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  • Amy Lees

HOW CORONAVIRUS CAN HELP US HEAL

Coronavirus was officially labeled as a global pandemic in March 2020 by the World Health Organization, and we responded.


We stocked up on toilet paper.

We cancelled events.

We closed our schools’ doors.

We converted restaurants to delivery.

We lost jobs.

We innovated relationships.

We, well most of us, agreed to stay home.


In the United States, people started practicing social distancing at less than 100 cases in areas across the country. As the numbers and awareness of the growing pandemic grew, communities went into "shelter in place". People have been ordered to stay home, unless otherwise deemed essential.


The intensity of the situation and extreme change produced fear of the unknown.


How are we supposed to support our families?

Is this going to be the cause of the next economic collapse?

How long is this going to last?

What's going to happen?


But this isn't about the statistics of COVID-19 and the turmoil this virus has caused. While it is true that our lives have changed, some worse than others, our communities have not fallen into disarray or that of a dystopian society.


I am writing this to share how Coronavirus is helping us heal.

People, everywhere, are being forced into spending massive amounts of time with themselves, which has an effect on our planet, of course. We are reducing carbon emissions everywhere with flights being cancelled and people working from home. Waters are clearing and our air is less polluted, but this isn't about healing Earth either.


Let's talk about the effects COVID-19 is having on our mental health. Alienation forces us to spend more time alone, with ourselves and our thoughts, which can be uncomfortable for a lot of us. It is also what helped me heal some of my deepest wounds.


This blog post is about how “social distancing” is helping us heal our inner-selves.

A few years ago, I packed up my suburban with an air mattress, a tent, and a few essentials and hit the road after my world got turned upside down. At the time, the change I was experiencing was intense. It was scary. There was a lot of gray, and my future was wildly unknown.


I knew one thing: I wanted to live. And not in a "just survive" sort of way.

I wanted to thrive at life. I wanted to find my "happiness".


I wanted to stop feeling like my world was ending. I had to stop cycling through the painful trauma of my past. I read all of the personal development and self-help books that taught me "your past does not define you", but I just felt like I couldn't escape anymore.


Avoidance just wasn’t working. I had to stop pretending like it never happened, or like my life was so perfect now that it didn't matter. Obviously, life would never be perfect, and I needed to be okay with that.


I had just stepped out of a life I had been building for years, and I felt like I was on a boat alone in the middle of uncharted waters, unsure of the direction to go.


Crater Lake National Park. Oregon.



It wasn't enough to pretend or escape anymore.


I needed to heal.

And nobody could do it for me.


When a foundation of self-esteem isn't nurtured, the only assurance is in doing what other people want you to do. For so long, I lived a life of pleasing others first, and it was time for me to discover what I wanted for myself.


I made the decision to travel around the country to hike national parks solo because I loved exploring Big Bend National Park in Texas, but had never been to any other parks. Exploring and travel were hobbies I wanted to do more of, but always put off for other reasons. At the time, they came racing to the front as the obvious answer to my predicament.


It felt like the most natural step on my journey, but I felt stuck in place out of fear. Traveling alone was scary to me, and I had no idea how to prepare or even what my route would be. My "new normal" was so abnormal that I made the decision to go for it anyway. I needed to prioritize my own needs and just figure it out as I went.


I was ready to face my fears of the past and my discomfort of not knowing the future. I was ready to change myself.


Big Bend National Park. Texas.



I would have never opted to travel solo before this. Having people around me meant that I didn’t have to make the decisions, but being alone meant I had to make my own way. I had to put my own needs and wants first. I had to hear (and listen to) my own thoughts.


It was strange, at first. I didn't know what or how to think.


I almost expected some voice to start talking, but I had silenced myself for so long. I felt alone, even when I was quiet enough to hear my inner thoughts.


I was so out of tune with myself that it felt weird and unnatural to be surrounded by silence. So that was the second thing I tackled: sitting alone without distraction.


Great Sand Dunes National Park. Colorado.



I hiked this country's most beautiful landscapes, often picking the more difficult and longer trails, in order to wear myself down. By the time I got to the top or peak view, I was too tired to hush my own thoughts.


I let them breakout.


At first, I could only hear nature. Usually, it was the wind howling. I would sit and listen to the wind, until I realized that the wind was my voice.


This is where you expect me to say that I started to howl like the wind, isn't it? Well, I didn't. I know, I know - sorry to disappoint.


My inner self was learning how to be heard again. I was learning how to break this habit of fighting myself down. Forcing myself to listen was retraining my brain to fight FOR myself, instead of against.


The journey I put myself through was tough and uncomfortable, but this self-discovery odyssey taught me how to make myself the priority.

Truth be told, I don't believe I knew exactly what I was doing at the time. I just knew that I needed to start listening to ME.


Each solo hike got easier, until I embraced the solitude and stopped considering myself to be "alone". The habit of respecting myself clicked into place, and I found myself stopping to listen naturally, even outside of these meditations. Something clicked within me, as if my soul and body were reconnected. My outer actions and my inner thoughts had been fighting for so long, and now they were actually on the same page.


My relationship with myself went from non-existent to blooming. I was no longer fearful of the unknown - I embraced it like an old friend. I became comfortable with not knowing where I would end up because I gained confidence in myself to always figure it out.


Lassen Volcanic National Park. California.



What I went through in 2018 is coming back around now in 2020, but for everyone and certainly not by choice.


As the deadline of our social distancing continues to be pushed out and the serious effects of COVID-19 become more understandable, we have no other choice but to accept our discomfort and adjust.


The all-too-familiar patterns started to emerge: panic, avoidance, and escape.


Our first reaction was to panic at the news of a novel strain of the Coronavirus infecting and causing death in humans. As the goal became to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, self-isolation from social gatherings, events, and communities became common practice.


Then, we experienced an atomic bomb of memes from meme-city, avoiding the gravity of the situation per usual, and making fun of the toilet paper hoarding instead. After a few days, exhaustion of the topic was expressed on social media, encouraging people to talk about ”normal” things, and #normalizemyfeed (and complete avoidance) became a trend.


Lastly, we saw escapism in many forms. From binge-watching Netflix and Disney+ for entertainment to spending double or triple the usual amount of hours getting lost in video games, our beloved technology came to the rescue.

Although our reactions are typical and expected, it's time we start facing the real problem: our fear of the unknown. The extreme changes we are all experiencing can be positive or negative on us and our families. It is just the reality of this situation - people are already experiencing the grim situation of not being able to be by loved ones as they struggle through the effects of the disease. Others have lost their jobs and incomes, and don't know what to do to support their families.



This situation is serious for our whole world, not just individuals, and not one of us on this planet has all of the answers for everyone.


We have the answers for ourselves.


We know that we are capable of problem-solving. We are taught that there is a solution to every problem, and it's time we start looking inward for our own solutions.


When was the last time something bad happened to you?

What was it?

How did you overcome it?


This pandemic IS scary, and the outcome is unknown. But this isn't the first time we have dealt with something foreign. We all have dealt with our own lifetime of trials and tribulations, of problems and solutions, of pain and moving on.


Life is unknown in itself - from anyone who has known young unexpected death, you learn to appreciate each day of life and not take it for granted.


The reality is that we need to be able to figure out each situation for ourselves. Be comfortable with the unknown, adapt to the changes, and listen to your inner voice figuring it out.


You are not alone.

You can face your fears.

You can embrace uncertainty,

even when your world is upside down.

These are the moments we make heroes out of our own lives. This is the moment you look back on to recall what the catalyst was to create the most beautiful chapters of your life unfold.


In summary:

1. Do the thing, even when you're afraid.

2. Take the time to listen to yourself.

3. Repeat this process and create your own solutions.

As we practice more physical distancing, remember that it is healthy to be alone, sometimes. You learn how not to be defined by another person. You learn who you are and who you want to become. You figure out what you want and make yourself go for it. You become the captain of your life without influence. You become your best self.


Mount Rainier National Park. Washington.



Resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC - Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary - https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/summary.html


Dr. Duc Vuong Video - How COVID-19 KILLS--I'm a Surgeon--And Why We Can't Save You - https://youtu.be/4J0d59dd-qM



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