“Our New Normal”

By Selma Sulejman

As I sit down and begin to compose this short piece, I realize how difficult it has become to formulate and thereby understand what the phrase “Our New Normal” means for so many people around the globe. This pandemic has impacted various facets of life, and how we navigate on a daily basis. What did society deem normal before Covid19?

One can only imply that the greater population did not have to take significant precautions before going out for a simple walk, picking up groceries at the market, maintaining specific amount of distance while trying to complete essential tasks, catching a train to work that will demonstrate indifferences, grabbing a flight to see a loved one who may be ill and not knowing if the aviation service has been disrupted, and pondering about how rent, as well as tuition deadlines, will be met.

Now, this leaves you thinking, are these the only substantial factors that presented a sense of normalcy prior to this universal outbreak? Absolutely not. There are countless elements that must be counted for such as how we went about obtaining a general doctor visit, being able to retain necessary medical supply without any financial and or systematic hardship, and moreover this vital asset of employment that allows us to live healthy as well as equitable lives.

Fast forward to the current crises we are all experiencing on an individualistic but yet unified manner, do we have the capability to identify what the mere meaning and or feeling of normal is at this given time? From my personal point of view, I can only attest that attending virtual activities, watching Netflix and or Disney plus with the nephew, reading both for pleasure-academia, spending a long time with the family, and praying-hoping for a positive shift in the days to come is what my new normal looks like right now.

“Our New Normal” has demonstrated hurt, loss, uncertainties, strength, humanity-kindness, adaptation, challenges, and this influence of will-power to move ahead with so many unknown contributing variables that will surely shape our social and economic interactions in the near future. Additionally, both educators and parents have illustrated leadership as well as support in the home-schooling process that a vast number of students had to embark on given such a short amount of time to adjust to.

On the same token, there are not enough words to express the gratitude towards all of the doctors, nurses, and every other healthcare worker that is out on the front-lines putting their best foot forward. As this pandemic seems to be diverging in ranging paths that being geographically and medically, we have to understand where we stand with “Our New Normal”. Whether that means working from home, preparing social engagements through a virtual platform, cooking up a storm with your kids, cleaning, teaming up with like-minded people and developing assistive gear that is in high demand, and most importantly showing love-respect for one another.

Emotions are diverse with so much occurring, so everyone is entitled to cry, vent, laugh, practice mindfulness, exercise, and other reflective methods that they may find helpful. Sending everyone hugs, positivity, hope, and love.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

By Katherine Magnoli

For as long as I can remember, I have identified with the movie the Wizard of Oz. I felt as if I was Dorothy, always dreaming of a new and different world from the one I was born into. I would make plans to travel and see new things. I would show very little appreciation at times for the little things in life. That is until I got sick with kidney failure and developed many other conditions throughout my 20s and 30s. All of which were taken care of by doctors.

My countless hospitalizations made me value how precious life is and I no longer really longed for another one. However, in the past 2 months, my past prayers have been answered, like Dorothy, in a very backward and disturbing way. Living in a world with COVID-19, has made life very different for all of us but especially those with medical conditions. I know for me, since the beginning of the pandemic, I have had to stop certain treatments that are essential to my overall physical well-being. Instead, I have adjusted to home care with the help of my mother.

One example of this is my development over the years of a condition called lymphedema. This is a condition that creates swelling in my right leg; caused by the lymphatic system no longer working properly. The remedy is a specific form of massage therapy and a gentle wrapping. Over the years, I have gone through this procedure many times. However, I have stopped going because the only clinic I am aware of is in the hospital. Thus, out of precaution, I have decided to have my mom carry these duties out for me and sometimes I even do it to myself. I choose to live this way because I am at a much higher risk of catching this virus in that type of environment.

Another example of how Covid-19 has negatively affected my everyday health care is; about 2 weeks ago I developed symptoms of a UTI. This was something I was eager to take care of and immediately called my doctor’ s office. To my dismay, instead of him simply coming to the phone, to prescribe me an antibiotic that always does the trick, he insisted we speak on Skype so he could see me. Now, though I am a writer I am not very technologically savvy. Therefore, this was quite a struggle. After a full 24 hours of trying to add this app to my phone, I finally was able to speak to my doctor face to face and get the prescription I needed.

My third and final example of how COVID-19 has effective my medical care is at my dialysis center. Now, the procedure is still the same except the atmosphere is far from anything I have known since I started. You see, my kidney’s failed almost 13 years ago, and though it took a while to adjust to my new normal of changing my diet and so forth, I then used my strength to not only accept my situation but help other patients do the same. I would spend 4 hours 3 times a week talking to as many patients as I could, giving them renal diet tips, and methods on how to pass the time while on the machine. Now, since the pandemic, I still do my best to inspire other patience regardless of social distancing. Unfortunately, due to the wearing of masks and the rule of 6ft apart, it is a little more difficult to connect with the other patients. This has been quite an adjustment because for years I have motivated myself to not only accept my situation but help others. Now, no matter how I try the feeling of loneliness has crept back in. A feeling I hope disappears soon along with this “new normal.”

These are just three examples of everyday struggles, people with disabilities, like myself, have faced during this change. In the end, I wish life was in The Wizard of Oz; so, I could click my heels 3 times and life would be back the way that it was. Until then, I will continue to do my best to appreciate every moment and inspire others to do the same even though our lives are different for the foreseeable future.

The Birds Still Sing

By Jenny Sichel

Every night for the past two months, I have left my bedroom window open, because every morning the birds sing and remind me that there are still some things which have not changed.

Around me, everything seems to be shifting and mutating. Sometimes it is challenging to grasp a piece of solid ground or a bit of legitimate information. Usually, my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder takes time to create a chaotic atmosphere of anxiety in my mind that fades into oblivion at my command. However, with the added stresses that are circulating continuously in the world right now, these depressive thoughts, have become more frequent and faster forming. Constantly escalating my anxiety levels are questions like “Will I ever get to row again with my friends?” or “Will my parents stay healthy during this outbreak?”. The unknowns have manifested themselves in my racing heart and sweaty palms.

With the murky fog of depression looming, I, like many of my peers, have had to figure out ways to adjust. For me this involves the realization that, although much of my life is unsettled, many parts of my world are still living and thriving. Spring is here, right on time as per usual. And like clockwork, the birds chirp every morning outside of my window. The rain still feels cold when I go for my walks and my bed still feels cozy and warm every night. Eventually, society will be back to some resemblance of normal and I yearn for that day. But until then, my mind takes solace in the fact that despite so many unknowns and so much change, some of life is still predictable.

As a part of the LINK20 movement, I have seen how sharing one person’s experiences can change another person’s life. This is especially true when it comes to mental health because of the major stigma surrounding it that prevents people from speaking out or seeking help. When I first started talking about my OCD, I was afraid of judgment and worried of rejection, but I ended up receiving support and love. This helped propel me to seek treatment. I’m now confident enough to share my experiences with friends, family, and my LINK20 community, with hopes that I can touch another person’s life.

During these challenging times, it is imperative to let each other know that we are not alone. Many people are having a difficult time coping and we need to make sure that we do not push away anyone because of their disability.

If you are worried to talk about your mental health challenges or something you are going through, just know that there are people out there who will 100% support you. Speak about it, write about it, draw, paint, express, do whatever you need, to stay mentally healthy, but most of all just know that you are not alone. 

What is a Luxury to Society During this Pandemic? From a Person with a Disability’s Perspective

By Larissa Martin

By definition, luxury is a state of great comfort and extravagant living.

During this pandemic, I have noticed a lot of people complaining on social media about not being able to go anywhere or do anything. How they cannot get their hair cut or see family and friends, etc. I get that they are frustrated. I really do. Though for me, a person with a disability, who has cerebral palsy, is an amputee and is a wheelchair user; it is not all that different from every day. Because I already consider these basic things as luxuries to begin with that everyone has been craving and want to go back to so badly. Someone like me can’t have those things and I’m okay with that, but how and why? Why am I okay with not having these things everyone else is privileged to have?  The simple explanation is, I rarely get to have them, if ever on a normal day. So, I am not as upset as a lot of people are. You could say, it is normal for me and many others with disabilities.

Do not get me wrong, I do miss the luxuries I did have, but it is not the luxuries everyone thinks. Not vacations, not driving, because I can’t drive. I miss seeing my chosen family as I call them, my best friends. I miss them like crazy. I normally see them once a month or sometimes, due to life being crazy, I go months and months without seeing one of them. That is just life and what happens. I am so grateful and thankful for things like zoom and other apps like it in order to stay connected to all of them during this time.

As a society, we need to understand and grasp the concept that luxuries are things we think we need, or we feel that we are entitled to certain luxuries just like celebrities do because they are famous and think  We have them at our disposal so why not take them for granted? what if people did not have them?

For me and other people in the disabled community, we do not have a lot of luxuries the rest of society does. We are excluded from having these things not by choice rather by our circumstances of whatever disability that person may have.  I think if you asked people with disabilities what luxury looks like for them, you would get different answers because every person is different– maybe that could be a little bit of privacy without aid or a family member for a bit. Whatever it looks like for you, no matter what your disability looks like, visible or invisible, there are different luxuries for everyone. For me personally, the big luxury I am missing right now is my chosen family– they help me in so many ways. They help me experience things I don’t get to that a lot of people do.

I think when all this is done, society needs to consider what is a luxury and what is not and think about including people with disabilities into the conversation. At the end of the day, we as a disability community understands and value luxuries and what they are to us more than most. They are just things and experiences that we can complain about not having right now. Luxuries are things we do not actually need. We should see luxuries as tiny things, like a conversation with someone, some self-care to better yourself, or just an appreciation of all the things and people in your life. All these tiny things are the luxuries we need to cherish and truly appreciate Because those are the ones that are more important luxuries, we can’t afford to lose like the ones we don’t have right now. At the end of the day, those are the ones that matter– not ones we can go out and get or experience. I do and will continue to cherish these small luxuries I have and maybe the rest of the world can do the same, not just for me but for the disability community as a whole. I think the world would be in a better place once we realized this.

The Benefits of Working from Home

By Amani Carson

Recently LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence  Index found that over half the population would like to maintain the option to work from home (WFH), if at all possible. I, personally, am inclined to agree. In addition to reducing our carbon footprint, and saving both employers and employees money, I believe giving people the opportunity to WFH also offers the following benefits:

  1. Intentional Work: Gone are the days when your coworker or, god forbid, your boss could just swing by your workstation to ask a “quick question”, which somehow becomes an hour-long impromptu meeting that disrupts your (slightly ambitious, but appropriately challenging) plan for the day and maybe upending your schedule for the week. Setting up a Zoom meeting or even a phone call requires scheduling and intention. Collaboration does not need to mean chaos; brainstorming sessions can remain organic, but now they can also be organized.
  2. Community Engagement: “Work from home” does not mean “stay at home”. Once we begin moving around again, WFH means you can become a regular at your neighborhood coffee shop or bookstore. WFH means you and your neighbor can walk down the street to your community library, instead simply waving in passing as you commute to your separate jobs. WFH doesn’t mean seclusion or the loss of human touch, rather it means we can be active in our own communities and cultivate connections outside of the office.
  3. Inclusive Work: No office space, no matter how modern or flexible, will suit every worker. The harsh reality is that the office isn’t for everyone, and many smaller businesses or nonprofits do not have the financial means to immediately create fully-inclusive environments. While the company might be ADA-compliant, just because the building is accessible doesn’t mean the environment is optimal. The right workers are not necessarily those who live in commuting distance to the company or have the expendable income or personal flexibility to relocate. The option to work remotely or to flex work (working remotely and in the office) gives everyone the chance to work with the organizations they fit best in the spaces where they function best.
  4. Time: Even if you finish early and clock out on time, work always extends beyond the workday. Think about the time you spend getting dressed, taming your unruly hair, packing a lunch, and commuting to and from work. Although you might not be on the job, these are hours you don’t spend with your loved ones, pursuing your hobbies, catching your Zzzs, living your life because of the job. Reducing these uncompensated work hours gives more workers the chance to have a life outside of their jobs and attain a true work-life balance. Imagine replacing your morning mad dash with a stretch and a few minutes of meditation; grabbing a quick bite with a friend or walking the dog during your lunch break, or helping your child with homework at 5:00 PM instead of missing dinner while sitting in traffic. A work-life balance isn’t having a life at work, rather it’s having a life outside of work

To read more about the Index please click here.

Zoom-Ing with a Speech Impairment

By Sarah Kim

“It’d be easier to understand me if we do the interview over video chat due to my speech impairment.” I’ve written a couple of dozen iterations of that sentence in my emails over the past two years. Ever since I graduated from Columbia’s Journalism School, I’ve been working as a freelance journalist. I’ve been fortunate that a handful of publications accepted my pitches and published my work, with some of them even bringing me on as a permalance. I have mild cerebral palsy, which affects my speech and mobility. A significant part of a journalist’s job is to interview sources to quote in stories and to gather background information.

It is a tad bit ironic that, as a journalist, verbally communicating is considerably harder for me. I do my best to make the listener’s job as easy as possible. Almost 100% of the time, I inform the interviewee of my speech impediment, and that speaking via video chat, instead of over the phone is easier for me; then they can read my lips as I speak. Another perk about video conference platforms is that they often come with a chat-box, so I type out my words in times of severe misunderstanding.

In the days and weeks after most of the U.S. shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19, everything—from school to work to socializing, and even to weddings—has moved online, most notably onto Zoom. People have been on Zoom calls so much that “zoom” has become a regular verb, just like google. (Side note: what happened to Skype?)

At first, I let out a sigh of relief. I liked the idea of talking over video chat as the new “norm.” In pre-pandemic times, video calling wasn’t something most people regularly did, so when I’d bring it up as a suggestion, it would feel somewhat awkward. But now that it’s becoming such a common thing, I thought it would become one less hurdle. I wouldn’t need to necessarily “request” a meeting or interview to be over Zoom or Google Hangouts since “meeting” over video chat has become the new default.

However, instead of this new reality moving my life forward, it has, in some ways, moved it backward. Throughout high school and college, participating in a class discussion had been challenging, especially in a large class setting. When professors or classmates didn’t understand me, I would type out my comment or question in a text-to-speech app. This would often create an awkward lag in the natural flow of the overall discussion. The class would have to either wait for me to type my words or continue and come back to me once I had finished typing. When the latter occurred, sometimes the class would’ve proceeded way ahead with the conversation that my remark would be too late or irrelevant.

Interestingly enough, I have seen the same issue occurring on multi-people Zoom calls. Video chat presents its own unique challenges. Coupled with technical issues, such as weak internet connection or microphone feedback, a speech impediment can cause further muffling on the receiving end. As a result, I’m finding myself staying quiet and not actively participating in the calls.

Even with such advances in technology, I—along with other people with disabilities—am experiencing the same issues as I had over a decade ago. The issue of people and technology not understanding my speech patterns goes beyond the confines of video calls. For example, voice assistance devices, such as Siri, Echo, and Google Home, can significantly improve the lives of people with mobility or dexterity difficulties, but not if they also have a speech impairment. As a society, we’ve become gradually more accepting of people with various disabilities. But when it comes to people who speak differently than what’s considered the norm, progress is slow to come.

The Importance of Gratitude in Challenging Times

By Aaron Kaufman

The news is extremely depressing these days. 100,000 Americans have died as a result of COVID -19, millions of people have lost their jobs and there have been several troubling shootings of late. Many people with disabilities, including me, at times experience social isolation and for many, especially my friends who live alone, the pandemic has compounded that isolation. Also people with disabilities are more at risk of getting and dying from the coronavirus. According to an April 8,  2020 article in the New York Times a large consortium of private service providers found that residents of group homes and similar facilities in New York City and surrounding areas were 5.34 times more likely than the general population to develop COVID-19 and nearly 5 times more likely to die from it. This is a time where it is easy to become extra anxious or depressed, no one can be blamed for feeling that way.

However, this is a time when it is essential to focus on gratitude. It’s not always easy but I have tried to focus on all the blessings that life has afforded me. At a time when many people are out of work I have a job as a disability lobbyist for the Jewish Federations of North America which I love because I myself have cerebral palsy.  My job enables me to fight for “my people” every day.  I am proud of the work that my colleagues and I are doing to ensure that Congress understands the needs of people with disabilities and those that support them.

My brother, who also has cerebral palsy, was among those who became infected with the virus, however I am profoundly grateful that he remained asymptomatic throughout the whole time and that the danger has passed. I am so thankful for the broad support network I have who support me when I am feeling low; they raise my spirits. In addition, my Judaism is very important to me. I am a member of the Union for Reform Judaism North American Board so I appreciate that my synagogue, Temple Micah in Washington DC, has had a wide variety of services on Zoom.  During this uncertain time my faith has given me great comfort. So, my dear reader, if you are struggling I hope you find something that comforts you and I urge you to focus every day on gratitude. I know this is easier said than done. If you are struggling know you are not alone and I leave you with my favorite Irish proverb:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Living in a Social Media Persona Dominated World

By Jonathan Bertrand

In the wake of COVID-19 we’ve come to realize that a new day in age is upon us, as an African American male dealing with the pandemic as well as social injustice it has been a stressful time. Having dealt with a near two-month lock down plus Racial tensions I’ve come to realize that the best thing to do is to either support the cause fear free  and in relation to COVID-19 try our best not to live in fear. Now to address life after COVID-19 and enduring, it’s opened my eyes to the reality that the term “ Friend ” is used loosely,  to stoppage of proper communication was actually people temporarily filling in void’s they once never addressed.

Having dealt with anxiety in my early year’s a sense of loneliness struck me during  this pandemic having triggered a lot of emotions that were either hidden or soon  surfaced, after 2 months of lock-down I was at my wit’s end and had to take a three-day hiatus to another  city 2 hour’s away because my subconscious couldn’t take being inside the house twenty-four hours a day and  not being able to see people or communicate with people i normally would  like humans do face to face human  to human fashion. Now with all this to be said this is just the beginning of a transition that will soon become normal life, yes we can’t stop a pandemic from happening but fear and misinformation was  all too prominent,  and not having clear leadership on a national and international level made things a lot more difficult not just mentally and physically but also financially. 

For the last five years I’ve had an opportunity to  run a foundation based on how social media affects your mental and behavioral health – www.SocialMediaAwareness.org, and sadly  how it’s impacted our lives as users .To see how social media is being used to target protesters and those who support in  solidarity was very disheartening and to know that social media is being used to take away free speech as well as Target individuals who are frustrated and just want to express themselves to me opened up a new belief that our position in the world as American citizens have changed and it’s being showed on how we handle pandemics,Police brutality and politics for the very citizens needing help. Now being someone with a disability and having dealt with specific learning disabilities since a young age it goes to show marginalized people can get caught into a  new ideology or belief based on emotions and influences and trauma past and current. Whether it’s a post online or place of origin or religious belief attacking someone whether verbally or physically isn’t the way to live and it isn’t the way to conduct ourselves as human beings.

So I leave you with this for those who seek guidance on how to handle this with the utmost urgency when you see something, say something but also know your voice is powerful and understanding for those with disabilities as well can make a change that there is power in numbers. Don’t lose faith and there is hope. 

 “ One post can change the mind, one can change a generation”

This is New

By Sarah Horowitz

As a stereotypical over-functioner, I react to stress as a bulldozer reacts to a pile of rubble – with a powerful push and an over-controlling temper. During a stressful crisis, my mind buzzes with steps that must be taken, checklists that have to be completed, phone calls that need to be made and arrangements that must be finalized. I take full responsibility and shoulder every burden, all while running faster than my own problems can catch me. Mid-crisis, I am in-control, hyper-focused, and piloted by that part of my brain that doesn’t have to feel, but just has to do.

This pattern of over-functioning feels adaptive, even motivating, during peak crisis when everything threatens to collapse. But, as the crisis passes its crescendo and the adrenalin rush subsides, there is a jarring switch that occurs as a new normal takes residence. The dizzying pace I was functioning at suddenly slows to a dull ache. The buzzing in my brain ceases its violent hum, leaving me with a lonely, cerebral echo. My adrenalin-soaked body, once functioning at peak performance, rapidly exhausts and slumps to the floor. I remember experiencing this switch after my grandmother died. From the 911 call to midway through the funeral, I over-functioned my way through the entire experience, taking on too much responsibility and too little self-care. But, as the funeral ended and everyone left in a trail of black, the adrenalin evaporated from my body and the air around me changed. The crisis was still there, but it had morphed into something heavier, thicker, and harder to shake. It was becoming a new normal, setting in roots and forcing my family to adapt to a future we were never ready for.

In the literature, this emotional switch occurs when a community transitions from the “Heroic” phase of crisis to the “Disillusionment” phase of recovery. Directly after a crisis, adrenalin pumps in overdrive as the community bands together in a heroic effort to repair the damage. Once the “Heroic” phase reaches its peak, the Honeymoon phase begins and the community bonds over a shared catastrophic experience, resulting in reduced rates of mental health. But, once this period of optimism is over, the Disillusionment phase ensues.[1] This phase is characterized by disappointment as our goals, needs and expectations aren’t met, and we have to accept this emotional low as the current new normal. It is in this phase of crisis that rates of mental health skyrocket.[2]

Accepting a new normal is one of the hardest things to do, and COVID-19 is a new normal that has shaken our entire globe to the core. In a mad dash to slow the spread and flatten the curve, a new normal was set in motion on a global scale that changed the very foundation in which we operate. Initiatives were formed and executed, laws were written and decreed, and the world watched as the adrenalin-fueled peak of COVID-19 settled into the deep valley of normalcy. And as we sink into the Disillusionment phase, we all realize – this virus is not a quick-fix, but rather a long haul, and with that comes the desperate attempt to adapt to a world that seemed to change overnight.

And change is hard. Whichever way you look at it. We have all needed to change our daily lives in the mists of this virus, in small and big ways, and as humans we are resistant to change. Change is uncomfortable, scary, uncharted and unpredictable, and especially in an unprecedented crisis like COVID-19, many of us are left floundering. We find ourselves obsessing over the health and safety of our bodies, taking measures to reduce contact and spread, but as we focus more on our physical health and that of others, we seem to put our mental health on the back burner.

It feels like the cruelest of ironies that, the more thoughtful we are with our physical health during this time, the more thoughtless we are with our mental health. As we shelter in place to reduce contraction and spread, we disconnect ourselves from the healing benefits of nature and outdoor activity. As we decrease interaction with others and increase social isolation, we lose the healthful properties of social connection and physical touch. This push-and-pull dynamic has changed the way we interact with others, as well as the way we interact with ourselves, in both good and bad ways. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I find myself uncovering healthy habits I had forgotten in the chaos of my pre-Corona life, but also falling into the lightly-concealed trap of excess isolation. As an endorphin-addict who copes with stress through exercise, I find both joy in having time to be active but also guilt for being outside of my home. As a critical hyper-productive, working and studying from home has given me more time to learn, but also less structure to stay motivated. The effect COVID-19 has had on mental health differs from person to person, but there are general trends that have been noted from previous crises that may provide us with some insight.

History has shown us what kind of impact global crises can have on our mental health. Increased rates of PTS, acute anxiety, and prolonged depression were noted in China following the SARS outbreak in 2003, and similar trends were seen in the aftermath of the West Africa Ebola epidemic, resulting in increased trauma-related disorders such as PTSD and anxiety-depression.[3] And while the coronavirus is considered a biological disaster, studies have begun to equate its psychological effects to those resulting from natural disasters, such as tsunamis and hurricanes.[4] We have seen increased alcoholism following the Japan triple disaster in 2011[5], heightened sleep disturbances after the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008,[6] higher incidence of PTSD and depression resulting from the September 11 attacks[7] – and this just touches the surface. Other catastrophic events such as job loss, foreclosures, bereavement, and burnout also result in increased rates of depression and anxiety. On top of all this, I am left thinking about the increased rates of domestic violence, the amplification of eating disorders, the resurfacing of OCD tendencies, and the relapse of substance abuse during this time. In many ways, coronavirus seemed to culminate into the perfect storm. The entire world was thrown into an unprecedented crisis and asked to adapt in a matter of weeks, without the usual social support or structured routine we were used to. It’s like flying without a net.

A couple weeks ago, I found myself crying. In all honestly, it was a moment that caught me off guard. I was on a late night walk in my neighborhood, mask on and earphones in, walking down familiar concrete and hoping not to run into anyone within a six-foot radius. And then, in one overwhelming wave of emotion, I started crying. That was the moment I knew my adrenalin rush had finally been depleted. As I let my brain accept the new normal around me, everything came flooding in at once – my anxiety about at-risk family, my frustration at under productivity, my shame centered around pervasive insufficiency, my depression stemming from lack of connection, and the collective grief we all feel for a past normal that will never return. Whether it is grief for the loss of a loved one or grief for the loss of a job, I believe we are all grieving the death of a past normal. And in that grief, I believe we can also find unity.

In a very literal sense, we are all experiencing this together. Together, we blindly grapple through this new normal, hoping to find solid ground on an ever-changing foundation, trying a bunch of things and having most of them not work. I’ve tried bread baking (so much harder than it should be), candle making (why do I think I’m a professional?), meditation (stop telling me to open a metaphorical door to my potential), and a slew of other hobbies that I hoped would give me purpose and structure. While most, if not all, of these attempts failed, I found other people who were trying, just like I am, to acclimate to a new normal.  And in this unity, we also share the same foundational struggle – we have all never done this before. We have all never suffered through a pandemic of this scale. We have all never lived through one of the worst economic spirals of the century. We have all never experienced this quality of terror on a global level. We have all never seen so many lives taken, so many businesses foreclosed, so many hugs missed, so many gatherings celebrated alone. Acknowledging the novelty of the situation feels like the first step to healing. This is a new normal we have never tried to navigate before, so this is going to really suck while we try and figure this out. This is going to be hard. But, as we try and cope with this new normal, it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to get frustrated at your lack of productivity, lonely from your dearth of socialization, lost because of your lack of structure – it’s okay to feel these things because this situation is new, and those feelings toward novelty are part of the human experience.

The important thing to me is that I try to learn, and try to adapt. I started a new hobby, finally mastered Zoom calls, reveled in my solitude and practiced calm. I try to nourish my body and my brain, set new routines for myself, stay active, and at times, sit with my discomfort and accept its existence in my life. And I am working on practicing empathy toward myself, and empathy toward others. I am trying to stop comparing suffering, and give myself more room to love and breath. Because in the end, we are all struggling through this new normal together. This is my first time dealing with a pandemic.

This is new.

[1] Phases of Disaster | SAMHSA. (n.d.). Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.samhsa.gov/dtac/recovering-disasters/phases-disaster

[2] Arnberg, F. K., Gudmundsdóttir, R., Butwicka, A., Fang, F., Lichtenstein, P., Hultman, C. M., & Valdimarsdóttir, U. A. (2015). Psychiatric disorders and suicide attempts in Swedish survivors of the 2004 southeast Asia tsunami: a 5 year matched cohort study. The lancet. Psychiatry2(9), 817–824. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00124-8

[3] Jalloh, M. F., Li, W., Bunnell, R. E., Ethier, K. A., O’Leary, A., Hageman, K. M., Sengeh, P., Jalloh, M. B., Morgan, O., Hersey, S., Marston, B. J., Dafae, F., & Redd, J. T. (2018). Impact of Ebola experiences and risk perceptions on mental health in Sierra Leone, July 2015. BMJ global health3(2), e000471. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2017-000471

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Leveling the Playing Field

By Rania Abi Rafeh

On a regular day, before the pandemic, walking the streets of NYC with my physical disability felt like a high stakes video game. My right foot took the lead with a swift crooked step forward while my left leg scraped the pavement behind to catch up. Step, beat, step, beat, step. My eyes darted from the noise of my shoes to the faces blurring past me. I could feel a slight breeze on my skin from each body skimming past me while hearing the plomp, plomp, plomp of feet behind me, so my right leg took bigger steps making my knee jut out even more to get ahead. In turn, my brown hair bounced around my face as my arched back puffed out my chest like a sail, while my hips turned in, causing my knees to want to kiss. I continued to dodge passerby as though I were Mario eluding a walking mushroom.

COVID-19 has created an environment where everyone is at a disadvantage, not just the disabled community. Only after seeing how the entire world has been impaired by a pandemic am I able to feel as though I am on the same playing field as an able-bodied person.

The city’s foot traffic during the pandemic is sparse to nonexistent, depending on the area. Seeing the bare streets was jarring at first—I wouldn’t have been surprised to see tumbleweed rolling out of nowhere—but I came to appreciate the quietness. I usually try to match the pace of people walking in all directions, but the pandemic allows me to walk the streets at my own pace. In turn, I enjoy the walks I take. For once, my feet don’t feel as rushed, and my shoulders are not pointy with tension—a refreshing feeling to have when moving one’s body takes significant effort.

Having to quarantine and stay indoors has taken the pressure off of traveling in the city—an overwhelming task to do if you are physically disabled. The New York Times states that New York City’s subways are insufficiently accessible: “Only about a quarter of 472 stations in the city have elevators—one of the lowest percentages of any major transit.” If I were counting on using the MTA’s other service, Access-A-Ride, I’d constantly be waiting, my schedule built around that of the car service. Zoom makes it easier for me to meet up with others, allowing me to be there without physically being present. Though I recognize that these circumstances are not realistically permanent, the transportation options available to me and the rest of the disabled community in a COVID-free world are similarly impractical.

I have found a silver lining in the pandemic with regards to my walking disability. However, this shift in the playing field reminds me of society’s long-standing disregard of the disabled community’s right to access. For years, the disabled community has missed out on specific aspects of living due to inadequate accessibility. Only with society’s current embrace of virtual life have the tables turned. Disabled people are now able to effectively participate in work and socialize from their own homes. While able-bodied people are upset about reduced mobility or the challenges of working remotely, many disabled people already faced these obstacles on a daily basis. The very fact that an individual with a physical disability, such as myself, can achieve an accessible lifestyle because of the pandemic exposes the reality that our current society is not designed with minority groups in mind. Yet, by calling out the limitations that seek to negate our existence, we can start to fix the inequality society has created.