Blog cover, "When the lemonade from life is hard to swallow"

Shamillah Wilson shares lessons she learnt during Covid

At the onset of COVID-19, I had big plans of getting some project moving that had been brewing for a while. However, as we all know, 2020 was a year the whole planet had to let go of all our carefully laid plans.

Up until this point in my life, I had gotten to know myself as someone that was extremely driven, able to live up to (mostly anyway) my aspirations for myself, and being able to do what it is that I set out to do. I had acknowledged myself as an independent, and well-established person that had the privilege of, what I consider, living a fairly good quality of life.

Then COVID-19 happened! As with everyone, the pandemic taught me much about myself and my life, below are some of my lessons.

#1 Accepting personal vulnerability

With the strict lockdown in early 2020, I soon experienced what it meant to be completely isolated (as I was living alone and far away from my family). The first two months seemed okay, as I adapted and waited for the situation to shift. I even enjoyed the enforced isolation initially. However, my life was turned somewhat upside down when I experienced symptoms of a covid infection, and fumbled through it, scared on one hand, and not wanting to alarm my family on the other. That said, I was one of the lucky ones, as I was able to recover (mostly) from my symptoms such as shortness of breath, the tiredness, and the loss of taste and smell. However, it was not the symptoms that I found the hardest, but the deep sense of un-realness as I navigated my personal vulnerability. In this period, I had to learn to take care of myself, pay attention to what I ate, and also how to continuously make my wellbeing a priority. By no means do I think I am perfect, but I think I am getting better as I learn more and more about what works and what is not working.

#2 The need for connection and care from others

Despite having set up a life that was quite independent, I started appreciating how much I do need others around me, to hold me, support me, and care for me. My choice of living away from the family was driven by a need to manage my personal energy better, as well as the demands that I often have to deal with. The irony does not escape me that this very choice in turn ended up showing me how I also needed others to depend on. I had to learn to ask for help (again and again) and to also accept help as there were so many that were willing to do that for me. The things that helped me stay afloat, particularly when I felt most like I was drowning was the daily calls from my family. Even when I felt least like speaking to people, these calls helped me to pull myself out of the mire that was my state of mind. It was also the messages and check-ins from friends and even my clients who were really concerned and committed to providing me with support during this period. This is one of the parts I am most proud of doing in the last year.

#3 Self-acceptance as I kept on failing to do what I set out to

The month of recovering from my covid infection was perhaps not the most difficult experience during the past year. My learning continued as I was still experienced some remnants of the infection and the after-effects thereof. For some reason, I never quite recovered my energy levels and for months, I found myself struggling with my mental wellbeing. It was really hard to come to terms with the fact that there were times when I could not get moving or do anything. I encountered a me that became flaky about deadlines (a big no-no when you are a freelancer), and started being very afraid of losing the goodwill and relationships I had cultivated with my clients.

I was forced to take each day as it came. In fact, the hardest thing at the beginning was not to fall into a state of self-recrimination and to force myself to keep pushing the wheelbarrow full of rocks up a mountain, in my desire to be productive. I learned that it was okay to let it go and to remind myself that I still had tomorrow to try again – to re-adjust expectations of myself, and practice deep self-compassion.

#4 Focus on the now and the small joys

Looking back now, I think COVID-19 is a classic case of the universe having other plans for us. Most of us till now, have known at so many levels that most probably there was a great need for slowing down and for creating greater balance in our lives. COVID-19 forced us to do that, and yet it threw us into deep crisis because it was forced change. Change often comes from either inspiration or from external pressure. The latter is often met with resistance as we have to let go of control, and there is no blueprint to help us navigate our way through it.

I have learnt to embrace the experience, and to challenge myself to seek joy in the moment. To find those little things and to savour those things that bring a smile to my face, that can get me to feet to dance, or that can simply make me feel good.

If you were like me, this period of the pandemic has most probably shown you your own vulnerabilities, and also highlighted to you the areas in which you do need connection with people, as well as balance. While the saying goes that when life deals you lemons, make lemonade – I have to admit that there were times when the lemonade has been hard to swallow. Yet, at the same time, having been through the worst, I have come out stronger, with a deeper appreciation of myself, and a willingness to embrace the continued discomfort and challenges that remain as we continue through the pandemic.