Goodbye 2020. You have challenged us in so many ways. Normally I like challenges, 2020 included, but I’m concerned about the cost of those challenges on a greater scale. Challenges are familiar to me. I feel my life has been a collection of stepping stones, each with a challenge that ultimately forced me to leap into something new and unknown. Leaps that were necessary to keep growing and for that matter surviving my own life, but at the time challenges that were not easy.
The 2020 challenge
2020 challenged each of us in different ways. For me it was to rethink my work and to learn about loneliness in a whole new way. I grew up feeling lonely. I’m an only child and with a bi-polar mother, the sense of belonging was a challenge to both of us. We finally got to talk about the lack of belonging we both felt by the time I was in my teens. My mother told me that after I was born, which was an event in itself because both her and I almost died, she wasn’t sure if I really was her child. She was under anesthesia during the emergency birth and didn’t get to hold me for several days, because I was in an incubator.
My mother and I had our struggles. We loved each other, but could not communicate it. Even the day I called her on the phone to see when my dad would arrive back in New York to continue his treatment for cancer, which became the last time I talked to her. She couldn’t breathe because of embolisms in her lungs from her cancer treatment, and we had no clue. She was off to the hospital she said. She could barely speak. I was in New York, she was in Denmark and my dad was on a plane on his way to New York. There was nothing I could do to help her. I told her to hurry, get an ambulance instead of waiting for the neighbor to drive her. In a flash moment I felt like I knew she wasn’t going to make it and I needed to tell her that I loved her… and I couldn’t. She died in the ambulance. I still tear up when I think about it.
Being human is an emotional experience
COVID has created a similar situation for so many – having to say goodbye over the phone or not being able to. When I got the call that she was gone, I had practiced how to react. I had expected a phone-call that she was gone since I was a teenager. My mom struggled with periods of deep depression, which would lead to suicide-attempts, so I was ready for the call. But you’re never really ready. We cannot predict our emotions, all we can do is feel them. No judgment, no need to fix them, being human is emotional and that’s ok. It’s what makes us empathetic and beautiful beings.
2020 had me live in a bubble of isolation in upstate NY. My conversations with other people were over zoom and only I was engaging with very few people in person, like most of us experienced. Strangely enough it reminded me of the bubble I lived in while my dad was dying just 9 months after my mom died in 2000. We were isolated at home, because I was his caretaker and he was bedridden for 5 months.
We live with the past, how is the question.
Why am I sharing all this now? Because our past lives on with us and we can try to suppress it and reject it, but it doesn’t make us whole to do so. The past doesn’t go away, but it take up a new place in our daily lives. Grief is part of my life, every day, but I don’t live in grief, it’s instead a reminder of the love I have for the people who are gone.
Grief is part of life too
COVID is going to have an imprint of loss and grief and will be part of our lives in 2021. In different ways for different people. Some lost jobs and businesses, relationships dissolved, friends disappeared, family members became remote gatherings over zoom instead of celebrating events together.
How I’ve lived over these many months are so similar to my experiences of 2000-2001 and it reminds me once again that my resilience comes from love. Instead of pushing hard to ignore how I feel, I listen to how I am inside and being ok with whatever that is. We don’t have to choose one emotion or the other. We are not either happy or sad. We are not either confident or scared. We are not either calm or anxious. All our emotions are part of our humanity and we can learn how to surf that ocean of all the different emotions that comes with being human.
I do want to acknowledge how the constant challenges of worry, hope, gratitude for the past and fear of the unknown is confusing as I reflect on New Years today. Feeling like I have to pick a feeling because that’s what we do on New Years right? It’s exhausting to live in constant worry and I think many of us feel the exhaustion of 2020, not just on a physical, but also an emotional and mental level.
How do we prepare for 2021?
When I look back at 2020 I have gratitude for what I’ve learned about myself and my resilience. As that only child inside of me wanted friends, I also knew I had to figure it out on my own, I remind myself that I can. We all can find that resilience inside, when we care and reach out to talk to people instead of staying in the loneliness.
The great challenge of belonging is something we will have to face in 2021, especially as we continue to work remotely. The thing is, it’s a shared core human need that we all have. I have recognized a long time ago, back when both my parents died just 1 year apart, that me feeling that I belong starts with me belonging to myself. Me caring about me and taking care of me.
A daily question
My daily question to myself is; how can I best take care of me today so that I can not just withstand the pressure of the day, but also be at my best?
Change happens, and then we move forward.
When I thought the speaking business was on hold because of COVID I fast realized that I could do my work remotely and self-care tools were needed more than ever. I built a studio in my garage, invested in new equipment and got on board with virtual keynotes and workshops about rethinking self-care to build resilience in times of change.
It has been so very rewarding to see how companies are stepping up to support their people in getting through this time and prepare for the future. One thing is certain, we need to take charge of our health; physically, emotionally and mentally. It’s a foundational need, not a nice to have anymore.
Our mindset matters
I always knew that my mindset got me through not just my childhood but also the years of sudden changes and loss that have marked my life . I learned that from my dad. Especially while he was dying and we spend our 5 months in isolation talking about life and what matters at the end.
It was the most difficult and most rewarding time and I learned that when we stop resisting what is happening, we take back our power. We reclaim ourselves. We can make choices, that support us in moving forward. Not dismissing how we feel, but rather acknowledging how we feel and also accepting both how we feel and the circumstances we are in. Only then can we ask what we need to move forward. It gives us a powerful tool to navigate the emotional landscape, that we all have to travel through every day.
For 2021, please, please consider how you will take care of yourself, not because you have to fit into a certain perfect idea of what you should look and be like. Not some dieting goal or fitness ideal. Please consider that your mental health matters and make conscious choices about how you are taking care of you all day long. We can finally talk about mental health in a productive way and focus on self-care at work. Not a personal problem, but a culture possibility so we can all thrive.
Thank you 2020 for bringing the conversation about mental health into focus. My mom always said she wished she had an illness people could see, because then maybe they would understand. Talking about mental health is how more people can stop living in shame of mental illness and we can take back some sense of what we can control in our lives, our mental health and wellbeing, before it becomes mental illness. Our wellbeing is pro-active. We all need it because we all have mental health, all the time, every day. How we take care of it is what matters.