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Choosing growth in the face of chaos


COVID is isolating. COVID is frustrating. COVID is distressing. COVID is changing things.

Do we succumb to stress, or do we continue on paths of self-discovery and growth?

With life revolving around an axis, this is not an easy decision. Choosing to grow, let alone thrive, in the midst of a crisis is daunting and difficult, but we are not rendered immune from this truth by not thinking about it. From the moment we are born, each of us has embarked on our own fate-defined journey, facing countless adversaries and solidifying our strategies for overcoming obstacles and learning and rebounding from our mistakes and misunderstandings.

If the pandemic had not occurred, we would have continued on a more or less linear path of growth. While the pandemic is the most globally relevant crisis, we all have inner struggles and demons that we must remember for our own growth and development now and in the future. Struggles and issues that we were already dealing with when the pandemic struck do not simply vanish because a new challenge has arrived.

The good news is that we’ve all faced adversity before, so we have some skills to apply to this period in our lives during these unprecedented times. Much like Newton’s Third Law, there is a coping outlet for every stress-inducing event, which can be positive or negative. And when we realize we have a choice in this, we give ourselves power.

The pandemic trajected a new part of learning for me. Teaching me real-world lessons too close to home and nearly too recent to summarize. My grandmother, whom I affectionately referred to as Nannu, was on the mend and on her way to being cancer-free, with her last chemo session remaining. She yearned to travel, meet friends and family, run her own home and set her own schedule. Nannu chose to go to her final chemo session against the wishes of our family. COVID-19 patients were admitted to the same multi-specialty hospital that also catered to chemotherapy of malignancies. At the time, people were letting down their guard and resuming their pre-pandemic lives. For a time, it appeared that she, too, was on her way home. But in May, she fell prey to a nosocomial infection of COVID-19.

I’m still trying to comprehend what occurred that night. Every time I was told there was no bed for my Nannu, who was in an ambulance gasping for air as I drove from hospital to hospital, I felt helpless. That night, I went to several hospitals, and none of them had a single bed available. Oxygen supplies had been critical in several cities and states, hospitals were turning away patients and crematoriums were running out of space. And I had no idea of this reality until my family and I became victims of a collapsed and fragmented system.

I never thought I’d have to go through something like this. The trauma caused by the whine of ambulance sirens, working to save lives, watching burials and funeral pyres burn from a distance is profound and specific. Seeing my Nannu gasp for air made me feel frail and disjointed. My family’s hearts had been pounding in time with her oxygen levels. 

For those dying in overcrowded or overburdened facilities, bodies may not be treated with the dignity they deserve, as overburdened staff rushes to make beds available for patients, with dead bodies piling up in hallways or refrigeration trucks. The agony of losing loved ones as they die alone is a bleak legacy of the pandemic experienced around the world.

Grief is the price we pay for love, this should never have occurred. Dig the well before you’re thirsty, as the saying goes. But that’s clearly not what we did.

This encounter humbled me and will stay with me for the rest of my life. We have faith in the fact that our family and friends will always be there for us. When we really need someone during a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, when even funerals are canceled and our last respects must be paid virtually, it may be complete strangers who come to our aid.

Choosing growth is a decision that must be made every day, every hour, every minute, and every second. If we are not intentional and in touch with ourselves, our emotional state is capable of reacting to thoughts and feelings on a whim. 

It is difficult to choose between growth and light. I remind myself that triggers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of impact. A trigger can plunge you so deeply into your parasympathetic ”fight or flight” drive that you can’t see the light above the surface and, more devastatingly, lose hope of ever seeing it again. We’re all vulnerable to falling prey to the darkness. The most important lesson I’ve learned as I work my way out of that dark place is to never, ever lose hope or connection. At the beginning of the pandemic, I desperately clung to the hope that one day I’d love and forgive myself. I’m starting to see my own light as I let this light in.

I began looking at life differently. I was in survival mode. During times of fear and uncertainty, the very best elements of human nature do prevail. Although a heart-wrenching ordeal the experience humbled me and will reign for eternity. I have come back more resolute and compassionate. Complete strangers have come to my aid. I uncovered the value of networking and building bonds.

I will look back on this and see it for what it was: a period where I learned to deal with a crunch in the best way possible. It was a time when my parents and I were able to form bonds that will last a lifetime. 

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