When the clock hit 12 on New Year’s Eve 2019, I was dancing and celebrating at the beach with family and friends.
I had so many plans, dreams, and expectations. I even remember thinking, “2020, you’ll be my year,” but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not even in my wildest dreams — or nightmares — could I have pictured a pandemic coming.
For me, “pandemic” was one of those words you’d heard before but believed belonged to another era, one without the medicinal and technological advancements of the 21st century.
Dare I say we all learned the hard way that this was not the case.
I couldn’t have foreseen the toll a pandemic could have on my mental health, friendships, and family relations.
Here’s my story.
I had heard about COVID-19 by December 2019, but honestly, it felt like one of those things happening halfway around the world that I probably wouldn’t have to deal with.
In early March, we got a couple of confirmed cases in Costa Rica, where I live, and our government suggested that high-risk people stay at home as a precautionary measure. We knew this situation was bad, just not how bad.
I went to a party that weekend, and I even told my dad — who has type 1 diabetes — that it would be best if he stayed home.
By that time, people were already deciding whether to greet each other with a kiss, as we regularly do, and hand sanitizers were making their first appearances.
Then, the government’s suggestions quickly became orders, and we started our lockdown the very next Monday.
All of Costa Rica froze. The streets of San José, the capital, were empty at rush hour, and you could hear the insects that you thought you’d only find in the countryside. It was like a bleak scene from a movie.
Costa Ricans were scared, so we listened. We were only allowed to leave our homes for food or medical care, and a curfew was instated.
Personally, I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect or how long this would last. With new symptom announcements, government instructions, and medical recommendations appearing every day, I swiftly became overwhelmed.
For the first time in my life, I was dealing with anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, concentrate on anything that wasn’t COVID-19 related, and would cry over the most insignificant things.
All I could think about was that all it took was one person entering Costa Rica. A single person with a positive diagnosis was enough to potentially bring tragedy into my life.
On top of that, my business plummeted. At that time, I was the co-founder of an in-house nutrition consulting company that offered its services to other companies and institutions. Yet, with the new remote work standard, our clients largely disappeared.
The same happened with my one-on-one patients, who were understandably too frightened to leave the house or now considered their nutritionist’s appointment more of a luxury than a priority in a moment of crisis.
As a freelance writer, I was used to the work-from-home dynamic, but working from a full house where everybody had their own agenda was nearly impossible.
Everything was upside-down.
From my perspective, one of the most challenging parts of the pandemic was the constant conflicts with other family members and friends regarding the dos and don’ts of staying safe.
We all had different notions of what was too little, just enough, or excessive when it came to dealing with COVID-19.
I was called paranoid or told that I had to take it down a notch by the same people I was trying to protect, which hurt me and made me doubt my decisions at every moment.
Even among my own family, some went out to friends’ houses, claiming that you couldn’t live forever in fear, while others sacrificed their comforts, making their best efforts to avoid contagion.
Ultimately, we ended up isolating ourselves in our rooms to avoid arguments. Aside from the stress and anxiety, I was feeling lonely in a full house.
However, looking back, I realize that no one was right or wrong, and most importantly, no one was trying to put anyone at risk. We were all just trying to cope with the unknown and facing our fears differently.
Establishing a routine
To navigate the ever-changing circumstances, I tried to establish a lockdown routine.
Luckily for me, I was gifted a puppy for my birthday — which was just a few weeks into lockdown — and nothing screams routine more than potty-training a dog.
With my newly found time, I worked out and began meditating daily — or trying to.
Being the morning person that I am, I also read a book on mindful morning rituals to reconnect with myself and enjoy a couple of moments of peace before everyone else woke up.
It seemed to work. Suddenly, I was sleeping again, felt more productive, and had stopped crying over everything.
I went from feeling lost and scared to feeling grateful and happy again.
One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, our changed habits and circumstances, including wearing masks, washing your hands regularly, sanitizing, and getting your temperature checked before entering every store, have started to feel normal.
Gradually, restrictions have eased across Costa Rica.
For instance, our curfew changed from 7 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m. on weekends last March to 11 p.m. every day this March. Additionally, tourists don’t need a negative test to enter the country anymore.
Furthermore, we haven’t had another lockdown since Easter 2020, and I think we’ve been lucky enough to measure COVID-19’s evolution through the number of new cases instead of the number of deaths.
Restaurants, gyms, and even bars are open again — following safety protocols, of course — which helps this new normal feel closer to what we had dreamed of for so long.
In my case, I welcomed 2021 knowing that circumstances were unlikely to change but optimistic about what would come along.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from going through so many emotions and phases of the pandemic in such a short time, it’s that we can’t control what happens around us — but we can control how we respond to it.
Taking the time to acknowledge my feelings and caring for my mental health helped me change my attitude toward the pandemic, which marked a turning point.
If you’re still feeling lost or experiencing anxiety, remember that you’re not alone. You may need more time to recover than the people around you — and that’s OK.
Get help if you need to. Talk to a professional or a friend. Keep in mind that none of us were prepared or knew how to cope with the events of 2020, so there’s no right or wrong way to do so.
Today I have new plans and dreams, and I’m finally able to look into the future with excitement instead of fear. I can only hope that this is the case for you, too.
Ariane Lang has a BSc in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Medical Sciences in San José, Costa Rica, as well as a Master’s degree in business administration. She is also a co-owner of Workplace Balance, a corporate nutrition service, and a Pilates instructor.
Ariane enjoys living an active and healthy life, as well as educating her patients and clients on how to lead a balanced lifestyle themselves.