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5 Lessons for Finding Peace in Our 'New Normal' During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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After living four years with advanced congestive heart failure, I’ve learned a thing or two. Since my diagnosis, my life has changed considerably in terms of hyper-focusing on my health, rest and sometimes isolation. So, strangely now, in the middle of this pandemic, my life hasn’t changed all that much. But I am noticing one change: people behaving more like me. And many of them are fighting against their new normal as I did. Here are five truths I’ve learned over the last few years that I wish I’d known much earlier about dealing with this type of situation.

1. Slowing down is a survival mechanism we too often ignore.

As this pandemic has stopped our lives in mid-step, it may have saved us in more ways than one. Social distancing will undoubtedly save lives, but it will also reorder some in ways that are just as vital for long-term wellness. My doctors have instilled in me the importance of rest to keep me out of the hospital and slow the progression of my disease. This worldwide virus could be helping many of our families survive, too.

Homeschooling and working from home may be a bumpy start, but all the extra activities that have been canceled give us a chance (and the courage) to play video games with our teens, make sushi with our spouse, learn to knit from our grandmother, and knit us all closer together in the process.

2. Sometimes distance is the best gift you can give someone. 

At this moment in history, loving people may involve more inaction than action. We have to protect our vulnerable population. That’s hard for do-ers. We must be creative enough to love and support people without physical touch. When I was first diagnosed, I needed people, but I wanted them to love me from a distance. I wasn’t ready to be “chin-up” in person. I needed cards, texts, phone calls. I needed ridiculous memes and unexpected gifts like backscratchers. What I didn’t need was a lot of company. I was balancing a strange blend of grief and hope and that required time to emerge on the other side. But I still craved support from afar to get there.

3. Simplicity brings clarity.

When options are taken away, what’s left becomes more sturdy and more appreciated. We are in the process of correcting some over-pruned crepe myrtles. Part of that involves removing the weaker trunks so the tree’s energy can be focused on the stronger ones. The same thing happened to me with heart failure, and it’s now happening to millions in isolation. When we only focus on the few priorities we have access to in a day, they naturally become stronger. My diagnosis has forced me to have a leaner schedule. With fewer commitments, I have discovered opportunities to write that I never would have taken in a different, fuller life.

4. Living outside of “normal” parameters can be refreshing. 

Even for self-assessed “control freaks,” this change can be freeing. As I came to terms with my new health limits, I let go of some career and personal goals I should have shed years ago. It felt like a weight had been lifted. Unexpected paths are strewn with wildflowers, not flats of annuals from the nursery we color-matched and planted in neat rows. Embrace this current opportunity to live outside your own plans. It’s sort of like a vacation from your self-imposed expectations.

5. Fear is a setback worse than the disease.

We are hard-wired to fight, flight or freeze when imminent danger strikes. But when fear hangs around, it’s destructive. It’s debilitating and it can manifest itself into anxiety in the long-term. In this age of information and in this era of daily press conferences, we tend to fear something more than immediate danger. We fear something much more durable: we fear what we don’t know. How will this virus spread? Will there be enough medical equipment to treat us? Will the economy and my family’s bank account survive the slowdown?

Similarly, with heart failure, the prognosis is fuzzy. Everyone responds and progresses (and digresses) differently. When I was first diagnosed, I overwhelmed myself with daily internet searches so I could get my mind around this monster I’d never met before. I was sure that, armed with enough facts, I could beat it. The problem is, future projections are just speculation at best. Informed predictions, perhaps, but still not fact. I had to learn to trust in people I didn’t know who were managing my physical future to the best of their ability. And I had to let go of the fear that it might not turn out how I’d like. When I realized that, I found a peace I wasn’t expecting in the middle of medical chaos.

As the entire world is taking a deep breath, consider what some of us living with chronic illness have already learned: it’s really not so bad after all.

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NisiriN / Getty Images

NisiriN via Getty Images

Originally published: March 31, 2020
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