The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic feels like yesterday. The calendar, however, says otherwise. March 2020 is now almost a year and a half ago. Although the origins of COVID can be traced back to late 2019, the world shut down in March, once it became clear that this was no localized outbreak, but a worldwide menace. It changed my life. It changed all our lives.
The pandemic has been a tragedy. It has been a grind, in every conceivable way. In the midst of great suffering, we have been forced to confront what is truly important in life.
COVID is not yet in the rearview mirror, and it would be naïve to think that it is over. However, there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. (Sorry for all the transportation metaphors.) It is a relief to be vaccinated, and to be around others who are. With summer upon us, after a year-plus spent indoors, it is nice to rediscover the joys of community, of being around friends and family in person, rather than on a screen. Even talking to strangers has taken on a new joy. (This from an introvert.) I have spent more time outside in the last month than I can remember. There is a sense of optimism in the air. Things may not be back to normal, but it’s close. Or at least, close enough.
I feel like I have aged a decade. 2020 was a rough year last year for my family, with multiple hospitalizations and close calls. I’m 34, going on 35 in a few months. I feel much older. I haven’t been on Real Age since I more or less broke the algorithm several years ago. I would suspect it would say I have the body of a 50 or 60 year old. One thing is for certain – I have more gray hairs. And I am a year weaker.
But I’m not complaining, outside of the occasional lament. The past year-plus hasn’t been all bad. Our family was able to beat back our various health challenges, and I am eternally grateful for that. I don’t take family or friends for granted anymore. Sudden habit changes at the start of COVID have now become routine. In many areas of my life, I have adjusted, and in many instances, I feel more in control of things, despite the chaos brought forth by my disease. I read more than I used to. I meditate. I prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. I organize my schedule to maximize my work time and make a clean break when it is time to stop working for the day.
But as we emerge from this pandemic, the old feelings of restlessness about life have returned. I feel like something is missing. I feel like something is tugging at me, imploring me not to let life pass me by. There are many reasons I might be feeling this way. It could be the pandemic forcing me to think deeply about what is important. It could be having to confront my newfound-lost mobility. It could be a third-life crisis. It could be all of the above, or something completely different. I don’t know the reason. What is clear, however, is that I have come to a crossroads.
In some respects, it is comforting to know that many others are also taking stock of their lives during this time. The trauma we have been through as a world is nothing to minimize. It has had transformative effects in all aspects of life. We are left wondering where we fit in the grand scheme of things. What it means to be human. But for each of us, we have to make our own evaluations, based on our own life circumstances.
In case you are wondering, this post is not going to end with a grand epiphany, where I finally figure out what has been gnawing at me, or what to do next in my life. I’m still figuring that out.
Here’s what I do know: right now, I feel like I lack a sense of direction. (I do still enjoy my job – I’m talking more about where I fit in the world, based on all that has happened to me.) In the last eight years, I have carved out a purposeful path as a patient speaker, patient advocate, and resilience expert, all because of my disease. I like sharing my story, but lately, I feel like I should be doing more. That’s part of the problem. I feel like I am being pushed to do something else, but I don’t know what “something else” is.
Can I use my life experience to help more people? Helping others is what has made living with this disease tolerable. I feel like, in some respects, I am cut out for more, based on my experience. I’m not saying that I have become an authority that others need to listen to, or I possess skills that others don’t have. I’m talking about if there are other people that I can use my experience to help, perhaps beyond patient populations.
I’m trying to find my purpose in this world. What God wants me to do. What I am meant to be. I can be a lot of things, and I have wide-ranging interests. Sometimes it’s hard to bear down and focus on one path.
These days, I find that I am back to the bad habit of comparing myself against my peers, and it is abundantly clear that I have life goals that are still unachieved. 34 is still young, but it’s also not young at the same time. I never planned to move home to Conneticut for five years. It was only meant to be a few months in between grad school and a job. I am grateful I had a family that would take me back, and has put up with me as an unexpected tenant for all this time!
I think every day about living in Boston again. The pandemic gave me an excuse not to confront how to do it, but now it is time to think about it again. It is not as easy as just finding an apartment. There are many other care and budget-related challenges that I need to figure out as well.
I was able to take some time to reflect on these topics last week, while I was on vacation. It was a nice reprieve, a chance to take a breath. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t figure out answers to these existential questions, but it was nice to at least deal with them and confront them head on, rather than burying them below the surface, which I had been doing. It wasn’t healthy.
As I wrestled with the important questions of life, it was nice to see loved ones. I saw my sister and her family for the first time in over two years. It’s hard to believe it was so long. It certainly wasn’t by design. The pandemic threw a wrench in things, like it did for so many. They live in North Carolina, which was just far enough away to make it difficult to travel.
I got to see my baby nephew, Tate, who just turned a year old. I had substantive conversations for the first time with Sophia, my niece, and Connor, my other nephew. It was great. I also saw my aunt and uncle and various cousins.
Like all vacations, it seemed to end right when it began. But it was a clarifying time, reminding me of what I value most, as I contemplate what happens next.