How do you move forward during a difficult time? Especially, when it’s more of the same due to life circumstances beyond your control? Whether it’s a personal situation or COVID-19 health and safety protocols, sometimes you can’t escape the circumstances and uncertainty that surround you. By looking inward, at all you’ve accomplished, you can find the path forward.
2020 was quite a year. We learned a lot about ourselves, our values, our humanity, and what’s truly important in our lives. For some, it was an opportunity for reflection and an affirmation of a long-standing perspective on life.
For others, there were many “ah ha” moments and even epiphanies that revealed that which many did not know but should have been aware, that which some wanted to deny but could do no longer, and that which we wanted to “unsee” but is now forever imprinted on our brains.
The year was one of loss. A loss of “normal” – daily routines, employment, financial well-being, housing and food security, businesses, self-identity, dreams, health, and, for many, the ultimate loss – the loss of life.
The “new normal” can be frustrating, especially when it is necessary because of a year many would like to forget. But, it’s essential to your mental health to move past that frustration and utilize coping strategies so you can thrive.
Awakening and Opportunity
There were major steps to a better future, including these four:
- Emotional distress and mental health disorders were further destigmatized.
- A global outcry against systemic racism and injustice.
- Magnification of health disparities that have existed for more than 400 years.
- Rapid expansion of telehealth as a care delivery option for many types of care and conditions.
First, the global pandemic helped further destigmatize the challenges of emotional distress and mental health disorders.
The invisible impact of an invisible threat could no longer be denied. We all suffered in some way due to COVID-19 – social isolation resulting in loneliness, exacerbation of preexisting addiction disorders, anxiety, stress, depression, self-medication using alcohol, and grief and mourning to name a few.
Now is the time to make self-care a priority. Start by calming your mind. Explore or enhance a gratitude practice, to reflect on blessings and show compassion for others. We all need a little extra grace and empathy right now.
Racial injustice and systemic racism
Second, the murder of George Floyd – in plain sight and in broad daylight – for all the world to see triggered a global outcry against racial injustice and systemic racism.
Old and young, urban and rural, rich and poor, gay and straight, and people of color (the rising majority) and white came together in solidarity to protest and express anger and outrage against a greater than 400-year-old system of oppresssion and inhumanity that has both killed but also birthed hate, division, and a continuing history of across-the-board injustice and denial of rights and equity of opportunity.
The display of unity and support around the sanctity of Black lives in the midst of otherwise frequent and extreme polarization provided hope and advocates for change that had not been seen in decades. This movement also spurred some corporations across many industries to commit to taking action to help attain racial justice in the workplace.
Health disparities, which have been imbedded in the very foundation of the healthcare system, were magnified by the novel coronavirus, whose victims numbered in an inordinate way in communities of color and those of low socio-economic status/low wealth.
On average, these groups suffer a greater chronic disease burden, are more likely to be in jobs deemed essential and therefore in greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection, and more frequently do not have access to quality healthcare. Additionally, they also are on the receiving end of disparities in treatment when they do receive care.
For example, although they are at greater risk of complications, being hospitalized, needing a ventilator, and dying, Black patients have sometimes not received remdesivir at the same rate as their white counterparts. Remdesivir is a medication found in U.S. studies to speed recovery in adults who were hospitalized with the novel coronavirus and who had evidence of lower respiratory tract infection.
It has also been shown to lower mortality in those with both cancer and COVID-19. However, data from the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium published in Cancer Discovery indicated Black patients were half as likely to receive this potentially life-saving medication.
And an African American physician in Indiana made a videotape from her hospital bed before she died describing what she reported to be racist treatment at the first hospital to which she was admitted.
The medical establishment, from the AAMC to individual medical schools, training programs, and academic medical centers, acknowledged their obligation to robustly recruit underrepresented groups in order to ensure a diverse workforce among the ranks of clinicians, scientists, researchers, and the leadership of healthcare institutions. HBCU schools of medicine, which graduate a high percentage of the total number of Black physicians and others from communities of color in the U.S. finally began to get their national due as well as some of the well-deserved private sector financial support from which other medical schools benefit.
Fourth, virtual healthcare existed before the arrival of COVID-19 but enjoyed a growth rate in less than one year that was greater than many of the prior years combined.
Telehealth has the potential to help address issues relative to access to both primary and specialty care (including behavioral health), management of chronic conditions, and care delivery inefficiencies. It can also be leveraged, along with remote monitoring technology, to hasten the transition to more care being delivered in the home setting.
The digital divide, privacy, and data security are all areas of concern with far-reaching implications if they are not resolved. They also are problems for which solutions will be required in order for telehealth to achieve its potential and to avoid contributing to even greater health disparities. Increases in the adoption rate by both clinicians and patients of all ages, combined with a decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to continue to reimburse for care provided virtually to Medicare patients, have the potential to fuel a more rapid deployment of innovative solutions.
The Fragility of Life
The novel coronavirus reminded us of the fragility of life. From a loneliness epidemic, “long-hauler” syndrome, and hundreds of thousands of deaths to the miles-long food pantry lines, tens of millions unemployed, and more than one hundred thousand businesses that have permanently closed, we saw up close and repeatedly how quickly life can change.
Life’s always been uncertain. It often takes major life events to really open our eyes to realize how fragile it really is, though. Collectively, this reality was realized all at once.
But we also learned new skills, spent more time with some family members than would have otherwise been possible, created new rituals and traditions, simplified aspects of our lives, and (for those afforded the luxury to work from home) were more authentic in a work setting, as Zoom made it more difficult to separate home life from work.
We also witnessed heroes among us every day……. hospital staff, nurses, physicians, and pharmacists, ward secretaries and janitors, postal workers, caregivers in nursing homes, grocery store workers, firefighters and EMTs, and sanitation workers to name a few. And then there were so many others often forgotten, invisible, and deemed to be essential workers but not treated as such when it comes to being paid a living wage and having access to benefits.
We must steel ourselves for what the future may bring.
Although we now have 2 vaccines which reduce the risk of infection with COVID-19, it will take quite some time before enough (currently thought to be 80 – 90% needed) of the population has been vaccinated to truly control the virus.
Additionally, four new variants (UK, South Africa, Brazil, and California) have been discovered. They are reported to be up to 70% more infectious, to produce higher viral loads, and to infect children more easily. The UK strain is also reported to have up to a 35% higher mortality rate.
We will need to commit to the ongoing need to wear masks, social distance, and engage in personal and environmental hygiene. In combination, these safety measures have the ability to reduce the chance of becoming infected and infecting others more than 80%.
If we do not adhere to these proven preventive steps as much as possible, we will continue to experience the recurring super-surges that have led to ICUs filled to capacity, the need for field hospitals and patients receiving care in parking lots and hospital gift shops, a decreased ability to care for all patients regardless of diagnosis, and healthcare workers who are beyond exhausted, many of whom are suffering from PTSD.
We are all connected, and in a global way, whether we like it or not. Without acting accordingly, the virus will continue to ravage our lives and livelihoods for the fore-seeable future.
We each have the power as individuals to protect and actually save lives. This blessing means we have the opportunity to make a difference unlike any most of us have ever experienced.
Grit and Resilience
“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.”
~ Catherine DeVrye
We found the grit and resilience to survive a year unlike any other in our lifetime. We faced and persevered through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The virus made abundantly clear we are inextricably interdependent.
Mental strength, a healthy lifestyle, and living mindfully will help us move forward. Being grateful and kind will make things easier and provide the type of immunity for mind and spirit that is needed as much as that which vaccines can potentially deliver for the body.
In 2021, working together and valuing the lives of others as much as our own will be necessary to emerge as winners in the fight against COVID-19 as well as the many societal challenges the novel coronavirus has made impossible to ignore any longer. Tackling these corrosive forces is essential to our ability to thrive both as individuals and collectively.
Are you ready?