“How have you changed in the last two years?”

Recently, Headspace offered a Morning Wakeup asking, “How have you changed in the last two years?” The question has been lingering around in my mind since listening to it several weeks ago which indicated to me that it’s a question I needed to be reflect on.

My Autoimmune System

While I have always been fully aware that the medications I use to ensure I can get out of bed every day also make my immune system fragile, I never really took it to heart. I remember as talk of COVID started popping up in February 2020, many of my immune compromised friends shared their fears, but I was like, “I am okay. I will be fine.” Then, I was at the tail end of a conference away from home and it hit me how serious all of this was not only to those around me, but to myself. I finally understood that I need to take precautions in order to keep myself safe. It doesn’t mean I am weak, it just means that like other parts of who I am, attention needs to be given. I know that I am a person who requires a lot of downtime mentally and physically and honor that about myself without guilt. Living with rheumatoid arthritis since 2004, and finally, in March of 2020, the need to honor my compromised immune system became a priority also.

Need for Control

Like so many people, when the shutdown began and then continued, I desperately worried about how I could maintain my job. The Adult Education program in which I work was 100% in-person. How could I keep working?

Somehow, I did. The team worked hard and creatively and we came up with online options and processes quickly and in my opinion, have made us that much better. However, I found myself starting my work from home day earlier in the morning and finishing up later than usual. Work became the only thing I knew I could control in a time when I truly feared everything. The fear was greater than I had ever experienced.

Creative and Innovative

Work has definitely been my survival vice the last two years as I sought out something to control. That isn’t a great thing and boundaries are being defined, but I have grown a lot in the last two years and I see my professional worth so much more clearly. I have learned more technology than I ever imagined would take up space in my mind. I can see the creativity and innovation that I possess. I have loved coming up with new ideas to support teachers, students, and our department. I feel proud of my growth and my ability to contribute. I feel very highly capable.

Relationships

Despite being confined to my home, many of my relationships have grown tremendously. My work friends and I created a text group called, “Gratitude Buddies” where we shared simple things we are grateful for each day. We saw each other through a lot in the last two years through our daily messages and as we became a part of each other’s homes via Zoom. I sought out the support of RA friends who I message with daily. I was able to participate in Zoom get togethers with other RA friends. I love these friendships because they have grown to being so much more than just RA. I messaged multiple times a day with my sister and could share my deepest COVID fears knowing they were always safe and respected by her. Knowing each other’s COVID protocols also allowed us to vacation in Colorado together for one of the best vacations I have ever had. It was quiet, restful, fun, and COVID friendly. For my family, COVID gave us the gift of time. With our two children at home at the beginning of the pandemic, we had time for long conversations, walks, tv shows, and Bundt cakes. This unexpected extra time with them was truly the best thing about the last two years.

Izzy

In April of 2021, we said “good-bye” to our 14 year old border collie Izzy. Izzy saw me through some of the worst and best days of my rheumatoid arthritis. Her abundance of energy forced to me move each and every day and ensured full out loud laughter daily. She walked me through my children’s teen years which gave me time to work out in my mind how to be the best mother I could grow into for my maturing children. While it has been a year since she sat in my lap on our living room floor until her last breath came, her presence in my heart is still strong.

Lost Myself

The reason I think the question of “How have you changed in the last two years?” has stuck with me the last few weeks is because I feel I have lost something within myself. COVID and losing Izzy disrupted my routines. I like routines. They calm me. I love caring for someone and with my kiddos being independent now, Izzy was my “forever toddler” who allowed me to keep doting on someone. It has taken a while to figure out who I am without the daily responsibility of caring for her. Truthfully, I miss it. I have a lot of love to give.

Izzy trained me to walk every single day, no matter the weather, and the earlier, the better. It was our quiet time together that bonded us. She seemed to know when I needed a longer walk to work out my own mind. Our morning walks allowed me time to think, to feel hugged by nature as our steps gave way to the changes of people and plant life in the neighborhood, squirrels chasing each other up and around trees, and with her elderly deaf ears and decreased awareness, the opportunity to became an onlooker to a fox family out each morning. I haven’t stopped walking, but it isn’t every day and is generally later in the day and with a family member. And while I will always hold the walks and conversations I have shared with those I love over the last two years close to my heart, what I have come to realize in myself the last two weeks is that I require walks alone (or hopefully with another dog someday, but not yet), even if I take another one later in the day with others.

The question has been following me because I needed to recognize that I can happily be a lot of things to a lot of people, but to be my authentic self, I need quiet solo morning walks. They seem to restore who I am at my core. The last few weeks I have been trying to get up and walk early and I feel my true self oozing out. I feel connected to myself again and I like that feeling.

“How have you changed in the last two years?”

I would love to hear in the comments the good and bad of how you have changed over the last two year.

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