Wow! 2020. What a year. What a time. What a journey.
It’s fair to say that this time in the year 2020 is very challenging for many people. I would add that right now is particularly challenging for those of us who work in education. We are in a Global Pandemic. The number of Covid-19 cases are high (even though, I do realize that the numbers may be higher in other parts of the world), the highest they have been since the pandemic started. The school in which I teach, the same school two of my children attend, has had a Covid outbreak had to close for two weeks from November 14 – November 29. Additionally, just to make things even more interesting, our health authority has urged all staff and students to get tested for Covid-19 and self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of test results. Since my daughter (who attends a neighbouring high school) and my partner were both experiencing mild, allergy-like symptoms, we all piled into the mini-van and went for a family outing … off to the testing location. What fun.
After testing, we all started our self-isolation periods. One might think that it might not be so bad, since we are all self-isolating together. But, the thing is, we still cannot be close to one another, just in case one of us actually has the virus. In our family there are 3 people who are at-risk – two of us have asthma and another is immunocompromised and must have regular immunosuppressant infusions every 6 weeks. So, it’s not like chicken-pox, where you just expect (and sometimes encourage) everyone to get it, we actually need to be really careful not to expose each other to one another, just in case.
For us, not exposing one another means many things. We have been staying away from one another as much as possible. If we are in a common area of the house, we have masks on at all times. We do not touch each other. We do not sleep in the same beds. We do not eat meals together. When we are talking with one another, we do it through devices or at a distance – often from separate rooms, with doors open. Because of our family risk factors, we take this very seriously. We always have, which is why our bubble has been so small throughout this pandemic. The pandemic hasn’t been the most challenging part of 2020 for us, and we certainly don’t want to make it THE most challenging.
The stress has been pretty intense. It’s been very challenging. And yet, we continue. We don’t have a choice. We are surviving this pandemic, in such a way that we will be better at the end of it. We will be stronger as a family, as a community, as a province, as a country, and as a world, as a result. We will be. We just need to keep focused on keeping one another safe during this challenging time. We need to do our parts. Do our best. We are making history as we move through this time.
This brings my thoughts back to some of the most challenging parts of 2020 for me, which I will not go into here, but I got through. I got through these times with a wonderful counsellor, some inspiring and insightful books, some groups of amazing women who focused on lifting one another up, and some peaceful locations I could go to think, reflect, breathe, provide myself with some much-needed self-compassion, heal, be present, and focus on the little things, the things that really matter, the things that make a difference to our thought processes, which can be quite overwhelming for some of us during challenging times. For me, one of those places is near the water.
Being near the water provides me with such a calm sense, a sense of peace. It brings my senses alive and allows be to be truly present. It allows me to be in the moment. To be.
When I am near the water, the enormity of it can be breathtaking and overwhelming, yet still relaxing and grounding. When I look across the beach I see countless grains of sand, shells, rocks, pebbles, and seaweed. It all seems so big, so massive…. kind of like the Corona-virus. Everything about the virus seems big and overwhelming these days. But, when feeling overwhelmed and like things are just too much, we need to look closer. We need to examine our environment more closely to see the incredible things that are there. The things we may be missing. There are special things right in front of us, we just need to be present and really look for them, just like at the beach.
Much like life, the beach, in all its enormity, also has some pretty significant tiny treasures, if you take the time to really be present and look more closely. The closer we look, the more we will find to appreciate. The more we find to appreciate, the easier this time will be for each of us and for us all collectively.
Here is an example of this from a trip I took to the beach, on a particularly difficult day, in a very challenging time for me earlier this year. When I looked down I didn’t really see anything special. It all just looked like a bunch of rocks and broken shell pieces. Meh. But, even as I look at these photos, I see a lovely heart-shaped rock in the left photo (middle top of the photo). How precious. I didn’t see that then.
As I sat on the beach looking for treasures in what seemed, at first, to be a vast array of nothingness, I found a wonderful wishing rock. This rock brought back memories from years ago when I taught grade 1. My grade 1 teaching colleague used to go to the beach and pick up wishing rocks, enough for all the students in both of our classes. We would read a poem (this is not the exact poem we used, but an example … I could not located the exact poem) about wishing rocks (and do all sorts of poem study activities), and focus on the importance on making wishes and positive thinking. We would reinforce with our students the importance of holding on to those thoughts and wishes throughout our lives. We would also focus on how we can positively impact others (like in the legend of the wishing rock: Once you find a wishing rock, you make a wish. Once your wish comes true, you pass that rock on to a friend or loved one then all your wishes will come true and then your loved one can then make their own wish, and it continues).
When we look carefully (and sometimes not so carefully… but just take the time to look), we can find many things that bring us to more positive times. The more we take the time to look, the more we will find. This is what happened for me at the beach. It started with finding one wishing stone, and then moved on from there, until I couldn’t fit anymore in my hand. The more we look, the more we will find. The magic… the wishes… the peace … the fresh air … the resilience … it’s all there for us to find. There are times we will need to look more closely (and widely) than other times. Now may be one of those times for many of us. We can do it though! Even though it is really hard. We can do hard things.
Yeah, sure, we will still find some pretty yucky things along the way as well, as I did at the beach (cigarette butt in the sand), we just need to keep on looking. We just need to keep on refocusing ourselves, as many times as it takes. People are going to continue to do things we do not have control over, things that we may disagree with and things we may find frustrating. It is easy to get bogged down by those things, especially if those things are being done by people we care for and love, and especially when we know how harmful those actions are for all of us. There really is nothing we can do about that though. We can only control ourselves and try to be models for others (particularly our children and students) to follow. We can do this.
Other things we can each try to do to help keep ourselves grounded and in a better frame of mind, include…
- As I mentioned above, try to focus on the things we can control or that we have control over.
- Using the (free to educator) apps – Headspace and Calm to help us refocus and breathe.
- Go for walks and notice the wonderful things around us. I try to take photos of these things and I will often post my photo walk photos on Instagram.
- Listen to uplifting/positive music. I really enjoy this song, You Can Do Hard Things, and it is on my personal playlist called #Fighter. You may like it too. This version has some strong women … warning … there is one expletive by one participant at the beginning as they tell their point of view and this version is just the lyrics. We all can do hard things.
- Read. There are wonderful self-help kinds of books to help refocus, and to help ground ourselves (like the book called Self-Compassion I blogged about recently). There are also many fictional books to just take you away into another space.
- Limit social media or find groups that are more positive and uplifting. I found a recently created private group on Facebook by Lisa Baylis called Self-Compassion for Educators that I have found helpful. My colleague, and friend, Kiersten Shanz, our school counsellor, has created an Instagram channel that has some helpful supports as well.
- Look for book studies. I was recently in a free 7-week book study with Marc Brackett, the Founder and Director of the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence, about his book, Permission to Feel: the Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-Being and Success. You can find Marc on Facebook and Twitter as well.
- Look through photos and videos of better times, when we went to concerts and spent much-enjoyed time together. The time when we are able to enjoy these times will come again. They really will. My partner, my love, just shared this video with me today (as I self-isolate away from him) of a wonderful time we had together cuddled together at a concert with Royal Wood. There will be more concerts for us soon (not sooner than we’d like, mind you).
- Find times to smile and, better yet, laugh. This is one thing that made me laugh out loud last night … read the comments. Too funny!
- Be creative in the ways you spend time with others.
- Develop a group you can “zoom” with regularly … a group of people with whom you can smile and laugh and also a group of people with whom you can be vulnerable and share your struggles of these challenging times (you may need more than one group). It’s so important not to keep it all bottled up. We need to talk about our struggles with others. It helps our body and mind process things and not weigh us down.
- Find ways to be creative. Create!
- Learn something new. I am learning to sew. It’s quite a journey, since I haven’t touched a sewing machine since Grade 8 – over 35 years ago!
- Try to be forward-thinking… this too will be over. Try to make plans for the future when we are past this time.
- Reach out to a counsellor for a place to talk openly about how you are doing and the challenges you are facing.
These really are difficult times we are in. We need to be cognizant of that and be compassionate to others and ourselves as we move through this time. We need to be doing things differently. We have no choice in the matter.
We will get through this. Together.