It’s been a year since the global pandemic started. 

It’s been a year, in more ways than one. 

Recently while working from home, I heard Leslie Knope say on a Parks & Recreation episode, “Are you better off than you were a year ago?” 

I often have either The Office or Parks and Rec playing in the background when I’m chugging along on simple work tasks. I’ve seen and heard them so many times that they provide white noise, like the comings and goings in a coffee shop, when we were allowed to sit down in them and work on laptops. 

Usually I let the dialogue wash over me, chuckling here and there, but this question made me stop my work, grab the remote, rewind the episode, and watch. 

“Are you better off than you were a year ago?” she asked, in a question as relevant today as it was in 2013 when the episode aired, especially as the pandemic celebrates its first birthday. This question was so relevant, in fact, that I asked myself – in light of the pandemic – “Am I better off than a year ago?”

Beware the Toxic Positivity

Before feeling frustrated by the question and moving on, know that I am not the type of person to buy into that whole Pollyanna-type toxic positivity that ignores realities and the importance of acknowledging, feeling, and processing emotions. 

Ever heard of toxic positivity? I’m positive (pun intended) that you’ve come across it on a regular basis since time began. Toxic positivity is the idea that keeping only positive emotions and thoughts – staying positive – is the right way to live. 

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that sometimes life sucks. Attempting to stay positive all of the time is not only impossible, it is detrimental to our mental health. All of the emotions continue to build up, resulting in a tantrum or meltdown, and then a big fat mess to clean up, usually with the people closest to us.

Rather than falling into the trap of trying to reframe this year in all positives, let’s look at the events in our personal lives as both sides of a coin. 

Holding Opposites

Emotions are not very complicated, until we start feeling more than one thing at a time. Truth is not complicated, until we realize that more than one thing can be true at a time. The trick is being able to hold all of this at the same time, and letting it all be without judgement or shame. Especially when the emotions and the truths seem opposite of each other. 

For instance, one of my best friends sent me photos of her getting the Covid 19 vaccine. Do I feel happy for her? Yes. I also feel envious that she got it and I didn’t. I feel irritated that it was so easy for her and I am endlessly confused by the process. I feel relieved that she has gotten the first of two vaccinations with the second one scheduled. 

These are my emotions about this situation, in all of my humanness. If I wanted to “stay positive,” I could say, “Oh be patient, everyone will get the vaccine.” I could also shame myself or simply ignore the emotions, pretend they aren’t there. 

Or I could simply acknowledge that yes, I feel happy and relieved for her and yes, I feel envious and irritated. Yes, she got the vaccine and yes, I have to wait. All of this is true. 

Even better? These feelings will pass. Feelings are not facts. They come (that’s what she said) and go, like the daily availability of vaccination appointments at Walgreen’s. 

Both Sides of Our Pandemic Coins

So, back to the question, “Are you better off than you were a year ago?” 

Fortunately, more than one thing can be true at a time. Let’s look at four of my coins.

Coin one: Family. Kids home all the time. Partners home all the time. Zoom calls continue to suck. Online school sucked. Not because of the teachers or even the districts; nobody knew what they were doing and we have never done a long-term global pandemic before. Online school was difficult to manage while parents were still expected to work full time jobs at home. My oldest’s senior year was cut short and we participated in the weirdest high school graduation I’ll ever see. My youngest was cut off from his friends for several months, working on a laptop and hating every second. 

Watching our kids go through challenges and pain is tough, like nothing else. The other side of that coin is that I got a lot of time with my boys – especially my sophomore in high school – that I would not have had otherwise. Plus I have the luxury of not having toddlers and knowing how fast the time goes. When I look back on this year, that extra time will make me smile. 

Coin two: Friends. I missed my friends so much, and even with the pod that we formed, we still don’t see each other as much as we did before the pandemic. I still miss the bulk of the people in the different communities I participate in as a mom, comedian, writer, speaker, mental health advocate, dog owner, all of it. 

The other side of that coin is that I had a lot of time at home. I got to know my partner so well that halfway through the pandemic year, we got engaged. I was able to slow down and live at a more manageable pace. Plus, I have met so many people online thanks to Facebook community groups, especially those who live in my own neighborhood. As challenging events happened in our neck of the woods all year – Black Lives Matter protests, forest fires, flooding, an ice storm, shelves empty of needed food, job losses – our neighbors have come together in more ways than one to hear and support and provide for one another through this year. I am much more involved in my community than I was a year ago, and I feel grateful for that.

Coin three: Purpose. Like the average person, I’ve had many jobs and a couple of careers already in my lifetime. The last few years, though, I was floating, not knowing where I was going. My kids were getting older and needing me differently than before. My job was paying the bills, but I lacked purpose.

The other side of that coin is that the time alone and at home made it easier to devote myself to healing from PTSD symptoms. I worked online with a specialist, the hardest work I’ve ever done. And it worked, I no longer have PTSD symptoms. Now I am going through a Trauma Recovery Coaching program to get certified and specialize in the same PTSD treatment that I experienced. 

Coin four: Mental Health. We have all learned about the importance of mental health this year. I learned a lot about myself regarding my mental health, like the power of choosing to heal our wounds. About creativity and resourcefulness, resilience and endurance, and flexibility. The exhaustion of grief and change and the power of rest. Processing feelings and emotions in our bodies and minds.

The other side of that coin is the fear of seeing people not able to access mental health services because there simply are not enough, and witnessing the burn out of mental health care providers. We now seem to recognize the need for increased mental health services across the board. I’m hoping that mental health services – like seeing a therapist, for example – will become as routine as seeing the doctor for preventative care. As we continue to encounter these challenging times in life, we’ll have and be able to provide each other with more support. 

The question of the year – this pandemic year – remains: “Are you better off than you were a year ago?” 

The only way to know is to examine both sides of your coins.

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