Thoughts on a year gone awry and the year ahead

By Dr. Batya L. Ludman, Psy.D., FT · Published February 19, 2021

I am writing this as the first anniversary of COVID-19 approaches. It is hard to believe that it will be a year already.

For better or worse, Covid has rarely been far from my thoughts or my deeds. From morning till night, day to day, week to week, whether I walk in the street, see my family, work, shop or attend an outdoor minyan, I have lived with Covid as my partner – he has influenced everything that I do, and we are simply inseparable. At times it feels as though we have been together forever.

Sometimes I think I have him figured out and I barely give him a second thought, and at other times it feels as though he always has some new surprise up his sleeve or a weighty challenge for me to work through.

Anniversaries are for reminiscing, and as one usually looks back with fondness over the prior year, in spite of the many difficulties a first year brings, getting acquainted with each another intimately, there actually have been special moments that have brought a smile to my face.

Within this year I was truly blessed to experience the birth of a grandchild, watch another turn a year old, another turn two, and a fourth turn four.

I got to celebrate those miracles, whether I was fortunate to be with that child or at the other end of a video screen.

With Covid always by my side to help give me perspective, there were many other wonderful things that happened this past year that, despite the challenges, truly filled me with gratitude.

I remind myself each morning to say out loud five of them that happened the previous day. Starting with the weather and the people in my life helps me on days that have been quiet, and even that quiet I have grown to appreciate.

With all of the many losses we have all experienced, it is so easy to lose sight of the positive things Covid, and life in general, have brought into clearer focus. While it is so much easier to see this past year as one big disaster after another, that won't make us feel any better, especially since kvetching starts to get boring after a few days.

I laugh at that video ( circulated early on in the pandemic (which is every bit as relevant today) that reminded us that the guidance we thought to be wise yesterday is disputed today. If you can pretend for a minute that it's Mars and not our precious earth where this is taking place, and get a little distance, you'll better appreciate the aphorism "Man plans and God laughs."

I prefer to shake my head in wonder, see Covid as my partner – albeit one I'd like to divorce – and roll with the punches. It's so much nicer. There have been many punches, but the reality is that there have been some particularly good things, too.

We may have to look hard to find those while continuing to ask ourselves where we are going, where we have been, what we have learned, and what can we learn. Reflection is a good thing.

As a clinical psychologist, I've spent the year trying to get into the psyche of our elected officials; the many people who have opted to think only of themselves when failing to mask; the school-aged children who are not in school; my family full of hospital workers who have had too much daily contact with Covid; my clients, who have worked so hard and remotely by video (because being close-up and seeing each other's faces was less stressful than both of us being masked in the same room); those with decimated businesses; and isolated people of every age.

It is so hard not to blame our government for ruining things by disobeying the very rules it set out, as early as last Passover; and for the lack of an exit plan thought out or discussed with all of us before or at the very least during and not only after the first, second and now even the third lockdown.

I wonder why the government didn't bother to put a psychologist on staff to help attain an honest appraisal of the populace, because had it, it may have seen far greater compliance, along with happier, healthier, better educated and less economically and emotionally stressed citizens. Desperate people do desperate things, and we are in many ways dealing with a ticking time bomb.

As we approach the one-year anniversary, as someone who works constantly with grief and loss, I see how much we are all grieving the loss of normality.

I am filled with gratitude that we now have vaccines available, and many have chosen to lend a shoulder.

I admit my naivete, because I, too, wanted to believe Covid and I would have had an amicable separation by now, but I see that is not the case – yet. Nonetheless, in many ways we are in a far better place than we were a year ago – just look at how much knowledge we have acquired and how much greater our appreciation is for things we otherwise took for granted.

I honestly acknowledge out loud that I am somewhat scared about this year ahead – both for me and for you.

I am strong. I have survived the first year and even managed to thrive. While once definitely unprepared, I'm now no longer in shock and disbelief. I have no desire to celebrate another Seder without my family, but I am resilient like you.

I, too, am tired of much of it, but I certainly am not tired of all of it, though, and it's those things that we have to find to hold on to and appreciate deeply as we forge full steam ahead.

This coming year will require renewed endurance as we revise both our expectations and our timelines, but we must be optimistic and be united, if we are to grow together with strength.

Here are a few suggestions to help us get there. As always, I welcome yours.

  1. Build your support team. Find people – friends and family – to talk to, see online and, when possible, in person (physically distanced and masked, as instructed). Ask people for what you want and need and tell them what would be helpful. Send funny pictures, warm photographs, messages and anything that will strengthen you and others.

  2. Take the initiative and reach out to others. You never know what someone else is thinking and feeling and whose situation is worse than yours. There are many who may need your support in these isolating times.

  3. Refocus. Check out available resources and opportunities that can help you feel good. Pick a project. It can be simple, but the rule is that you have to enjoy it. Look around your home but feel free to volunteer outside as well.

  4. Allow yourself time to face your losses and mourn what is not or was not. While acknowledging that the past is critical, and that your future will be different than you had imagined, don't ever be afraid to revise your dreams. Making decisions may not be easy, but they can be life-changing and exciting.

  5. Revise your expectations by being in this moment and don't allow yourself to get caught up with what could be or what isn't. Get out of your sweatpants and change your routine and those of your loved ones in a way that increases your energy level and promotes good physical and emotional health.

  6. Turn off the news and focus on relationships. At the end of the day, this is the glue that holds us all together, as we work to exchange one mask for another over this Purim holiday.

A version of this article suitable for printing is available here.