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Adjusting to a COVID-19 world

In these unprecedented times, everyone is taking on new and challenging roles. New Durham residents are keeping spirits as high as possible while life changes around them. (Photo by Cathy Allyn) (click for larger version)
May 20, 2020
Editor's note: The following article is the conclusion to a two-part series which began in last week's edition.

NEW DURHAM – As we all go through the coronavirus pandemic together, each of us has adopted coping mechanisms.

We exercise, meditate, carve out time for self-care, have meltdowns, or, all too often, turn to the old standby comfort of food.

Everyone has a story during this stay-at-home time, from someone with a loved one in a nursing home to someone who has lost a paycheck.

New Durham residents run the gamut.

Some soldier on in their jobs, but with the closure of schools, stores, and offices, many have faced a major transition – working from home.

"Week one of work-from-home was overwhelming," one woman reported. "I didn't think it could be done."

Employing extra software and some creativity got her over the hump, and now she handles everything with the help of her cat.

"He has a seat right beside mine," she joked.

Video conferences, an increase in email usage, printing and scanning take care of the business at hand.

"I can't complain about the commute," she quipped. "I went from a 45-minute drive to getting out of bed a few minutes before the start of my workday."

She does miss seeing all of the people she supported in her position, "but I know I'll see them again, hopefully soon."

Not everyone has had their workday radically changed; one gentleman who has worked from home for years has advice for anyone dealing with being able to wear sweat pants daily for the first time.

"Stay on some kind of a schedule. Another key thing is time management. You have to manage your time perfectly in situations like this to make things work smoothly," he advised.

Of course, suddenly having children home all day can upend any schedule.

"That has been different," he admitted. "I've had to adjust time during the day to work with the kids to ensure they are getting their school work done."

His final piece of advice? "Take it a day at a time."

A resident who teaches in another district commented that he "likes his commute" while working from home, but misses his "super kids."

Instead of teaching in a lab, he loads his units on YouTube.

"Remote learning provides my students with structure and connectivity when they are stuck in home during these strange times," he said.

One woman in town indicated her family was "weathering Covid right now."

She has retained her job at a school, working mostly from home, and will be going in to the facility to gear up for the coming year.

"That's a challenge when you don't know what next year will bring," she remarked.

The family is coping by "keeping busy." Chores have been divided up for all family members and they get outside to hike, bicycle, and walk as much as they can.

"I have always been a gardener, and enjoy baking and cooking, and have involved my son in those activities. Crafts, LEGO building, and board games are big here."

Being at home has led to new interests, also. "My son discovered yoga online and loves it."

The family does experience ups and downs, though.

"I am an introvert and love being home," she said. "My husband is the opposite, so we have had to find ways to help him with that."

She said he has become the official errand-runner and is doing things for the town.

"I worry about my older and sick family members, my friends who are working in hospitals, the people who I know have lost their jobs, and their support systems; the list doesn't end. I pray a lot," she added.

Like many others, though, she feels "very lucky throughout all of this, and I have been so grateful. I cannot even begin to express the depths of this gratefulness."

Reduced hours is a term that we're hearing more and more. A New Durham woman who works out of state considers herself "fortunate" to have had only a reduction in work hours.

"It's a mixed blessing, to be sure," she said. "I've not had to deal with unemployment and the challenges that go along with an overburdened system, but I have had to adjust my budget."

There is a bright spot to not having as much money coming in.

"With everything closed, I've also reduced spending, so the transition was doable, even if a little uncomfortable, and for that I am grateful," she said.

Continuing with work has given her life some level of normalcy.

"And extra time at home gave me time to stress cook and share via stoop drops," she commented. "Who doesn't like sweet or wholesome treats dropped on their doorstep?"

As head of a single income household, she recognizes her financial situation could have been much worse had she not continued working.

"The social isolation would have also been much more difficult had I not continued working," she pointed out. "I've found the emotional burden of social distancing and isolation to be the greater challenge. I don't like the new normal."

She said she has not seen her parents for more than two months and that has been difficult.

"Social media and phone calls help, but it's not the same," she explained. "Air hugs really don't fulfill the need for human contact but as long as I am out in the world, I will remain physically distant. I know that in something as small and innocent as a hug I can potentially expose my parents to something far worse than the dreaded cooties of childhood."

Being able to remain in contact to a degree is a good thing, though.

"I am truly blessed and grateful that my family and friends are still healthy and safe. The bottom line for me is that I don't have to like our new normal, I don't have to like treating everyone as if we all have cooties, but I will continue to do just that because it's the responsible thing to do. We need to protect ourselves, the ones we love, and even those who don't believe they need protection," she said.

Being furloughed isn't quite as bad as losing your job, and in one resident's case, it turned out to be a good thing.

"Prior to being furloughed, it was confusing and exhausting to try to figure out what to do to from home and create a home routine," said a woman who was employed in a near-by town. "It often felt like I was constantly linked to my devices, doing busy work and focusing on media updates, which was extremely emotionally draining."

She said she was overwhelmed with "too many emails and endless opportunities for webinars. Having to work from home full-time was all new and learning the technology to do so was pretty challenging."

So when she was furloughed, she felt it to be "actually kind of a relief."

She is still an employee, but no longer feels the demand to perform a full-time job with the new challenges and uncertainties.

"Being furloughed offered me the opportunity to focus on family, home, and self-care, and once I had the chance to catch my breath a bit and create a better daily routine, I was ready to work again," she added.

As a furloughed employee, she works a limited number of hours in addition to receiving some unemployment benefits.

"As we move to reopen our workplace, set goals and assign tasks for that, I'm feeling better prepared to be able to be productive again," she said.

Children may not be breadwinners, but they have had their own ordeals the past few months.

One elementary school student reported that he has adjusted just fine to distance learning; his parents call it "amazingly well."

But the cancellation of his sports events and camps and athletic classes is "disappointing."

Parents of very young children did not have to worry about becoming teachers overnight, although that age group presents its own problems.

One family said that the most difficult part of the coronavirus situation is "not seeing grandparents. We also struggled in the beginning with such an overabundance of screen time since visits, classes, playgroups, meetings, church, and everything else is online, but I think we've figured out a better balance now."

As we know, every cloud has a silver lining.

"The best part has been lots of family time," they said.

The flip side of missing grandparents is missing grandchildren. One grandmother, who, pre-pandemic saw her adult children and grandchildren on a regular basis, said she found the quarantine from them "difficult, but necessary."

The extended family does regular "family face time," which she said "brightens my day and makes it easier for the younger ones to understand that things are going to be okay."

In a time when "driveway company" has become a new concept, they recently ordered takeout and did a car gathering with everyone in their own cars.

"It was great to see everyone, but hard not to hug them all," she said. "We have since met on two other occasions, being careful to wear masks and maintain safe distance. Our visits give us all something to look forward to."

Their annual family vacation, celebrating several family milestones including a graduation from high school, had to be cancelled.

"This quarantine has really brought home the fact that everything can change in an instant, and we are looking forward to a return to normalcy," she added.

It has also provided opportunities for people to help others. In New Durham there are many people sewing masks for their friends, family, and neighbors and for health care workers.

"I had to do something positive," one woman said. "It's my way of coping."

"I'd forgotten how much I love to sew," another woman stated.

She is hard at work on all different sizes of masks.

Eager to make the most effective mask, someone else is working on including "pockets" for filters and waterproof materials.

Masks are becoming more intricate and comfortable. Electrical wire helps with contours around the bridge of the nose for a tighter, more personal fit, and local electrician Ricky Rines donated a spool of it to a stitching team.

One of the most trying states to be in is to have a loved one in a nursing home.

"It is a difficult situation," a New Durham resident said, "especially being alone. It's hard not being able to see my husband, but the nursing home is handling the situation very well."

She said her husband is increasingly confused, "but we are able to communicate daily. I keep busy with being outside and lots of walks. Sunny days make me happy, and good friends have helped."

What about folks who weren't out and about much before all of this came down around our ears?

A retired gentleman who is practicing self-isolation noted his situation is "not that much different, I just don't go anywhere. Maintenance around the house is restricted to what materials I have on hand, since I don't go to the store."

He said he does miss out on activities that he participated in prior to the pandemic, but socially he has been socially isolated ever since his retirement.

"I'm not seeing any indication of depression or anxiety," he said. "Day-to-day for me is pretty much the same."

And what must it be like to be bringing a new life into this changed world?

A mother-to-be replied that it has been "scary" contemplating the possibility of contracting the virus while pregnant.

"I stay home mostly and go out only for groceries, doctors' appointments, and the occasional take out order," she said.

Big changes in hospitals and doctors' offices mean big disappointments, however. The New Durham resident listed several that have affected her.

"My husband is not allowed at the appointments with me, he did not get to be there for my last ultrasound, and I'm unable to take advantage of the hundreds of classes and community programs out there for first time parents," she said.

Things are certainly different.

"I was looking forward to sharing the learning with my husband over these next few months and getting excited, and terrified, about what is to come," she said. "I hope that when my baby is due the restrictions will have loosened as I'm not sure I could go through labor without my husband being there as my support person."

She said she is happy to be in a comfortable home, but does miss socializing and connecting with fellow parents-to-be, as well as core friends.

"Our little boy has no idea what is going on out here, and for that I am glad," she said. "I can't imagine what it has been like for other pregnant couples that have delivered during this time of uncertainty."

Financial problems, letdowns, insecurity are facing all of us; and are being met by ingenuity, humor, and friendship. If there is one thing human beings know how to do well, it is how to cope.

And, of course, there is always chocolate.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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