Sunday, January 3, 2021

Lessons I Learned from 2020

I got horribly sick again shortly after getting last week’s post up, and have now spent the vast majority of my vacation unable to move from the couch and needing long naps after even minor exertion. As such, I have had a lot of time to think, reflect, and come to some realizations. In keeping with the journalistic tradition of end-of-the-year lists, here’s a listsicle of hard-earned lessons I’ve learned in 2020, in no particular order:

As I was lying on the couch angsting about not being able to weight-lift or work out, I came across a post from a Facebook friend who is avid runner and recently injured her knee. She doesn’t know when she will be able to run again, but she is making the best of it by doing mindful walking and using this as an opportunity to heal her “adversarial relationship” with her body. Her post brought me to tears of sorrow. I realized that my relationship with my body has been adversarial too, and while I was fooling myself into thinking this was a form of strength, it is not. It has served only to deplete me. There is a difference between pushing yourself and pushing against yourself.

90 percent of my speech is not about expressing my truth but about soothing the feelings of other people. It does no favors to others to hide our truth from them. It is not up to us to protect others from our truth in order to create false harmony. The price is too high, and I’m not doing it anymore. I’m okay with losing friends now.

We must learn to become chaos-competent. When the pandemic ends, there will still be chaos and unknowns in the world and in our lives. Being able to stand grounded within it is what matters.

Healthcare innovation tends to move at a turtle’s pace, but this year has shown us that we can in fact mobilize at lightning speed when it’s demanded. Telehealth and research goals that were slated for years in the future were reached in a matter of weeks. There is no reason why healthcare needs to lag behind other industries.

The smallest expressions of appreciation have meant everything to people during this time. People are starving for it. A hand-written card, a little gift, a simple thank you, have been received like gold.

I am grateful to those who have taken the time to ask after me when my stress was at its peak it and was clear that something was off, as much as I tried to hide it. I have been surprised at the number of people who care about me. This surprise is something that bears deeper scrutiny.

Humans can become deeply selfish when in fear, but we also have an innate desire to serve. I was amazed at the number of people who e-mailed me wanting to volunteer during the height of the pandemic. And there were so many donated meals being delivered to our hospital that it became a logistical issue.

For a while, every night at 8:00 p.m., there was a minute of shouting, pot-banging and whooping in thanks to the health care workers. I dreaded this every night, because it filled me with guilt that I was not doing direct patient care and didn’t “deserve” it. Now I would feel okay about it. My role counts, too, and so does everyone else’s.

And finally, humans are gonna human. Within the walls of my institution, I have seen the full spectrum of human behavior play out, from the atrocious, unhinged and self-centered to the profoundly selfless and heroic. There’s nothing I can do about the former except hold myself to my own standards and not take bad behavior personally.

For whatever it’s worth, those are my insights after being forced to lie on the couch for almost a week and half, stuck with my own thoughts and staving off PTSD-like flashbacks from the Year of COVID.

Happy 2021!

 --Kristen McHenry

1 comment: said...

Everyone should read this first great writing for 2021!