One Year Later

I thought that I’d take some time today to reflect on the last year, since we’re officially at the one year mark now of the pandemic. I have so many mixed emotions when I think back on the past year – for as filled with daily anxiety as I was, and how surreal it was for everything to change so quickly, the day-to-day has also come to feel kind of… normal. It’s strange to think back to a year ago, and to remember the life that I used to lead.

Heather, a white woman in a power wheelchair, is outside in front of some bushes. She's wearing a tan ribbed short sleeved sweater and her hair is in two French braids.

In some ways, I do think that being disabled made me better equipped to handle the pandemic. While I’m not overly cautious about germs (at least I don’t think that I am), there have definitely been times in the past when I’ve had to miss something because I knew someone was sick and I didn’t want to risk it. And when I’ve recovered from an illness myself, I’ve been at home for weeks at a time. When I was recovering from a car accident (I was a pedestrian), I was in the hospital for 3 weeks and then recovering at home for the next 4 months or so, with only limited outings. So I’ve done the whole thing before – the getting into cooking and baking, watching everything on Netflix, doing lots of reading, and just figuring out how to pass the time.

I know that some people have really struggled to work from home – I’m lucky that hasn’t been the case for me at all. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a bit of a learning curve, though. I started my new job only two weeks before we started working from home, so I had to adjust to both new things at once. I feel so grateful to be working where I am, because there was never even a question of if it would be ok to work from home, if we should still try to come it – it was understood that for our health and safety, and for the health/safety of everyone else, we should stay home. My boss made that call even before the university did, and it made me feel so relieved. I was so glad I didn’t have to worry about a difficult conversation as a new employee! And my boss and coworkers have made it easy to get to know them and my new responsibilities virtually.

I also realized, over this past year, that I’m more of an introvert that I ever realized! Of course, I have missed seeing my friends and family, but I am not someone who thrives on person to person interaction. I really value my alone time and my space. While there have been times throughout the past year that I’ve really missed getting together with people – my family’s annual holiday party is one of the highlights of my year – on the whole, I’ve really been ok.

The hardest part (up until I got my vaccine) was the constant stress I dealt with day and and day out about my health. Because I have personal care attendants that come to my house to help me with my basic needs, it’s not possible for me to live a life that has zero risk in regards to the pandemic. I had to hope my PCA was taking the appropriate precautions in their life, because their life choices affected my risk levels. I also had my feeding tube get infected, and had a few episodes of absolutely excruciating back pain. Typically, I’d go to either my doctor or the ER to have these things looked at, but I really wanted to avoid as much risk as I possibly could. Luckily, I was able to deal with these situations that came up with either a virtual appointment or a phone call, but I was constantly anxious that something else would crop up and I wouldn’t be able to avoid being seen in person. It was rough to live with that daily stress knowing that there wasn’t really anything that I could do to alleviate it.

Now that I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve been thinking both about this past year and about the future… trying to figure out what parts of my old life I miss, and what parts I don’t really want to return to. I am definitely excited to be able to see my friends and family again (at least those that are also vaccinated), without having to worry about where they’ve been the past few days and if I’m sitting far enough away from them outside. I’m really looking forward to going into a coffee shop, to go out to eat outside when the weather is a little warmer, and I had the best time going to the Andy Warhol museum for a small guided tour. But I don’t think I’m prepared to return fully to my old life. I hope, for accessibility reasons, that virtual options remain to supplement the in-person ones, and that people remember how easy adding virtual options can be. I’m worried that people who don’t need those accommodations anymore are going to want to go back to in-person only, to “make up” for lost time.

And I hope that I’m able to keep my schedule a little bit more open and my life a little bit more balanced, too. I sometimes have a hard time saying to to things when they interest and excite me, but when I think about what my calendar looked like this month one year ago, I just feel overwhelmed, not excited. I know that balance is always a work in progress, but I hope that this past year helps me to remember that I don’t need a packed schedule to feel happy or fulfilled.

I think it’s going to be a few months of uncertainty, while I figure out which “normal” things I want to get back to, and which I want to leave in the past. I’m curious – is anyone else thinking about this? How are you feeling now that we’re one year in and it’s seeming like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel?

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