As we gear up for a mostly in-person fall semester, it is extremely important that we look back on the past year and a half, just as much as we look forward to the future. Naturally, a lot of emotions arise when thinking of COVID-19 and this past year and a half: grieving our bygone lives and the loss of our loved ones, feelings of isolation, sadness, and anxiety. We cannot minimize what has happened and must understand the need for a collective grieving period, even if the country seems to be “opening back up”. The pandemic has stripped us of our traditional forms of mourning and grieving, which are to come together and collectively support one another. As a community, we found other ways to come together - virtually and otherwise. Dr. Debra Kaysen, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences with the Public Mental Health & Population Sciences Division at Stanford University suggests that “In processing the grief, it may be helpful to identify new achievable rituals. This could be a virtual memorial service or having an online space for people to leave notes or messages. It could be planting a tree in their memory. It is also important to more actively reach out for social support and comfort since people may not be able to physically gather together." Please keep reading to find resources for coping and handling feelings of being overwhelmed.
As we return in the fall, there might be a lot of feelings of nervousness and anxiety, as well as relief and excitement, surrounding the new conditions. While things remain fluid and continue to change, and we move towards somewhat of a “new normal”, we should remember to be very intentional and compassionate in making the transition back. Take care of each other, and yourself, and keep in mind that the emotions and experiences that everyone went through will all be different and that some of those around us may have been impacted in a long-lasting and noticeable way. Further, remember the big picture even as the concerns and obstacles of the moment feel so pressing. Undoubtedly, we all experienced a number of changes in perspective as public information around COVID-19 developed. It was not always easy to know how to feel or how to act, and disagreement defined our collective action. Restorative justice can remind us to seek reconciliation: to look for the limits of each of our positions and seek to reconcile our beliefs and different levels of comfort in a way that helps each of us feel validated and understood in our perspective, while also maintaining each of our safety. This is easier said than done, but it begins with giving the benefit of the doubt to those whom we disagree with, and seeking to understand.
As of writing this, the pandemic is ongoing, so as we transition back into the fall, remember that many of us have been primarily inside for a long time—our immune systems will need a boost, so please take care of your health, exercise caution, and wash and sanitize your hands often. Zoom became a large part of many of our lives, and taught us valuable lessons, including the importance of stepping away from the screen to mitigate or prevent “Zoom fatigue” and the crucial nature of prioritizing community members who need accommodations. What can we take away from our Zoom experience? What can we still do on Zoom and how can we use what we learned? These are all questions we should be asking ourselves as we gear up for the fall.
Lastly, COVID-19 exposed the gaps in the safety net in our healthcare, employment security, mental health, and social values. Those most vulnerable to the pandemic globally were the ones most disadvantaged. In places where people have to work to be able to survive, people have little choice about social distancing or about whether to go to work when they are ill. Though we deemed essential workers our pandemic heroes in March 2020, many continue to be treated with the least respect while being at the greatest risk of contracting the virus. Limited access to healthcare often places people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds at a higher risk of illness when exposed to COVID-19. In places where healthcare systems were already maxed out, COVID-19 is overwhelming those systems and medical staff. As a community, as a global society, we must look long and hard at our own values and systems, and what we do to care for and support the people most vulnerable. Telehealth services and digital mental health approaches have certainly found a more prominent role in health care during this time, and we hope that advances like this continue to develop and expand access to medicine for all those who need it.
We at the Restorative Justice Center will continue our circles, projects, and practices in the fall—both in-person and virtually. While we become accustomed once again to an in-person world, let us remember to be patient, compassionate, and kind to everyone around us. For mental and public health resources regarding COVID-19, please feel free to look at COVID Coach for good coping skills and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies for a collection of other resources.