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I dunno about you but I am sick of that the very word COVID-19. I’m sick of hearing about “unprecedented times.” I’m sick of this pandemic. I’m sick of death, loss, grief, and fear.
But I gotta move forward.
Whenever I go through something difficult or devastating I try to focus on some of the positives. I know that sounds cliché — and it is — but how else would I have gotten through my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis and a host of other medical problems?
I’m no Pollyanna and I have my share of dark days. But finding gratitude, counting my blessings, and forcing myself to think of something positive — even amid the shitstorm we are currently are in — has been a coping skill I developed after years of depression and chronic illness wreaked havoc on my life.
The coronavirus pandemic has obviously caused the entire world a tremendous amount of grief and hardship. Much of the time, it feels impossible to find silver linings, but for the sake of my mental health, I am forcing myself to try to look on the bright side.
While deliberate positive thinking doesn’t make my life suddenly perfect, I find that it does help my thought patterns and gets me out of the funk that depression drags me into. It helps me be a lot more productive and a better mom to my son. It’s a skill I learned from my clinical social worker, who has taught me many useful cognitive behavioral therapy tips.
Anxiety and depression are exhausting. When you combine that with fatigue caused by rheumatoid arthritis and a splash of pandemic burnout, it becomes a recipe for my personal disaster. So I’m grasping for just about every way to be the healthiest I can be — coronavirus-free plus keeping my rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety, and depression at a manageable level. It takes more than just diet, exercise, and medications: You have to treat the mind, body, and soul.
With that in mind, I decided to write a list of positive things that have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic for me. Here’s what I came up with.
1. My exercise routine has been transformed
I had a lot of weight to lose when I was diagnosed with RA and I firmly believe that becoming a gym rat has transformed my health. When COVID hit and I couldn’t go to the gym in person, I tried a ton of new outdoor and at-home exercises. When my gym finally recently re-opened I would be often the only person in the entire gym, so I started trying out different machines. The staff finally knows me by my first name after five years of going there. (Not to mention that finally, people are cleaning the damn machines after using them!)
2. I’ve had time to be more creative and focus on self-growth
I completed seven paintings for my apartment, came up with some great recipes (especially ones using overripe bananas), and binge-watched Tiger King twice without the guilt of having to be anywhere or do anything. With extra time on my arthritic hands, I practiced photography, wrote a lot, and focused on self-growth.
3. I spent more time with my son and connected with him
As much as I missed the six hours I get to myself a day while my son is in school, I was grateful to be able to experience him learning from me as his teacher. I don’t want this to be permanent — that’s for sure — but I can still relish the experience to bond with my son for the time being.
That said, I will be even more grateful when schools are safe for him to attend again.
4. I cleaned out my ‘friend list’
Gone are the covidiots. Cutting out friends is not always easy, but I am grateful that the pandemic has brought out the true colors of some people in my life. People who don’t take the pandemic or my health concerns seriously are toxic to me. Lately, those same people are being very vocal about their opinions, which makes it easier for me to avoid them. At the same, I am lucky that the pandemic has helped deepen some of my relationships with others.
5. I received strong social and financial support
Somehow the Canadian government finally seemed to recognize they don’t give those of us on disability enough to match the rising costs of living. But beyond government financial support, many of my friends and family have been more compassionate and helpful because they understand my extra layers of concern. The extra help, money, and gifts I’ve received have allowed me to maintain some of the healthy lifestyle that is necessary for managing my RA. With support from others, I’ve been able to keep exercising with bicycle and at-home exercise equipment and buy healthy groceries and supplements.
6. Chronic illness awareness is up
For better or worse, aspects of rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic illnesses have taken center stage at points during the pandemic. There’s more awareness about rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, for example, because of when hydroxychloroquine was being studied as a COVID therapy.
Though it took a lot of effort from us patient advocates and with support from organizations like CreakyJoints, there has been more awareness for invisible illnesses that can make people at a higher risk for infections. When coronavirus first ripped into North America, I was interviewed on CTV News and CNN to tell the word my concerns as someone immunocompromised. That was an experience and a half!
7. Cleanliness is trendy
Everyone is making more of an effort to properly clean their hands and businesses are stepping up how they disinfect their environments. This is great for those of us who are immunocompromised when we do venture out. People are carrying around hand sanitizer at all times and it’s available everywhere. People are staying home when sick. And wearing a mask in public — which I’ve done for years — isn’t a weird thing anymore.
I normally catch some sort of cold or bug every few months, I haven’t had one for eight months. Refreshing! And speaking of clean and refreshing, how about reductions in air pollution from being in lockdown?
8. I am more comfortable when I go out
I haven’t had someone bump into me in months, which is amazing as someone with balance and chronic pain problems. I’ve enjoyed no one entering my personal bubble in some time. The streets and shops are quieter with fewer people around to trigger my anxiety. While I don’t go out much — and won’t go anywhere that doesn’t have social distancing guidelines or a mask mandate in place — when I took my son to the movie theater and there were only four other people seated far away, I didn’t have to worry about keeping him safe during Jumanji: The Next Level. Plus, I realized I have a new appreciation for going to the movies and other simple things I now realize I took for granted before.
9. Telehealth services are now finally a thing
This is great for us with chronic pain and fatigue. When it takes you hours to travel from point A to point B to see a specialist for 15 minutes and you live with a chronic illness, it is utterly exhausting. Even worse, this travel fatigue interferes with my ability to communicate the way I need to during these important doctor meetings. Telehealth services not only keep us safe from potential COVID exposure, but they save a lot of us time, money, pain, and fatigue.
10. Communities are coming together and working on change
I don’t want to gloss over in this little paragraph the tragic killings of Black Americans and the centuries of anti-Black racism that have led to ongoing protests this year in the U.S., my native Canada, and around the world. Yet I would be remiss if I didn’t include in this list the ways many communities are coming together to fight racial injustice during the pandemic. As shitty as 2020 is, I hope it will go down in history as changing the way our younger generations think about our world. My 7-year-old son has started saying he wants to become a cop so he can banish racism.
11. More research is being put into critical health care issues
COVID has clearly shed light on racial health disparities and how more research is needed across the board — not just about COVID-19, but health care in general — to understand how we can start fixing them.
And on a personal level, as someone involved in arthritis patient research, I’ve also been heartened to see how researchers have transformed how they’re studying coronavirus to help patients like me get answers about how to manage our conditions during this time. Databases of patients with different chronic illnesses have been stood up and analyzed in record time so we could understand more about the medications, comorbidities, and other factors that are affecting people’s risk.
12. More jobs are becoming accessible to people who need to work from home
I’ve been on disability since I was diagnosed with RA because the disease does not allow me to work in my career as an aesthetician. Many people with chronic illness find it difficult or impossible to maintain in-person office jobs with long commutes. This has forced them to be unemployed or underemployed when perhaps a more flexible work schedule could have made all the difference in keeping them in the workforce.
Finally, companies have been forced to recognize the feasibility and many benefits of working from home. In a post-pandemic world, allowing more jobs to provide a work-from-home option would dramatically help those living with disabilities who want to stay in the workforce but need more flexible accommodations.
13. Health care heroes and front-line workers are getting the recognition and respect they deserve
Being chronically ill, I’ve been under medical care from many different types of providers and specialists for a number of years, so I’ve been able to appreciate those who dedicate their lives to help others. I don’t know where I would be today without the nurses, doctors, and therapists who’ve helped me along my journey. And where would we be today in the COVID-19 pandemic without the unrelenting dedication of these health care heroes?
The same goes for essential workers, who do so much to keep the backbone of our society strong but whose critical roles are often invisible. I have loved seeing those who keep the world running be celebrated so beautifully (though I know more recognition is still needed).
My Roller Coaster of COVID Emotions
This list is far from complete. I could write entire articles about each item in it, for that matter.
And while at this very moment I am filled with warmth, gratitude, and hope for a better tomorrow, I know there will be other moments soon when I will feel the rumblings of fear, dread, anxiety, and despair. That’s COVID for me: appreciating the ups, but knowing the downs may be just around the corner.
When those darker moments arrive — the ones that make me worry about my RA and other health issues, that make me fear for my son’s emotional well-being, that make me question my sanity and ability to wear so many hats at the same time — I’ll think about this list and even try to add to it.
After all, I gotta keep moving forward. And positivity always helps shine a little light toward the future.
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