Stefanie Mockler, M.A.
Writing through a Global Pandemic: Lessons learned in the first 23 days
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
Hi, thanks for stopping by. Through this global pandemic, I have been writing. A lot. I have always used writing (and speaking) as an outlet - it's cathartic for me. It's helps me process, learn, and grow. I'll continue to share some of that writing here.
I want to preface my post with acknowledging that this post is written from the safety and warmth of my home. I recognize how privileged and fortunate I am to be here. I can't emphasize this enough. The privilege is real.
My heart, energy, and financial support goes out to all those who have lost family, who are fighting COVID-19, and to each and every person on the front lines. The nurses, doctors, healthcare workers, and hospital staff risking their lives to care for patients, without proper supplies and PPE. The grocery store clerks and staff keeping the shelves filled. The delivery drivers bringing food and groceries to people at home. The first responders helping those in need. Any employee working at a business deemed 'essential' should be recognized and rewarded.
Through this, I am offering pro bono coaching and consulting to help those without financial means who could use a sounding board, advisor, or leadership coach. See more here.
Please consider ways you can support your communities and the people mentioned above: sign petitions to get them the protection they need. Vote with your dollars to support local businesses.
And, most importantly, STAY HOME. Social [physical] distance. Do not meet up with people. Do not galavant around the store. Do not visit your parents and friends. Do not host gatherings. Do not attend gatherings. Do not pass go. That's the single best thing we each can personally do. In the grand scheme of things, this is a very minor sacrifice to make.
Peace, love, social distancing, and a whole hell of a lot of solidarity to each and every one of you. xoxo
For me, this whole experience really ramped up 23 days ago.
23 days ago (on 2/27): my brother texted me saying he would likely have to back out on our Austin trip for SXSW. Coronavirus was spreading quickly and he felt it wouldn’t be safe given he is immunocompromised & has a chronic lung disease.
21 days ago (on 3/1): I received the following text from my brother: "I called Dad to see if he wanted to go to the ymca and he legit screamed in the phone for 4 straight minutes at me. Told me I need to stock up on medicine for 5 months and not leave the house.”
[Though my brother was at first upset by my Dad’s response, he hasn’t left the house since…]
The week of 3/2: I tried to prep for SXSW and continue to execute on other upcoming work, while slowly but surely watching things get canceled in the US and muted alarms sound all over the world.
Many people, including me, in the US went about their daily lives, business-as-usual.
17 days ago (on 3/6): I got the news that SXSW was canceled. This sent shockwaves through the community — this was the first time the festival didn’t happen in 34 years. 34!
Worry set in. My obsession with the news cycle, particularly around COVID-19, soared.
The week of 3/8: events, conferences, and large gatherings were canceled left and right. Unprecedented times.
11 days ago (on 3/12): I worked from home as I had the whole week and in the afternoon, left my house to head to an Orange Theory class.
At this point, I was otherwise social distancing, but surely, I (so wrongly, dangerously, and erroneously) thought, I could still work out. It’s healthy. I need to sweat out my stress and keep my immune system humming. I’ll take all of the precautions — keep my distance, use cleaning wipes, and be in-and-out.
I thought: I’m young. I’m healthy. I’ll be OK.
I called my Dad on the way, and he immediately told me to cancel my class and get my ass back home.
Let’s just say it was familiar to my brother’s prior text exchange.
I pushed back, and he explained to me the importance of #flatteningthecurve.
The widespread impact that I, one person, could have if I contributed to the spread. You’ve likely seen the numbers by now… it starts with you, you expose 2-3 people, those 2-3 people expose 2-3 people each… it gets scary fast.
Here's a powerful visual.
The connectedness of our world is astounding, and of “our human family” as President Obama so aptly called it in a recent tweet. It can be used as a source of disaster (for those who refuse to social distance) or a source of powerful community-building and togetherness.
Today, 3/22: This marks day 11 of social distancing and quarantining in my home. I have not left. I’ve ordered groceries, some take-out food, and, along with the rest of the world, been grappling with finding a new, temporary-but-not-sure-how-long, normal for myself and my family.
3/16 to 3/21 was, perhaps, one of the most surreal weeks of my life. Granted there's a recency effect at play here -- I wonder if I'll say that in the future? Anyway, a lot of people were social distancing. And still, a lot of people were not.
I am social distancing with my partner, our 17-year son, 2 cats and 2 dogs. Yes, we’re outnumbered by our animals…
I started off the week with a completely unrealistic and honestly, ridiculous, set of expectations for myself.
3/15: This week, I proudly declared, I will make progress on my dissertation, continue to serve my coaching clients, maintain my work out schedule, cook lots of healthy meals, get a lot of sleep, and generally take care of myself and my family.
*Narrator: she did not, in fact, take care of herself. At all.*
3/22: While prepping some food, I listened to Brene Brown’s first podcast episode (twice)— she was set to launch at SXSW — and among other things, she introduced the-new-to-me concept of FFT.
FFT = Fucking First Time
We have a lot of FFTs in life — from small (we try out a new restaurant) to huge (we move across the country, get a new job, or make any big life change) — and leaning into FFTs are critically important for avoiding stagnation and promoting ongoing learning and growth.
COVID-19, I’d bet, is the biggest FFT many of us have faced. It certainly is for me. We don’t have a playbook. There are limited rules. We’re paying attention to how other countries are responding - the good, the bad, and the ugly - and we’re doing our best to draw from other life experiences to get through.
But, the reality is: this is a big, messy, uncertain, scary FFT and we should treat it as such.
You see, my original approach to dealing with COVID-19 was all about drawing from times I’ve had to overcome challenge in the past. Starting with having a baby as a teenager, I’ve developed my own personal formula for dealing with tough life situations.
I lean into my routine. I ramp up the things that keep me happy, healthy, energized, and productive (a packed schedule, exercise, serving others, connecting with others, taking care of my clients and my family, doing things that *feel* like I’m moving the needle and making progress).
I know myself — well, to be clear, my pre-pandemic self — I typically thrive under pressure through doubling down, staying busy, being active, and getting intensely focused.
This last week, I buckled down on everything except for me. I ate like shit. Nary a vegetable in sight. I did not work out. Not once. I sat at my computer, attempted to be “productive,” and stared at my phone for HOURS on end. I read article after article after article on COVID-19. I kid you not that I woke up in the middle of the night and grabbed my damn phone to read MORE. Sleep has never been an issue for me… until this last week.
I told people to stay the F home. I worried about my community, my family, and myself — health, financial, and otherwise – many things so clearly out of my control. I lamented our leadership (or lack thereof). I kept pushing, pushing, pushing.
While simultaneously telling my friends, family, and clients to give themselves grace, to slow down, lean out, and take care of their own health first, I doubled down.
This approach drove me into the ground. Or, more literally, drove me into a state of exhaustion and burnout which manifested in physical symptoms (i.e., neck stiffness so bad I couldn’t move my head side-to-side — good luck trying to take care of everyone and putting pressure on yourself to deliver when you can’t even move).
I can recall the exact moment this happened.
3/19: 6pm. I was FaceTiming with my sister and telling her how my neck and back were bothering me all day. Instead of doing anything about it, I just kept working at my computer. I took very few breaks.
That night, I tossed and turned, and I woke up on 3/20 unable to move my neck.
My body, quite literally, forced me to stop my downward spiral. And most who know me will tell you: it’s not easy to slow me down.
I have always prided myself on my work ethic, my resilience, and my ability to be a supporter for everyone around me.
This last week, though, I learned a powerful lesson: if you don’t care for yourself first, you can’t possibly care for anyone else.
In the purest sense, this is nothing ground-breaking — I’ve heard and preached this message — I constantly tell people to put on their own oxygen masks first— I preach self-care, advocating for yourself, putting yourself first. I do this day-to-day, but I didn’t do it when it mattered the most.
You can read all the books, learn from the experts, and listen to all the podcasts, but experience is the most powerful of lessons, isn’t it?
Back to today (3/22): I am feeling more settled, grounded, and future-focused. I am still terrified of what’s happening our world. It’s just getting started. But, and here’s the biggest takeaway of all, I can’t help if I don’t take care of myself first. And I can’t take care of myself if I don’t get over my own pride and focus on what I know matters most.
My plans for the week ahead — taking it day-by-day, week-by-week – are grounded in reality and principles of health. I’m going back to the basics. Each day, I will do my damn best to focus on the 1-2 things that serve to keep me grounded, settled, and future-focused.
And will this approach work? Who knows? I'll try it. I'll reflect. I'll write. I'll talk to others and share experiences. And I'll iterate, course correct, and keep move forward.
And, most importantly, I will remind myself of how grateful I am to have the privilege to work from home and quarantine through this.
peace, love + social distancing,