization of black and indigenous communities. Yet, now that I have the opportunity to be on the frontlines actively fighting for the change our country so desperately needs, I feel that this study is more of a hindrance than a help to the cause. Writing papers and reading books can only take me so far and I implore that professors everywhere recognize that requesting their students split their time and energy between finals and justice is an impossible ask.

Opportunity to Serve

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

Since the start of the most drastic change of our lives, I have had the privilege of helping feed more than 200 different families in the Santa Ana area and even some neighboring cities. It has been an immense pleasure seeing the sheer joy and happiness of families as they come to pick up their box of food from our site, as well as a $50 gift card to Northgate, a grocery store in Santa Ana. Along with donating food and helping feed families, the team at the office, including myself, have dedicated this time to offering psychosocial and mental health check-ups for the families we serve. 

Every day I go into the office I start my day by gathering files of our families we served between the months of January, February, and March and calling them to check on how they are doing financially, mentally, and how they have been affected by COVID-19. As a side project, I have been putting together Excel spreadsheets of all these families’ struggles and finding a way to turn their situation into a success story to share with our board at PY-OCBF and to the community partners who make all of our efforts possible. One of the things that has really touched me while working with these families is how much of an impact this nonprofit organization truly has on family’s lives. I have spoken with many families who I just call to check up on and it turns into an hour call sharing about how much of a change they have seen in their child who went through our program. Further, they go on to discuss that because of our program, their children have a different perspective on the drugs they were using before and the group of friends they were hanging out with. Of course, the situation is different right now as everyone is being told to stay at home; however, there are those handful of kids who still go out without asking for permission, increasing the likelihood they might contract this disease and pass it to the rest of the family. We are working diligently to provide support for these parents and offering advice to talk to their kids in order to have a serious conversation with their kids so that they feel heard and validated. 

Although the novel Coronavirus has impacted the lives of millions of people not just on a national level, but on a global level, I feel that in my current position, it has opened doors for me that would have otherwise not presented themselves. Fortunately, I have been offered a full-time position at the Project Youth Orange County Bar Foundation post-graduation that I have committed to already. This invitation came to me because the organization received a huge grant for COVID-19 relief to offer to their staff and since I was already part-time, they thought I would be a good fit to join the team once mid-June comes around. I was very excited and pleased to be recognized for the work I have done at the office in front of all staff. I am immensely grateful for this opportunity. I will work even harder to provide for the community and to continue changing the lives of adolescents, who have steered off the path of success. I will use my time as a full-time employee to polish my resume, not forgetting that the main purpose of my moving to Irvine was to become a scholar and continue the education that my parents couldn’t attain. I will still be looking for ways to get internships with other fields within criminology. One specific interest that I have had since being an intern and a part-time employee in this organization is the work of the Orange County Coroner’s Office. I don’t exactly know what enticed me to find it appealing as many would say that it is an awful job in nature since it relates to death and seeing people in their worst state possible. However, I feel that the only way for me to truly know if I want to pursue such a career in forensic science will be to just dive into it and see where it takes me. 

I can, without a doubt, say that the Coronavirus has impacted me in a way unlike many others, and for that I am extremely grateful. As I continue working, I can also state that many people are becoming more and more hopeful as time progresses. With people now beginning to say Stage Two of this stay-at-home order is about to allow retailers and other companies to begin doing curbside delivery, many families can now see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Let’s Do Better

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

This time of the year is meant to be a time of celebration; however, it has been difficult to feel proud or excited for many of us when it has become a time of collective mourning and sorrow, especially for the Black community. There has been an endless amount of pain, rage, and helplessness that has been felt throughout our nation because of the growing list of Black lives we have lost to violence and brutality.

To honor the lives that we have lost, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Trayon Martin, and all of the other Black lives that have been taken away, may they Rest in Power.

Throughout my college experience, I have become more exposed to the various identities and the upbringings of others, which led to my own self-reflection on my own privileged and marginalized identities. I identify as Colombian, German, and Mexican; however navigating life as a mixed race, I have never been able to identify or have one culture more salient than the other. I am visibly white-passing and do not hold any strong ties with any of my ethnic identities, which used to bring me feelings of guilt and frustration, for I would question whether or not I could be an advocate for certain communities, and whether or not I could claim the identity of a woman of color. In the process of understanding my positionality, I began to wonder what space I belonged in, where I could speak up, and where I should take a step back for others to speak. I found myself in a constant theme of questioning what is my narrative and slowly began to realize that I could not base it off lone identities and that I have had the privilege to move through life without my identities defining who I am. Those initial feelings of guilt and confusion transformed into growth, acceptance, and empowerment.

This journey has driven me to educate myself more about the social inequalities and injustices that people face and to focus on what I can do for those around me. It has motivated me to be more culturally responsive and competent, so that I am able to best advocate for those around me. Through the various roles I have worked in, I have been able to listen to a variety of communities’ narratives and experiences, which has allowed me to extend my empathy to these communities while also pushing me to continue educating myself on how I can best serve and empower them. By immersing myself amongst different communities, I have been given the honor of hearing others’ stories and experiences, which has inspired me to commit myself to support and empower others.

I share my story of navigating through my privileged and marginalized identities in hopes that it encourages others to explore their own identities. This journey is not an easy one, and it is an ongoing learning process that will come with various mistakes. I have learned that with facing our privileges comes feelings of guilt, discomfort, and at times, complacency. It is very easy to become ignorant when we are not affected by different issues, but I challenge those who read this to embrace the discomfort. With these emotions, I have found it important to reflect on the source of discomfort and guilt, for although they are a part of the process, in taking the steps to become more aware of the systemic inequalities around us, understanding the source of discomfort can better inform us on how we perpetuate these systemic inequalities. If we choose to embrace ignorance, we refuse to acknowledge the systems that impact marginalized communities and refuse to honestly and openly hear cries for help. If we choose our own comfort over the lives of those being affected every day, we can never truly honor, serve, or support these communities.

I challenge any non-Black person, including myself, to stop remaining complacent when injustices are committed. We need to consistently recognize and acknowledge how the Black community is disproportionately affected in every injustice experienced and call out anti-Blackness in every role, community, and space we share. We need to keep ourselves and others accountable when we make mistakes or fall back into patterns of complacency or ignorance. We need to continue educating ourselves instead of relying on the emotional labor of the Black community to continuously educate us on the history of their oppressions. We need to collectively uplift and empower one another to heal and rise against injustice. We need to remember that allyship ends when action ends.

To the Black community, you are strong. You deserve to be here. The recent events are emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting, and the need for rest to take care of your mental, physical, and emotional well-being are at an all time high. If you are able, take the time to regain your energy, feel every emotion, and remind yourself of the power you have inside of you. You are not alone.

The Virus That Makes You Forget

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

Following Jan. 1 of 2020 many of my classmates and I continued to like, share, and forward the same meme. The meme included any image but held the same phrase: I can see 2020. For many of us, 2020 was a beacon of hope. For the Class of 2020, this meant walking on stage in front of our families. Graduation meant becoming an adult, finding a job, or going to graduate school. No matter what we were doing in our post-grad life, we were the new rising stars ready to take on the world with a positive outlook no matter what the future held. We felt that we had a deal with the universe that we were about to be noticed for our hard work, our hardships, and our perseverance.

Then March 17 of 2020 came to pass with California Gov. Newman ordering us to stay at home, which we all did. However, little did we all know that the world we once had open to us would only be forgotten when we closed our front doors.

Life became immediately uncertain and for many of us, that meant graduation and our post-graduation plans including housing, careers, education, food, and basic standards of living were revoked! We became the forgotten — a place from which many of us had attempted to rise by attending university. The goals that we were told we could set and the plans that we were allowed to make — these were crushed before our eyes.

Eighty days before graduation, in the first several weeks of quarantine, I fell extremely ill; both unfortunately and luckily, I was isolated. All of my roommates had moved out of the student apartments leaving me with limited resources, unable to go to the stores to pick up medicine or food, and with insufficient health coverage to afford a doctor until my throat was too swollen to drink water. For nearly three weeks, I was stuck in bed, I was unable to apply to job deadlines, reach out to family, and have contact with the outside world. I was forgotten.

Forty-five days before graduation, I had clawed my way out of illness and was catching up on an honors thesis about media depictions of sexual exploitation within the American political system, when I was relayed the news that democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was accused of sexual assault. However, when reporting this news to close friends who had been devastated and upset by similar claims against past politicians, they all were too tired and numb from the quarantine to care. Just as I had written hours before reading the initial story, history was repeating, and it was not only I who COVID-19 had forgotten, but now survivors of violence.

After this revelation, I realize the silencing factor that COVID-19 has. Not only does it have the power to terminate the voices of our older generations, but it has the power to silence and make us forget the voices of every generation. Maybe this is why social media usage has gone up, why we see people creating new social media accounts, posting more, attempting to reach out to long lost friends. We do not want to be silenced, moreover, we cannot be silenced. Silence means that we have been forgotten and being forgotten is where injustice and uncertainty occurs. By using social media, pressing like on a post, or even sending a hate message, means that someone cares and is watching what you are doing. If there is no interaction, I am stuck in the land of indifference.

This is a place that I, and many others, now reside, captured and uncertain. In 2020, my plan was to graduate Cum Laude, dean's honor list, with three honors programs, three majors, and with research and job experience that stretched over six years. I would then go into my first year of graduate school, attempting a dual Juris Doctorate. I would be spending my time experimenting with new concepts, new experiences, and new relationships. My life would then be spent giving a microphone to survivors of domestic violence and sex crimes. However, now the plan is wiped clean, instead I sit still bound to graduate in 30 days with no home to stay, no place to work, and no future education to come back to. I would say I am overly qualified, but pandemic makes me lost in a series of names and masked faces.

Welcome to My Cage: The Pandemic and PTSD

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

When I read the campuswide email notifying students of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the coronavirus pandemic, I was sitting on my couch practicing a research presentation I was going to give a few hours later. For a few minutes, I sat there motionless, trying to digest the meaning of the words as though they were from a language other than my own, familiar sounds strung together in way that was wholly unintelligible to me. I tried but failed to make sense of how this could affect my life. After the initial shock had worn off, I mobilized quickly, snapping into an autopilot mode of being I knew all too well. I began making mental checklists, sharing the email with my friends and family, half of my brain wondering if I should make a trip to the grocery store to stockpile supplies and the other half wondering how I was supposed take final exams in the midst of so much uncertainty. The most chilling realization was knowing I had to wait powerlessly as the fate of the world unfolded, frozen with anxiety as I figured out my place in it all.

These feelings of powerlessness and isolation are familiar bedfellows for me. Early October of 2015, shortly after beginning my first year at UCI, I was diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Despite having had years of psychological treatment for my condition, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Retraining, the flashbacks, paranoia, and nightmares still emerge unwarranted. People have referred to the pandemic as a collective trauma. For me, the pandemic has not only been a collective trauma, it has also been the reemergence of a personal trauma. The news of the pandemic and the implications it has for daily life triggered a reemergence of symptoms that were ultimately ignited by the overwhelming sense of helplessness that lies in waiting, as I suddenly find myself navigating yet another situation beyond my control. Food security, safety, and my sense of self have all been shaken by COVID-19.

The first few weeks after UCI transitioned into remote learning and the governor issued the stay-at-home order, I hardly got any sleep. My body was cycling through hypervigilance and derealization, and my sleep was interrupted by intrusive nightmares oscillating between flashbacks and frightening snippets from current events. Any coping methods I had developed through hard-won efforts over the past few years — leaving my apartment for a change of scenery, hanging out with friends, going to the gym — were suddenly made inaccessible to me due to the stay-at-home orders, closures of non-essential businesses, and many of my friends breaking their campus leases to move back to their family homes. So for me, learning to cope during COVID-19 quarantine means learning to function with my re-emerging PTSD symptoms and without my go-to tools. I must navigate my illness in a rapidly evolving world, one where some of my internalized fears, such as running out of food and living in an unsafe world, are made progressively more external by the minute and broadcasted on every news platform; fears that I could no longer escape, being confined in the tight constraints of my studio apartment’s walls. I cannot shake the devastating effects of sacrifice that I experience as all sense of control has been stripped away from me.

However, amidst my mental anguish, I have realized something important—experiencing these same PTSD symptoms during a global pandemic feels markedly different than it did years ago. Part of it might be the passage of time and the growth in my mindset, but there is something else that feels very different. Currently, there is widespread solidarity and support for all of us facing the chaos of COVID-19, whether they are on the frontlines of the fight against the illness or they are self-isolating due to new rules, restrictions, and risks. This was in stark contrast to what it was like to have a mental disorder. The unity we all experience as a result of COVID-19 is one I could not have predicted. I am not the only student heartbroken over a cancelled graduation, I am not the only student who is struggling to adapt to remote learning, and I am not the only person in this world who has to make sacrifices.

Between observations I’ve made on social media and conversations with my friends and classmates, this time we are all enduring great pain and stress as we attempt to adapt to life’s challenges. As a Peer Assistant for an Education class, I have heard from many students of their heartache over the remote learning model, how difficult it is to study in a non-academic environment, and how unmotivated they have become this quarter. This is definitely something I can relate to; as of late, it has been exceptionally difficult to find motivation and put forth the effort for even simple activities as a lack of energy compounds the issue and hinders basic needs. However, the willingness of people to open up about their distress during the pandemic is unlike the self-imposed social isolation of many people who experience mental illness regularly. Something this pandemic has taught me is that I want to live in a world where mental illness receives more support and isn’t so taboo and controversial. Why is it that we are able to talk about our pain, stress, and mental illness now, but aren’t able to talk about it outside of a global pandemic? People should be able to talk about these hardships and ask for help, much like during these circumstances.

It has been nearly three months since the coronavirus crisis was declared a pandemic. I still have many bad days that I endure where my symptoms can be overwhelming. But somehow, during my good days — and some days, merely good moments — I can appreciate the resilience I have acquired over the years and the common ground I share with others who live through similar circumstances. For veterans of trauma and mental illness, this isn’t the first time we are experiencing pain in an extreme and disastrous way. This is, however, the first time we are experiencing it with the rest of the world. This strange new feeling of solidarity as I read and hear about the experiences of other people provides some small comfort as I fight my way out of bed each day. As we fight to survive this pandemic, I hope to hold onto this feeling of togetherness and acceptance of pain, so that it will always be okay for people to share their struggles. We don’t know what the world will look like days, months, or years from now, but I hope that we can cultivate such a culture to make life much easier for people coping with mental illness.

A Somatic Pandemonium in Quarantine

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

I remember hearing that our brains create the color magenta all on their own. 

When I was younger I used to run out of my third-grade class because my teacher was allergic to the mold and sometimes would vomit in the trash can. My dad used to tell me that I used to always have to have something in my hands, later translating itself into the form of a hair tie around my wrist.

Sometimes, I think about the girl who used to walk on her tippy toes. medial and lateral nerves never planted, never grounded. We were the same in this way. My ability to be firmly planted anywhere was also withered. 

Was it from all the times I panicked? Or from the time I ran away and I blistered the soles of my feet 'til they were black from the summer pavement? Emetophobia. 

I felt it in the shower, dressing itself from the crown of my head down to the soles of my feet, noting the feeling onto my white board in an attempt to solidify it’s permanence.

As I breathed in the chemical blue transpiring from the Expo marker, everything was more defined. I laid down and when I looked up at the starlet lamp I had finally felt centered. Still. No longer fleeting. The grooves in the lamps glass forming a spiral of what felt to me like an artificial landscape of transcendental sparks. 

She’s back now, magenta, though I never knew she left or even ever was. Somehow still subconsciously always known. I had been searching for her in the tremors.

I can see her now in the daphnes, the golden rays from the sun reflecting off of the bark on the trees and the red light that glowed brighter, suddenly the town around me was warmer. A melting of hues and sharpened saturation that was apparent and reminded of the smell of oranges.

I threw up all of the carrots I ate just before. The trauma that my body kept as a memory of things that may or may not go wrong and the times that I couldn't keep my legs from running. Revelations bring memories bringing anxieties from fear and panic released from my body as if to say “NO LONGER!” 

I close my eyes now and my mind's eye is, too, more vivid than ever before. My inner eyelids lit up with orange undertones no longer a solid black, neurons firing, fire. Not the kind that burns you but the kind that can light up a dull space. Like the wick of a tea-lit candle. Magenta doesn’t exist. It is perception. A construct made of light waves, blue and red.

Demolition. Reconstruction. I walk down the street into this new world wearing my new mask, somatic senses tingling and I think to myself “Houston, I think we’ve just hit equilibrium.”

How COVID-19 Changed My Senior Year

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

During the last two weeks of Winter quarter, I watched the emails pour in. Spring quarter would be online, facilities were closing, and everyone was recommended to return home to their families, if possible. I resolved to myself that I would not move back home; I wanted to stay in my apartment, near my boyfriend, near my friends, and in the one place I had my own space. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, things continued to change quickly. Soon I learned my roommate/best friend would be cancelling her lease and moving back up to Northern California. We had made plans for my final quarter at UCI, as I would be graduating in June while she had another year, but all of the sudden, that dream was gone. In one whirlwind of a day, we tried to cram in as much of our plans as we could before she left the next day for good. There are still so many things – like hiking, going to museums, and showing her around my hometown – we never got to cross off our list.

Then, my boyfriend decided he would also be moving home, three hours away. Most of my sorority sisters were moving home, too. I realized if I stayed at school, I would be completely alone. My mom had been encouraging me to move home anyway, but I was reluctant to return to a house I wasn’t completely comfortable in. As the pandemic became more serious, gentle encouragement quickly turned into demands. I had to cancel my lease and move home.

I moved back in with my parents at the end of Spring Break; I never got to say goodbye to most of my friends, many of whom I’ll likely never see again – as long as the virus doesn’t change things, I’m supposed to move to New York over the summer to begin a PhD program in Criminal Justice. Just like that, my time at UCI had come to a close. No lasts to savor; instead I had piles of things to regret. In place of a final quarter filled with memorable lasts, such as the senior banquet or my sorority’s senior preference night, I’m left with a laundry list of things I missed out on. I didn’t get to look around the campus one last time like I had planned; I never got to take my graduation pictures in front of the UC Irvine sign. Commencement had already been cancelled. The lights had turned off in the theatre before the movie was over. I never got to find out how the movie ended.

Transitioning to a remote learning system wasn’t too bad, but I found that some professors weren’t adjusting their courses to the difficulties many students were facing. It turned out to be difficult to stay motivated, especially for classes that are pre-recorded and don’t have any face-to-face interaction. It’s hard to make myself care; I’m in my last few weeks ever at UCI, but it feels like I’m already in summer. School isn’t real, my classes aren’t real. I still put in the effort, but I feel like I’m not getting much out of my classes.

The things I had been looking forward to this quarter are gone; there will be no Undergraduate Research Symposium, where I was supposed to present two projects. My amazing internship with the US Postal Inspection Service is over prematurely and I never got to properly say goodbye to anyone I met there. I won’t receive recognition for the various awards and honors I worked so hard to achieve.

And I’m one of the lucky ones! I feel guilty for feeling bad about my situation, when I know there are others who have it much, much worse. I am like that quintessential spoiled child, complaining while there are essential workers working tirelessly, people with health concerns constantly fearing for their safety, and people dying every day. Yet knowing that doesn't help me from feeling I was robbed of my senior experience, something I worked very hard to achieve. I know it’s not nearly as important as what many others are going through. But nevertheless, this is my situation. I was supposed to be enjoying this final quarter with my friends and preparing to move on, not be stuck at home, grappling with my mental health and hiding out in my room to get some alone time from a family I don’t always get along with. And while I know it’s more difficult out there for many others, it’s still difficult for me.

The thing that stresses me out most is the uncertainty. Uncertainty for the future – how long will this pandemic last? How many more people have to suffer before things go back to “normal” – whatever that is? How long until I can see my friends and family again? And what does this mean for my academic future? Who knows what will happen between now and then? All that’s left to do is wait and hope that everything will work out for the best.

Looking back over my last few months at UCI, I wish I knew at the time that I was experiencing my lasts; it feels like I took so much for granted. If there is one thing this has all made me realize, it’s that nothing is certain. Everything we expect, everything we take for granted – none of it is a given. Hold on to what you have while you have it, and take the time to appreciate the wonderful things in life, because you never know when it will be gone.

Physical Distancing

what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

Thirty days have never felt so long. April has been the longest month of the year. I have been through more in these past three months than in the past three years. The COVID-19 outbreak has had a huge impact on both physical and social well-being of a lot of Americans, including me. Stress has been governing the lives of so many civilians, in particular students and workers. In addition to causing a lack of motivation in my life, quarantine has also brought a wave of anxiety.

My life changed the moment the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the government announced social distancing. My busy daily schedule, running from class to class and meeting to meeting, morphed into identical days, consisting of hour after hour behind a cold computer monitor. Human interaction and touch improve trust, reduce fear and increases physical well-being. Imagine the effects of removing the human touch and interaction from midst of society. Humans are profoundly social creatures. I cannot function without interacting and connecting with other people. Even daily acquaintances have an impact on me that is only noticeable once removed. As a result, the COVID-19 outbreak has had an extreme impact on me beyond direct symptoms and consequences of contracting the virus itself.

It was not until later that month, when out of sheer boredom I was scrolling through my call logs and I realized that I had called my grandmother more than ever. This made me realize that quarantine had created some positive impacts on my social interactions as well. This period of time has created an opportunity to check up on and connect with family and peers more often than we were able to. Even though we might be connecting solely through a screen, we are not missing out on being socially connected. Quarantine has taught me to value and prioritize social connection, and to recognize that we can find this type of connection not only through in-person gatherings, but also through deep heart to heart connections. Right now, my weekly Zoom meetings with my long-time friends are the most important events in my week. In fact, I have taken advantage of the opportunity to reconnect with many of my old friends and have actually had more meaningful conversations with them than before the isolation.

This situation is far from ideal. From my perspective, touch and in-person interaction is essential; however, we must overcome all difficulties that life throws at us with the best we are provided with. Therefore, perhaps we should take this time to re-align our motives by engaging in things that are of importance to us. I learned how to dig deep and find appreciation for all the small talks, gatherings, and face-to-face interactions. I have also realized that friendships are not only built on the foundation of physical presence but rather on meaningful conversations you get to have, even if they are through a cold computer monitor. My realization came from having more time on my hands and noticing the shift in conversations I was having with those around me. After all, maybe this isolation isn’t “social distancing”, but rather “physical distancing” until we meet again.

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what i have learned about myself during this pandemic essay

What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

At one of those BYOB/backyard, socially distanced happy hours, a friend asked the question: “What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?” I thought it was a brilliant question and one that really takes me deep.

It’s so easy to complain about what’s happening out there, criticize the politics, dwell on what’s wrong and feel frustrated with others supposedly in charge. But to be more introspective and closely examine our own growth during this upsetting time is both healing and fascinating to me, and perhaps a chance we’ll never have again.

So, I sent out this question to several friends, all in their 70s and 80s, because I think it affects us differently than younger people who may be dealing with children, big career issues, financial stresses and other concerns. Not that we’re not dealing with some of these issues, too. We are just in a different place in our lives where they may not be so prevalent.

Many people talked about things “out there,” such as “I’ve learned that no one’s in charge.” That’s different from what we’ve learned about ourselves. Some of my learnings, so far, have been:

Do things now, as we just don’t know what the future, or even tomorrow, will bring; be in the moment. I have learned I have an inner strength, yet I melt down into all sorts of emotions at times. Being in nature helps me see things in the larger perspective that seems critical right now. I am a people person and the quarantine is difficult, so regular talks with friends and family on the phone are important. Yet, I’m good at being alone, too. I have learned to see my kids in a different light – their strengths, creativity and tenacity in working, having kids at home and in deciding the complicated school issues for my grandchildren. There is so much inequality in the world and I am extremely privileged. Other people were all over the board also, and here are some of their insights:

My small, close neighborhood community is so important for me now; also my friendships and other relationships; I am much more comfortable just staying home. My thoughts are so impermanent; my gratitude practice has helped me combat judgment. I’m not as good a sport as I thought I was; I am fragile but I’m learning to speak out more. I have a greater dependence on nature to bring me peace and grounding without fail; healthy food and good water have become more important; I need emotional comfort from my animals; I’m more able to laugh at myself; I feel loved and cared for more deeply. I must dwell in the moment, I don’t want to return to the past and it’s fruitless for me to predict the future. The only solace is in the moment – which is fresh with every breath. I appreciate more the time or communication I do have with others. I am intensely appalled at the suffering and mess, but retain an optimistic long view. I have learned not to worry about things I can’t control and to spend effort on things I can actually do, contribute to or influence. What is going on in the country and the extra time given has taught me to be more honest with myself. It mirrors so many things ... my prejudices and my assumptions are now all being reflected back to me. And I don’t always like what I see! I have discovered that I am centered, stable and yet flexible, more than I thought I could be. This is the closest I have come to not imagining a future, and that is OK. I am living a reality that is now more of the time. Such thoughtful and genuine discoveries we have had! This crisis has brought out some good things; more empathy, more awareness, maybe more strength during challenging times. And certainly more creativity in how we try to stay connected during isolation. Are these the rich gifts we’ve been looking for?

Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life and written the book “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at [email protected].

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How to talk about the skills you learned during the pandemic

by Jenny Darmody

14 Feb 2022

The Covid-19 pandemic has been tough, but for jobseekers it may have given them a chance to highlight a new set of skills.

While the pandemic is still ongoing, the lifting of restrictions and ongoing vaccine roll-out has seen a lot of society return to some semblance of normality.

Meanwhile, as the ‘ great resignation ’ sweeps across the world, there are many workers who have been re-evaluating their working life and considering new jobs.

But while the pandemic made a lot of people’s working life harder and left many others without work, it also may have given some professionals a new set of skills.

These skills will prove to be extremely valuable for many employers and it’s important that you’re able to explain these new abilities in a job interview. Here are just some of them.

Remote communication

A lot of us had to suddenly adjust to working remotely, which also meant having to communicate effectively with our team remotely as well.

Communication has always been a vital skill in most jobs but there are some key differences to communicating over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. When going for your next interview, make sure to talk about your ability to communicate in a remote team.

Adaptability and flexibility

The pandemic forced our hand when it came to being adaptable. Simply upending our usual working life almost two years ago was a test in adaptability in itself.

But beyond that, what else changed about your role or your working life? What other differences did you have to adapt to?

Think about all the things that changed in and around your working life over the last two years and how you dealt with each change. This will show prospective employers how flexible you really are.

The sudden changes brought on by the pandemic also presented new problems for many industries, forcing them to tackle problems in new ways or face an entirely different set of challenges.

Did you take the lead on any new projects over the last two years? Did you come up with new creative ideas to help the business? Or did you simply think of a way to change your own role for the better?

Drastic changes within working life can lead to many workers flexing their creative muscles. Make a note of when this happened for you and be sure to explain those situations to future hiring managers as a sign of your creativity and problem-solving skills.

Time management

One of the biggest changes to the working world as a whole was the move to remote working for a significant amount of time. Even now, employers have used the pandemic as an opportunity to explore changes to the way we work, from hybrid models to four-day weeks .

Being able to show how you manage your time will continue to be important for employers, but it has become an easier skill to talk about due to the changes over the last two years.

Think about how you managed your time while working from home. Did you adjust the way you set out your workday? How did you take advantage of remote working to complement your workload? Did you discover new ways to manage your time?

Leadership skills

Did you find yourself taking the lead on any projects or leading a team during the pandemic? Even if ‘manager’ or ‘team lead’ isn’t part of your job title, taking on a leadership role in some way may have been part of your job due to the sudden changes brought on by the pandemic.

You may have even had to step into your manager’s shoes or give them a dig-out while they had to focus on the bigger picture as Covid-19 took hold.

Don’t discount these as times when you were simply helping out. If you had to lead in any way, you would have been developing leadership skills. This might not be immediately clear based on your current title, so be sure to talk about it in your next interview.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the  Daily Brief , Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Related: job interviews , skills , jobseekers

Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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What I’ve Learned From My Students’ College Essays

The genre is often maligned for being formulaic and melodramatic, but it’s more important than you think.

An illustration of a high school student with blue hair, dreaming of what to write in their college essay.

By Nell Freudenberger

Most high school seniors approach the college essay with dread. Either their upbringing hasn’t supplied them with several hundred words of adversity, or worse, they’re afraid that packaging the genuine trauma they’ve experienced is the only way to secure their future. The college counselor at the Brooklyn high school where I’m a writing tutor advises against trauma porn. “Keep it brief , ” she says, “and show how you rose above it.”

I started volunteering in New York City schools in my 20s, before I had kids of my own. At the time, I liked hanging out with teenagers, whom I sometimes had more interesting conversations with than I did my peers. Often I worked with students who spoke English as a second language or who used slang in their writing, and at first I was hung up on grammar. Should I correct any deviation from “standard English” to appeal to some Wizard of Oz behind the curtains of a college admissions office? Or should I encourage students to write the way they speak, in pursuit of an authentic voice, that most elusive of literary qualities?

In fact, I was missing the point. One of many lessons the students have taught me is to let the story dictate the voice of the essay. A few years ago, I worked with a boy who claimed to have nothing to write about. His life had been ordinary, he said; nothing had happened to him. I asked if he wanted to try writing about a family member, his favorite school subject, a summer job? He glanced at his phone, his posture and expression suggesting that he’d rather be anywhere but in front of a computer with me. “Hobbies?” I suggested, without much hope. He gave me a shy glance. “I like to box,” he said.

I’ve had this experience with reluctant writers again and again — when a topic clicks with a student, an essay can unfurl spontaneously. Of course the primary goal of a college essay is to help its author get an education that leads to a career. Changes in testing policies and financial aid have made applying to college more confusing than ever, but essays have remained basically the same. I would argue that they’re much more than an onerous task or rote exercise, and that unlike standardized tests they are infinitely variable and sometimes beautiful. College essays also provide an opportunity to learn precision, clarity and the process of working toward the truth through multiple revisions.

When a topic clicks with a student, an essay can unfurl spontaneously.

Even if writing doesn’t end up being fundamental to their future professions, students learn to choose language carefully and to be suspicious of the first words that come to mind. Especially now, as college students shoulder so much of the country’s ethical responsibility for war with their protest movement, essay writing teaches prospective students an increasingly urgent lesson: that choosing their own words over ready-made phrases is the only reliable way to ensure they’re thinking for themselves.

Teenagers are ideal writers for several reasons. They’re usually free of preconceptions about writing, and they tend not to use self-consciously ‘‘literary’’ language. They’re allergic to hypocrisy and are generally unfiltered: They overshare, ask personal questions and call you out for microaggressions as well as less egregious (but still mortifying) verbal errors, such as referring to weed as ‘‘pot.’’ Most important, they have yet to put down their best stories in a finished form.

I can imagine an essay taking a risk and distinguishing itself formally — a poem or a one-act play — but most kids use a more straightforward model: a hook followed by a narrative built around “small moments” that lead to a concluding lesson or aspiration for the future. I never get tired of working with students on these essays because each one is different, and the short, rigid form sometimes makes an emotional story even more powerful. Before I read Javier Zamora’s wrenching “Solito,” I worked with a student who had been transported by a coyote into the U.S. and was reunited with his mother in the parking lot of a big-box store. I don’t remember whether this essay focused on specific skills or coping mechanisms that he gained from his ordeal. I remember only the bliss of the parent-and-child reunion in that uninspiring setting. If I were making a case to an admissions officer, I would suggest that simply being able to convey that experience demonstrates the kind of resilience that any college should admire.

The essays that have stayed with me over the years don’t follow a pattern. There are some narratives on very predictable topics — living up to the expectations of immigrant parents, or suffering from depression in 2020 — that are moving because of the attention with which the student describes the experience. One girl determined to become an engineer while watching her father build furniture from scraps after work; a boy, grieving for his mother during lockdown, began taking pictures of the sky.

If, as Lorrie Moore said, “a short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage,” what is a college essay? Every once in a while I sit down next to a student and start reading, and I have to suppress my excitement, because there on the Google Doc in front of me is a real writer’s voice. One of the first students I ever worked with wrote about falling in love with another girl in dance class, the absolute magic of watching her move and the terror in the conflict between her feelings and the instruction of her religious middle school. She made me think that college essays are less like love than limerence: one-sided, obsessive, idiosyncratic but profound, the first draft of the most personal story their writers will ever tell.

Nell Freudenberger’s novel “The Limits” was published by Knopf last month. She volunteers through the PEN America Writers in the Schools program.

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