Thais Freitas

Storytelling & Communications Strategy

What the coronavirus pandemic has taught me

What the Pandemic has taught me cover photo.Thais Freitas

The year 2020 is finally coming to an end and it’s time to list what I’ve learned as I do each year. When I started writing, I realized that much of what I learned was related to the Covid 19 mess, so I made two separate lists this year. This list includes everything I learned from the pandemic:

Adaptability is the most valuable skill

I already knew this from my experience starting over in Canada, but the roller coaster of change in 2020 has made the critical importance of adaptability even clearer to me. It doesn’t matter how good we are at anything else, if we are not adaptable, we simply won’t make it in a world that is changing faster and more drastically all the time.

Small rituals help maintain a sense of normalcy in the chaos

At the height of the Covid panic in BC, in March, I went on maternity leave, Thiago started working from home, and our toddler stopped going to daycare. I was eight months pregnant, had debilitating back pain, and was constantly throwing up. And Eli was a bundle of energy who wouldn’t stop running, breaking things, and screaming at the top of his lungs while dad was on the phone. Doing these two things every day kept us sane: 

  1. Buying coffee at the nearest Starbucks drive-through in the morning. The 10-minute drive was an opportunity to see people and listen to music while Eli watched the trucks. It gave us courage to start the day.
  2. Going to a park after work. We just sat and enjoyed the spring air while our human and canine children ran around using up some of their endless energy. It was a safe way to relax, and we felt so much better.
Rain or shine, we went to the park every day to relax and tire out our hyperactive toddler tired

Staying home with family is wonderful when it’s optional

I love my home and am one of those people who enjoys cancelled plans and watching Netflix with my boys. But this year I learned that I like to do it when I choose to, not because I have to. I felt crushed and anxious when everything was closed and I couldn’t interact with anyone in person except my husband and sons — my loved ones who I honestly could not wait to engage with less during this time.

Always have a plan B

We had everything planned for Kyle’s birth: My parents would come a week before the due date to stay with Eli while Thiago and I were in the hospital, and help in the weeks after the birth. We would hire a cleaner to keep things tidy at home, everything would run smoothly. Then the pandemic came. My parents could not enter Canada, we could not hire a cleaning lady, Eli was not allowed to go to the hospital with us, and we had to ask our friends to take care of him. It was stressful, but we coped with everything and I learned to always have a plan B if things do not go as planned.

I’m not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom

Hats off to the moms who take care of their kids 24/7! I don’t feel guilty at all admitting that I need a break from my kids on weekdays — well, weekends would be nice too, but I don’t have family nearby, so…

I can’t entertain my kids all the time every day for the life of me. I love missing them and meeting Eli when I pick him up from daycare. It’s a win-win: he loves it there and has a blast with his buddies, while I have time to work and create. After all these days of isolation, I admire and respect stay-at-home moms even more.

Nothing is so bad that it can’t get worse

It was bad enough being stuck at home with a little baby and nowhere to go, but at least Eli was back at daycare and Thiago had some peace to work. Then, in September, smoke from the wildfires in the U.S. enveloped B.C. for days. The sky was dark grey, it was hard to breathe and our throats and eyes hurt. Horrible! But it got worse when the New Westminster pier was destroyed by a fire that lasted two weeks.

The fire destroyed the Wow Westminster sculpture we loved in New West (Photo: Vancouver is Awesome)

The pier was full of creosote, a substance that releases toxic smoke when burned. The air at this time was not only smoky, but smelled like burnt plastic. Air purifiers were sold out everywhere. It was like breathing in poison with every breath, even when all the windows were closed. Terrible! Then it got even worse:

Eli got sick with fever, cough and red eyes. It was probably the smoke, but he couldn’t go to daycare for days and finally had to be tested for Covid. Thiago and I were so tired and stressed that we fought all the time and I was feeling super down. But it wasn’t as bad as the next day when I caught a stomach virus and felt so miserable that I couldn’t get out of bed. And then one of my best friends died, and then…

Well, you get the idea. September taught me to be more appreciative of what I have, even if it feels awful – because it could always be worse.

Our mental health is so fragile

So many people – myself included! – struggled to get a handle on their feelings and fears in 2020. It turns out that no one is as strong as they seem, and that we can not imagine the hardships and fears that everyone struggles with. This realization has given me a new perspective on my own feelings and my interactions with others. Now, more than ever, I believe in the importance of empathy, forgiveness, and helping others and ourselves.

The pandemic has brought to light the human side and vulnerability of all of us, which is perhaps the beginning of a more just and down-to-earth society. Well, a girl can hope, can not she?

People show their true colours in a crisis

At the same time that in 2020 there were assholes hoarding food and refusing to wear masks — showing they cared about no one but themselves — there were many more good people doing wonderful things to help others. I saw this in my community: In every New West online group, people offered to deliver groceries to those who could not go out, share food and produce, donate money to families in need, and even just listen to those who felt lonely and wanted to release their fears.

I was very touched by that. It helped me hold on to my belief that most people are inherently good and will help in difficult situations. And that was not just the case in my city! Google’s Year in Search 2020 showed that one of the most popular searches this year was “how to help.” How to help in the Australia fires, how to help during coronavirus, how to help Black Lives Matter, and so on.

Nature is more important than ever

No matter how technologically advanced society is, 2020 showed that we need nature to keep us sane. When all the stores were closed, when everyone was freaking out and fed up with Zoom meetings, when the stuck-at-home kids were ruining everything with their endless energy, when we could not take it anymore, we turned to nature to cope. By moving regular activities outside, taking walks in the woods, or just taking care of houseplants, we understood how much we needed nature, and I hope we will take better care of the green spaces around the world.

What the coronavirus pandemic taught me in 2020.Cover photo.Thais Freitas
Spending lots of time in nature was the best thing we did in 2020

The world will change forever… again

Just as travel changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Covid-19 will forever change our hygiene (much more frequent hand washing, alcohol gel everywhere) and probably change the way we interact with each other, changing habits like shaking hands, standing close, wearing masks when someone is sick (as people in Asia have been doing since SARS) and so on.

The children of the future will be surprised to hear how things were before the Covid, just as we are surprised today to hear that before 2001 you could get on a plane with a knife.

I don’t want to live in a big city anymore

For years I’ve wanted to move upstate to live in a house with a big yard where the kids could play, my partner and I could have a home office, and I could grow my edible garden and keep chickens. But that was just a vague dream until the pandemic hit and we started working remotely and spending a lot more time at home.

After having kids, I had already stopped caring about what cities had to offer, like cool restaurants and going to the movies, and I never cared for malls and crowded places. Now that working, studying and socializing online were becoming more popular and available, it did not make sense to live near city centres for professional reasons either. So why stay in the Vancouver metropolitan area? Now I am working on convincing my partner of that and hope to make that dream a reality soon. The ultimate goal is to live on Kauai, Hawaii, but as long as that’s not possible, the Okanagan or somewhere on Vancouver Island will do.

It is what it is

We can make plans, get upset about things, and refuse to accept reality, but in the end, it is what it is. I too, like everyone else, had many plans for 2020 until the pandemic hit and threw the world for a loop. Plans had to be postponed or abandoned, a frightening number of people died, and our entire way of life suddenly changed. Bad things – in this case, super-bad things – sometimes happen and there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to understand and accept that they happened and do our best to adapt and change what we can.

There are always reasons to be thankful

It doesn’t matter how awful things are, there are always reasons to be grateful — remembering that guides me through tough times. I wrote about everything I’m thankful for in 2020 in another post, and from what I learned earlier this year, at least we can always be thankful that things aren’t as bad as they could be, like having clean air to breathe in a pandemic and not toxic creosote smoke. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

And here are the 20 non-pandemic things I learned in 2020.

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