Reflecting on 2020 to Flow into 2021

Questions That Catalyzed My Courage

I feared, I panicked, I screamed,
I prayed
I took a deep breath
I sat still, I let the tears flow
I realized what truly matters
I realized who truly matters!

The above lines describe some of my feelings and emotions throughout 2020. In the beginning of the year, these emotions were more frequent; they are a rarity now. In March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, conversations centered around when would things return to “normal”. Everything we were experiencing was so counter-cultural to what we were used to. This was my prayer for what I had hoped and prayed would be the new normal.

2020 showed us how similar we are, how connected we are, in spite of all the man-made differences of caste, color, creed, race economic status…

Soon after the lockdown in March, I was scheduled to precept on the inpatient medicine team. 

As I walked down the hall, suddenly the familiar seemed less familiar. To limit the spread we were assigned to specific geographic locations in the hospital. Physically we were all dressed in the traditional scrubs, masks and goggles. I found myself apologizing for not recognizing some of my colleagues. “You have to smieyes, smile with your eyes” I shared with the team.

We all had the same difficulties irrespective of our experiences or our skills. None of us had dealt with this situation before. As I had my routine check-in with the team, it was immediately apparent how similar our fears were. The existing hierarchy that exists in medicine, especially in academic medicine, crumbled. We were all simply human, irrespective of where we came from. Our backgrounds, experiences, socioeconomic status  or how many letters we had after our name did not matter.  We were all the same,  with the same fears, the same anxieties. We were grateful for similar things, such as our relationships, families, the opportunity to give back. 

In our safe space of check-in, we found an opportunity to unpack our emotions. I shared my fears of my own possible infection, fear as a mother for her children being on the front lines far away from Chattanooga, or feeling anxiety and a sense of guilt at the possibility of infecting my elderly parents who I am blessed to have with me at home. I shared my disappointment at cancelling many travel plans to celebrate family traditions, visit children, present and attend professional meetings, all which enrich and rejuvenate me. I shared how difficult it was to have frank discussions about end of life with my children and parents before I came to work.

Experiencing the catharsis of the sharing, I found myself reflecting and turning to my coping rituals—and inviting the team to do the same. We started with intentional offerings of gratitude for the silver linings in spite of COVID.

When we are faced with our powerlessness, when we are faced with our own fragility, when we are faced with our own impermanence, when we are faced with no other option but to survive, to find a way to get up and move on, we have a choice in how we respond!

I found myself reflecting on these questions.

  • What was I learning about myself?

  • What was I learning about what I needed?

  • What was I learning about the people in the community around with me?

Later, I took time to unpack my answers and add them to my ritual.  

Making intentional reflection a ritual, having the hard conversations with myself, and in the safe community created by close relationships of family and friends, was crucial, cathartic, creative and rejuvenating. This ritual of self-reflection and reflection within relationships was the catalyst that helped the silver-linings shine brighter, allowed me to redirect and refocus, reclaim my courage and rise!

#REFLECT: What were your emotions in 2020? What did you learn about yourself? What were your learnings? How will these learnings help you flow into 2021?

Photo by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash

As we enter 2021, how will you tend to self-care, community and resilience? I will continue posting reflections on these themes and invite you to join in the conversation here or on Twitter or Instagram with your thoughts or what you are doing for self-care and care of others. My book explores such ideas too: Resilient Threads: Weaving Joy and Meaning into Well-Being.