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(Re)Learning to Cope: 5 Simple Life Lessons the Coronavirus Epidemic Reminded Me About

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If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you once weren’t coping well with the coronavirus epidemic.


I get that.


When COVID first started, I didn’t take it seriously. I was part of the problem. I thought because I was young and lived in an area not highly affected by the disease, that I could live normally.


I went out with coworkers. I sat close to my friends. I ate out. I went shopping without a mask.


Once I learned how I could contaminate someone high risk, that asthma made me high risk, that I knew people who had the disease or lost someone to it, and that pets could get it, I took COVID-19 seriously.


Too seriously.


With borderline personality disorder (BPD), I go from extremes to extremes. Think pendulum style mood swings. I was scared to leave my room without a mask. I didn’t want anyone to breathe by my dog. I worked from home and went a month at a time without leaving. I even kept dishes in my room that only I used.


Yeah, paranoid.


I became controlling. No one wore masks properly, cleaned enough, or washed their hands as many times as I wanted. I yelled. Cried. I carried the responsibility of keeping everyone alive. If I blinked and someone got sick, it was my fault.


All or nothing thinking. When does that do any good?


Thankfully, my loved ones held an intervention for me. I went back to therapy and my bouts of paranoia didn’t affect my job.


Now, I’m coping better thanks to lessons I’ve (re)learned. Hopefully, they can help you too, my #worthyreader!


1)    You can’t control anyone but yourself.


It’s so liberating to stop trying to control everyone. Once I focused on what I could control, such as me wearing a mask, keeping social distance, creating a cleanliness routine, and making realistic rules for my dog like asking my family to wash their hands before playing, I could breathe again.


The world wasn’t on my shoulders! It never was. Sure, I still worried, but I stopped demanding over and over. Instead, I bit my tongue when something didn’t directly affect me. I stated my opinion once or set boundaries if It did. I offered suggestions only if the need for advice came up.


As a result, my loved ones were more willing to respect my concerns. I escaped the self-fulfilling prophecy I created – trying to force people to do what I wanted only made them do the exact opposite.


Interesting how that works, huh?


2)    Live in the moment.


Planning for the future is a common habit and it’s usually important. However, it’s difficult to plan a future when there’s a disease affecting the globe and changing life as we know it.


On the other hand, the fact that life has changed makes it difficult not to get lost in the past.


I don’t know about you, but part of my heartbreak with the pandemic has been grieving my coping methods. No longer could I take myself out for a self-care day for a facial, massage, haircut, and my favorite restaurants and stores. No longer could I hang out with my friends in person or go on dates. Etc.


I found myself overly nostalgic for the past and fearing the future.


Who wants to live like that?


So, I began trying to enjoy the moment. I actively listened to my students on the phone. I wrote and escaped into my own world. I played with my dog in our backyard. I listened to funny audiobooks as I did chores. I even found my old ukulele in my closet!


All that being said, I tried to remember that the difficulties COVID-19 has brought into our lives won’t last forever. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel even if we don’t see it yet.


3)    Cherish your loved ones while they’re alive.


My therapist pointed out that the possibility of losing someone is not new. We never know when someone could get a life-threatening illness and there are plenty of those.


Remember lesson #1. We can’t control anyone. All we can do is take care of ourselves and encourage others to do the same.


And remember lesson #2. We can make the most of the time we have with our loved ones. Call those we haven’t talked to in a while. Say “I love you” more. Play games again. Be grateful for who we have.


My favorite example was my birthday. I planned a webcam game night. I ended up with a group of about 8 or so, but I had friends show up from different stages of my life. I had a friend from graduate school, several friends from college, and even an old friend from middle school!


And they were just as happy to do something fun and different too. It was heartwarming!


4)    Misery loves company.


One of the reasons I wasn’t coping well was because I stopped reaching out to my support system.


Usually, I reach out to people based on what’s going on in my life. For example, if I’m stressed about work, I have my coworkers or friends from grad school. If it’s my writing, I have friends from my undergrad. I have my social justice friends, Christian friends, queer friends, and friends who overlap the aforementioned categories.


Yet, who could I reach out to about struggling to cope with the coronavirus epidemic when everyone else was too?


I also thought that because I was taking care of my students that no one should have to take care of me. In reality, though, I needed to take care of myself, so I had the energy to take care of them.


And I was emotionally burning out.


But then I realized that if I wouldn’t turn away a student no matter how stressed I was, my friends surely wouldn’t turn away from me. And I was right!


I don’t remember who I reached out to first. It may have been my childhood best friend, but once I did, I kept reaching out to more and more friends.


We didn’t have answers for each other the majority of the time, but having someone to complain with was a relief. We validated the other’s feelings or understood what the other was going through. We laughed at bizarre stories on the news too.


And we remembered that just because we’re social distancing, doesn’t mean we have to be distanced from our social circles.

5)    Be compassionate with yourself.


Last but not least, I learned to accept when I failed these lessons.


I sometimes cried when I missed my coworker who was furloughed. I sometimes worried about when I’ll ever be able to go back to Puerto Rico to see my siblings.   


Sometimes I couldn’t eat or sleep. Sometimes I ate or slept too much. I ignored my phone though I wanted to talk. I hung out alone even when my parents were available. I still occasionally argued about COVID safety guidelines.


But then I had to forgive myself and remember I’m just doing the best I can. That it’s okay to not be okay. To learn from my mistakes and move forward. To not sweat the small stuff.


Because nothing is the end of the world but the end of the world.



What about you? What life lessons have you (re)learned because of the coronavirus epidemic? Share in the comments! You never know when someone needs to hear what you have to say.