Community and the Gradual Change of Normal

Two weeks ago, I was still going to my small, local, gym. It still seemed safe enough to go there, wash my hands more than usual before and after class. See my regular gym buddies. Refrain from the usual high fives. Have my spirits lifted from endorphins and community.

I had my book club over that Tuesday. Social distancing wasn’t yet mandated. We enjoyed our usual monthly camaraderie, talked about There There by Tommy Orange, shared Covid-19 concerns, ate three sister chili and fry bread, had a little wine, laughed as a group, in person.

About a week and a half ago, my employer said we should all work from home until the end of March. I knew then that I had probably attended my last GetStrong class at Movefitness Club for awhile.

A week ago, Gavin and I, hesitantly decided it was OK to walk to our plans with friends for dinner, and others for lunch. We knew that wasn’t going to happen for awhile again. I was happy for the time outside, on foot, and seeing good friends who joked about bowing and kicking each other’s ankles, instead of hugging hello.

That Sunday night, I started receiving messages from local, independently owned, gyms and restaurants, announcing that with a heavy heart, their businesses were closing indefinitely. My heart sank a bit and I let out a few tears.

During the last week, I went for a jog outside on eerily quiet, “rush hour” streets and figured out how to follow along with a couple virtual workouts from Movefitness Club. My heart was lifted.

A picture of Nicole’s virtual workout – an “EMOM” provided by Movefitness Club. The photo lists the EMOM workout and a message from the gym “Our first GETSTRONG at Home IGTV video is up! Here is teh workout we set you up with! PLEASE Tag us when yo udo this video so we know you’ve done it!!!”

I saw my workplace handling things extremely well, proving they truly embody their values of “People First”. I’ve seen the senior people of the company, along with everyone else, post on our internal company boards, pictures of their home working spaces with kids and pets in sight. Nurturing a sense of work community. Nurturing my psyche.

My book club exchanged emails, sharing, in addition to our existing roster of books for the year, “escapist” book suggestions for this extraordinary time. We started talking about how our next book club should be by Zoom. It’s something to look forward to on the second Tuesday in April. My wine glass, head and heart are ready.

On Wednesday, Gavin and I officially cancelled our much anticipated honeymoon to Spain and Portugal, scheduled for May. Each perfectly situated hotel, an unusual indulgence for us, was cancelled one by one, while the hotels still had money…By that point, I had already grieved this loss and knew it was not important given everything else. I thought I felt OK. I hope Spain, which has been so badly hit by Covid-19, recovers well from the current situation and we are able to visit it one day.

I woke up on Thursday feeling inexplicably sad. A bit of melancholy. I expressed this on my Facebook page and appreciated some much needed virtual hugs and hope others felt the virtual hugs I was giving back.

On Friday I went to a local grocery store to get a few things. Thanked the smiling gentleman on cash for being there. I insisted on packing my own bags and using tap payment to minimize contact. I also arranged for a produce delivery in the coming weeks, because I realized I need to minimize even these types of visits.

I recognize I am fortunate. My husband and I are very lucky that we have each other to be with during this time of social distancing. We are lucky we are both able to work from home. We are lucky that we are healthy and our family and friend are all currently healthy. I am grateful for all of these things.

But I feel for all of the people who are out of work, or heading to work (healthcare workers, grocery store clerks), or worrying about their loved ones with coughs and trouble breathing.

On Friday night I started having a sore throat that continued into Saturday and ebbed and flowed with a bit of body aches and a headache and I was grateful that I have been staying home for the most part and I never had a fever and the symptoms passed quickly.

On Sunday I was grateful for yoga, 108 Sun Salutations to welcome the Spring Equinox, offered by one of my favourite yoga teachers, Lisa V., via Facebook Live.

A picture of Nicole mid-Sun Salutation, while doing 108 Sun Salutations on Sunday. Her two dogs are sitting on the couch behind her, watching. The picture has the words “Thank you for the 108 Sun Salutations for the Spring Equinox @lisayyz. I think the dogs enjoyed it too!”

On Sunday evening, my family had our first Zoom gathering. My parents, my sister and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews. Some of us figured out technical challenges. Once we were all online together, we chatted for over an hour. Most of us are in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), one is in San Francisco. How strange that those of us in the GTA, are not able to gather in person. But this is the way it is now. We talked about how Passover will not happen this year. Maybe it will merge into Rosh Hashanah (in September)? We talked about how long this might last. Some guessed a couple months, several months, some think it will be over a year, until there is a vaccine. I was grateful for the Zoom gathering. We all agreed it was fun and we will do it again next week. But I was also left with a bit of sadness. How are we going to go months (and months?) without seeing each other in person? What will happen to all of our psyches if that is how it plays out? I know we are adjusting and will adjust, but there is just a sense of sadness about this that I can’t shake.

Screenshot of Nicole’s family on a Zoom “get together”.

It’s fair to say that the sadness I am referring to can be described as grief. This type of grief is well described in this article from the Scott Berinato in the Harvard Business Review (as well as coping mechanisms): Berinato turns to information from David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief (his credentials are described in the article), who says that it is important to acknowledge the grief you may be feeling, how to manage it and how he believes we will find meaning in it. First, it’s important to understand the stages of grief (which aren’t linear):
“There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s angerYou’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargainingOkay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s AcceptanceThis is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.”

Kessler adds “I’ve been honored the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ family has given me permission to add a sixth stage to grief: Meaning. I had talked to Elisabeth quite a bit about what came after acceptance. I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times.” He refers to appreciating technology, walks, having long conversations.

Kessler says if someone is still feeling overwhelmed with grief “Keep trying. There is something powerful about naming this as grief. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through…..Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.”

So for me, in the meantime, I will continue to try to maintain a routine. Virtual workouts, some jogs outside (hopefully), socially distanced dog walks, productive work days (with my co-workers aka dogs, at my side), Zoom get togethers with friends and family, date nights with my husband.

When we are out the other side of this pandemic, I know my sense of community may be a little different, and I will be ever the more grateful for every in-person connection – every high five at the gym, every hug from my parents, every walk for coffee with neighbours, every workplace debate between cubicles about whether a movie was deserving of that Oscar, and energetic discussions with my book club gathered around someone’s living room.

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk, working at home with her husband and two dogs and getting used to doing at home workouts.

3 thoughts on “Community and the Gradual Change of Normal

  1. There’s such a whirl of emotions around this whole thing. I can’t land in any one place for very long. When one emotion predominates I can kind of get used to it and make sense of it and let myself feel it. Like, I can be sad and that’s okay. This is so much harder. Fear. Sadness. Horror. Grumpiness. And yet mostly, right now, I’m just fine. Miss people and hugs but I am mostly okay. So many deaths and I’m complaining about missing riding bikes with friends. And then I worry I am self centered for thinking about me. ARGH. So many feelings. It’s also exhausting. Virtual hugs your way. Thanks for posting about this hard thing.

  2. I think we may have to allow ourselves to grieve abit that the future may not be as carefree as recent past…where we could travel more freely locally and overseas without overly worrying about deadly viruses.

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