(a five-minute read)
What we learned—the Pandemic, Isolation, and Politics impacted our Mental Health—some good news!
I avoided posting to my blog since January 6, 2021—I am angry at those who would break our democracy for personal gain. With anger comes loss of creativity, loss of cognitive clarity and most debilitating, loss of humor! I have lost my sense of humor, my Southern manners—overcome by distress, anger and sadness.
To diminish my demise which I hope is momentary, I turned to my brilliant granddaughter in her third year in university—through Zoom. Living with three roommates and Mimi, a female Labrador guide-dog in training, JB and her housemates have followed Covid 19 safety recommendations limiting their contacts, always masking and cleaning their house carefully. Humor jumps in when I recall her room during her teen years—often more a construction zone. Her stepmom maintains a loving silence as her siblings–teenage-triplet laugh loudly at the thought of JB and ‘tidy’. A room, always more clothes on the floor than hung in the closet. Yes, a construction zone!
- JB is part of our gig economy—she works hourly in a small food chain. Masked and gloved, her parttime job at Insomnia Cookies in the university town helps pay her college expenses. Yes, after several months of shift work, she is aware that the public is often unmasked, rude, impatient and demanding quick service. But she is also aware that many of her college mates are kind, patient and masked. She observed with credulity that mask-wearing had been politicized and is not about health, even among those her age, those least at risk.
JB observed that university officials had to move quickly in March (2020 spring semester) from crowded classrooms to on-line classes. Most faculty members understood the difficulty for students factoring the change into their expectations; other faculty not so much so—they seemed not to care. [Editor note: I suggest that faculty who were indifferent were less tech savvy.]
She, a prolific note-taker learned very little in this Covid year. PowerPoint is ineffectual and the loss of study groups affected her most. She has missed greatly the social interaction—everyday activity today is so intentional, without the casual interactions that binds us together. The greatest difficulty, JB concludes fell upon freshmen students—their freshman year unlike any other—changed before they had time to make solid connections. Many will not continue their education—the loss of connection colors their university experience.
- JB is a member of the university marching band. Her description of a rehearsal or a performance is noteworthy. Even the wind instrument ‘masked up’—bell covers for each instrument and spit pads (to protect other performers from Covid exposure) were provided by the university.
- Performers spaced according to CDC social distancing recommendations. Numbers of instrumentalists were reduced for each game.
- Visualize this if you will—a stadium section of uniformed, masked and spaced performers: multiple masks are used, some with slits for the mouthpiece. Colored masks in a section indicate roommates, black mask indicative of non-roommates. Surreal!
- Life for these university students took on intentional planning rather than casual interactions at coffee shops or cafeterias. Every movement is thought through and always with the constant reminder of a mask at hand—even for twenty-year old students.
- Were they lonely? Yes, for the easy-going interactions at coffee shops or school cafeteria with casual friends, not necessarily ‘best’ friends .
- [Editor’s note: According to my research, we miss laughter, sharing jokes, fellowship, gaining mutual trust and camaraderie. Camaraderie is in our DNA.]
What did we gain? according to JB, “More intentional friendships and a greater appreciation for little things. . . for what life was like before.”
“I had more time with Mimi—a guide dog for the blind or a first responder or veteran suffering PTSD.” [Mimi will live with JB for 18 months and undergo a lengthy series of training.]
“I spent the summer at my parents house so I had more time with my family and Mimi—and at the beach house during the summer.”
[Editor’s note: JB was seven years old when her mom died suddenly, without any early warning signals. While I spent several months with her in the immediate aftermath, I think she suffered PTSD. I was insufficiently prepared to address this other than to love her with affection and humor and constant daily activities on my small island. Along with a more-than-wise stepmom, ‘Doc’ a beautiful and rescued dog came into her life three years later, . Perhaps at some unconscious level, JB’s effort with Mimi is her continued recovery from childhood trauma.]
Was it a good year for these twenty-somethings in their third year of university? Yes, however, they are more mature and had previous years to adapt to university life. More so than the Freshmen class of 2020. Would they like normality? Yes. They have adapted yet, there is the ‘I wish I could go back to normal university life”. Some traditions of university life they did not particularly enjoy they now miss. [Go Dogs!]
JB gives me hope and laughter—my sense of humor returns. It is the energetic youth forging a path with their wise grandparents who can lead us out of the current turmoil. And this is good news!
Next week: more good news: What have we done to make life better in a pandemic? Have we learned in a year of isolation, grief, systemic (embedded) racist behaviors and political trauma? Yes, we have!