BT (USA, Massachusetts): COVID has consumed a lot of my life for the past 10 months. We have had to rework everything we do. Scheduling patients changed because we have to maintain distancing in the health center and because we want patients to stay home. We had to learn how to do telehealth. We have to triage every patient who comes into the building for COVID symptoms/exposure. We had to create a whole new workflow for COVID testing and follow-up of COVID positive patients and figure out how to do it outside in both summer and winter. We had to create a new employee health system. We had to work really hard to find consistent sources of PPE. Guidelines and recommendations and evidence changes week to week, sometimes day to day. We have had to learn to be flexible and creative and think outside the box.

The first few months were particularly difficult and it was often really difficult to unplug my brain from work, even on vacation. That didn't improve until August. September was probably the best month during COVID times. And then in October we had a major downtime event at work and had no EMR/emails/anything computer related for 2-3 weeks. And that was REALLY difficult. And then once we were out of that we were into the second surge.

All of this means I have gone from working "32hrs" a week (it was always more like 40-45) to 50-60hrs most weeks for the past 10 months. I was the parent who was always more available for the kids. My husband now works at home full-time and manages everything—school, homework, dinner, grocery shopping, etc. It's been a huge shift for all of us. And while he is doing really well, it's hard for everyone involved. I miss my kids and they miss me. There is a lot of guilt on my part, even though they have been so understanding and really resilient with all of the changes they have had to deal with.

I know my experience has been different than a lot of people's but I get irritated when people talk about the silver linings that have come out of COVID. Or talk about how nice it has been to be at home. Everyone working in health care is just freaking exhausted. And it's not just that we can't stay home to work. The responsibility and the pressure you feel in a pandemic... it's overwhelming. The pressure to keep patients safe, to keep your coworkers safe. It can be suffocating. Having the vaccine has been the first thing I've been able to do to really protect people in the outpatient setting. Being able to vaccinate staff has been an amazing experience.

Also, and this is a smaller thing, I miss my friends. I miss traveling—we traveled A LOT. I miss "normal". What I wouldn't give for normal.

DK (USA, Florida): It has changed my life modestly. We should be wearing masks whenever we go outside (going to work, grocery stores, etc.), so that is a modest change, a change that may be a little inconvenient, but one that is obviously necessary if you are not selfish.

JA (USA, California): Fifty-three percent. Just kidding - it's hard to measure exactly how much of course, but it's certainly a noticeable amount. The top changes that come to mind are:

  • making new friends locally is harder
  • additional cleanliness has taken center stage for so many activities
  • Zoom sessions have become the norm

RM (New Zealand): For the first time in my life, the majority of people in my country stopped going to work as we went into a 6-8 week national lockdown.

I kept going to work as I work in a community kitchen, which, as well as running a donation-only cafe, distributes bread, garden produce, food parcels, and acts as an informal contact point for people who work with homeless and people in low income groups, so it fell into the essential services category set by local and national government agencies. We had to close the cafe and run a contactless service. All volunteers with health conditions and aged over 70 vanished from my life. I kept 4 volunteers on and we used a lot of sanitizer and methylated spirits as we ran a small call centre and window service for our regular customers, and people who were caught out by the lockdown.

It was a surreal experience but not unpleasant. People were spending lots of time with their kids at home. For a lot of people it was probably their first real break from the "rat race". For many it was stressful, but a lot of people I know actually enjoyed the experience. Not because they liked being locked down, but because they were freed from those awful daily obligations of work and hustle. I actually suffered a bit of "culture shock" when we came out of lockdown and cars and people swarmed around our roads again searching for takeaway coffees and fast food. A lot of us quite liked the quiet earth we existed on for a few weeks.

Any controversy in regards to how our government handled the shutdown was tempered by the fact that New Zealanders are generally a people who are quiet, friendly, risk averse, and isolated in the world geographically. The governing Labour party won a landslide in October following their handling of Covid-19. I voted for the activist Maori Party instead.

For me on a personal level, I am somewhat uncomfortable with lockdowns and compulsory vaccinations and people walking the streets wearing masks. I grew up on a little farm in the South Pacific, now I feel like we're living in the dystopian future I hoped we would avoid.

JE (UK): 2020 for me was less about the pandemic (which my phone autocorrect always changes to pandemonium, ha ha) and more about getting and being married, buying and renovating a house, and navigating jobs long distance.

In all honesty for us it was a pretty epic first year of marriage. No long commutes into the city each day, three meals a day together at our table, having more time to sit in the sun in the garden with a cold beer at the end of the day (or in front of the fire with a glass of red as it's minus degrees outside now). Less stress, more time for board games and WhatsApp calls with family and walking in the woods.

Obviously I'm cognizant of the loss many have experienced, of the financial chaos and the separation families have endured. But personally for us, it was the best year ever.

MH (Japan): I've lost most of my work so worrying about trying to make myself less vulnerable to the ways political pressures and decisions affect my way to make a living. I don't watch the "news" anymore. But as far as how I act... I go out as usual. I never was a big crowd person. Most of the effects are in my mind, and as I'm writing this, I realize that's going to be true for most of the world.

I've been frustrated with irrational reactions and ideas. People are crazy and stupid. There I said it. That's a little harsh. People are being willingly trained, through laziness, to not think, to let others think for them. Logical and rational and critical thinking have gone out the window. Only panic and speculation are left. So Covid has made me tired of listening to people say stupid things and politicians cover their asses making bad decisions. I'm worried about the future if its this easy to manipulate the masses with fear.

DC (USA, Massachusetts): This year has made feel like a polar explorer that missed the last open water before ice came back forcing them to overwinter in the darkness.

My family and myself have luckily been healthy and financially stable through Covid but it has radically changed my plans. My home has become my hibernation den and we are all just waiting for things to change. We are waiting for the water to open back up.

2021 was going to be a year of new art, adventures, and challenges. I had just been named the new open mic host for The Burren, a prestigious Boston music venue. I was also working on launching a charity bike ride for my work hoping to have hundreds of riders for our September 26th race. There was also a planned solo bike trip through Quebec and a family vacation to the mountains of Spain that vanished.

Those things might all be there for me again when I wake up from this Covid sleep, but they also all might be radically changed. Who knows what the world will look like after this polar winter is over?

JO (USA, Massachusetts): My life has changed about as much as humanly possible. It’s made me reevaluate my finances, my mental context, and what I’m actually good at. My barber shops were closed for 11 weeks. One of them hasn’t really come back to full busy and I’m actually selling it. I’m also a mediocre school teacher to my kids now. I excel in being average in this category.

PD (New Zealand): Living in New Zealand, the impact has been huge and mostly in positive ways. A rebooting opportunity without all the unsaved files...

JB (USA, Florida): Initially it didn’t feel like that much. We had a work from home station for my husband already. He just added a few more days a week there. We already homeschooled. My job was legal to stay open, so we both kept our jobs. And honestly the break from activities was a relief, at first.

But as things stretched on and on and we started to really miss our people. Having birthdays and holidays with no friends or family quickly lost its novelty. But I feel like we’ve got a decent rhythm going these days. Not everything came back, but that’s ok, we were planning to cut down this year anyway. I'm still finding things to mourn that surprise me. We’ll be going along fine and then we run into a new side effect we hadn’t thought about. But we’re dealing as best we can, and being intentional about connecting with people.

NG (USA, Florida): It’s actually kind of hard to answer that question. We moved cities at the beginning of the year, from Orlando, Florida to Gainesville, Florida, two hours north (by car). We closed on our house in early February, moved in that week, started our oldest at his new school the following week, and about a month later life in the U.S. ground to a halt.

Our poor son was only in his new school—still sad at having had to leave his old school—for like three weeks when spring break vacation started. We got an email that same night saying don’t come back after spring break—schools will be shut down for the foreseeable future, which ended up being the rest of the year. This school year we kept all three kids at home and I’ve basically been homeschooling (with the help of the state e-school curriculum and websites for the oldest who is in second grade).

I am a stay-at-home dad, so on the surface it wouldn’t seem like things would change that much for me, personally. But I had actually gotten myself into a nice little groove before our move to Gainesville and between the move and the pandemic, I turned into a chubby hermit like so many others. But fortunately our new house has a nice sized backyard and our new neighborhood has been great for walks and bike rides.

As we closed in on the end of 2020, I wanted to find out from some of the people whose thoughts and perspectives I respect and admire what they had to say about this crazy year and how it affected their lives and their views on the world.

I asked four questions:

  • How much has Covid-19 changed your life?
  • Have your views changed in any significant ways?
  • What have been some of the things in the back or front of your mind about life, society, spirituality, culture, or anything else you have not addressed above?
  • Do you have any thoughts about how we solve our collective predicaments with the current divisiveness in national and global politics, endless social media warfare, cancel culture, rampant conspiracy theory popularity, lack of trust in government-journalism-basic social institutions, etc.?

I thought there might be enough good stuff in the answers to pull out some highlights and turn them into a post. I was wrong. It was pure highlights from start to finish!

So I decided to present the answers in full, including my own, lightly edited for readability, in four separate posts—one for each question.

Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash. Thanks Nicolas!