When 2021 rolled around, the availability of COVID vaccines brought hope, relief and protection, but it was not a panacea for the emotional turmoil many were experiencing. If 2020 was gripped by fear of the new coronavirus, then in 2021 it will be exhausted.
Since the early days of the pandemic, PBS NewsHour has asked its online community the same question every week: How do you take care of yourself? The answers in those early months often boiled down to “self-care”: rest. Walk. Virtual call. A bit of art. Keep your pet close. Maybe coffee. Or a separate episode of your favorite TV show after work, no matter how the work looked at that moment.
As isolation changed the way we relate to others and ourselves, and we sat in insecurity and a sense of the bicycle crisis, the response to weekly checks changed. Often they tended to make connections or to do something more emotionally meaningful. Someone would turn the question upside down to ask how we care for someone else. Others emphasized that they support a network of friends and family. More to leave a job or leave a relationship. Sometimes the answer was simply, “Nothing.”
As we enter another year of pandemic life, we asked our readers and viewers to look back at how they took care of themselves in 2021. We wanted to know if there was a moment, a decision, a change – big or small – that was meaningful to them.
In their own words, here are 10 significant changes our readers have made this year.
These answers have been slightly edited for clarity.
A new space for sisters
This year, I finally took the step that my sister and I have dreamed of for years. Years ago, we talked about buying a house to spend our senior years together. We managed to do this in April. Now we enjoy every minute of each other’s company, and so the adventure continues.
– Criss Wilson of Forest City, North Carolina
I moved away from limiting religion and became more consciously connected with nature. This inspired me to create works of art that encourage people to protect themselves, be kind and open, and laugh more.
– Diane Denton from Springfield, Missouri
Gift of a leisurely time
Cooking seems to be such an insignificant thing, but still such a big part of our life. I can cook by listening to podcasts about COVID or science fiction, or turn everything off altogether. In a leisurely and crowded life, it was so nice to be able to concentrate, cook well, and eat slowly.
– Meg Nakagawa from Nelson, New Zealand
Since March 2020, I’ve been writing a daily Facebook post to take stock of the day. It started out as a way to express my own swirling thoughts on a resume so I could sleep, but it became a way to maintain some connections that just wouldn’t otherwise be.
– Joe Carter of Madison, Wisconsin
Stay busy, stay sane
I went a little crazy during the pandemic, and after our third child was born – she was born in July 2020 during the pandemic – I thought I needed a way to keep myself occupied and have something to show during this time period. In addition to my main job, I enrolled in an MBA program and then joined documentary production to help raise funds and produce.
– Brian Lisley from Louisville, Kentucky
Change of address
I left my 27-year-old husband shortly before the pandemic. This significant change of address literally and figuratively catapulted me to a new life. I also continued to monitor my mother’s health and living conditions. New grief arose with her increased dementia due to chemotherapy and quarantine. I began to focus on everyday moments of activity and relaxation, filled with fun and frustration, and deeply renewed love for my mother through dignity and humiliation. Seeing how she was going through her suffering before she was released and transferred to the district hospice, I chose complete rest for myself. I had no idea what it would mean to buy a house and find a real area, which would add to my healing. I have been living here since October and am very satisfied. I again belong and am an integral part of the community.
– Cherie Trimble from Ontario, New York
Return to treatment
To take care of myself, I made the difficult decision to go back to treatment for an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I first went for treatment at the start of the pandemic, but returned to work too early and I had repercussions. In addition, I have shared my experiences of mental illness on social media in the hope that others will find out that they are not alone and that it is important to take care of their mental health.
– Malinda Hill from Charlottesville, Virginia
Sharing “pieces of life”
My work in art has always been in a team: telling stories of others for others and with others. Then the pandemic tore the collectives apart, forced the audience to disperse, and I left me stumbling around without work and in isolation. I traveled as much as possible. Exploration of nearby territories and sites. It has always been associated with good drive and experimental photography. And I began to write small passages from life; telling your own stories as a way to keep your sanity. It may have been an attempt at what poet Derek Walcott wrote in Love After Love: “to clear my own image from the mirror.” Sit. Enjoy your life. “
– Patricia Williams from Kansas City, Missouri
Keeping the fun alive
In 2021, I made plans for a summer vacation that hadn’t been canceled — driving within my state, picnic-style food, camping in the backseat of my 4Runner, hiking through old growth forests, and visiting Mount Hood, Mount Street. Helens and the Oregon Coast. Having something to look forward to and inspire was very important to my (and my husband’s) mental well-being. I worked hard to keep the “fun” alive. Let’s see what the third year (2022) brings.
– Lara Petitclerk Stokes of Baker City, Oregon
Acceptance of what’s washed away
Last year, I started a small private campground on my farm, where I grow organic berries and other fruits and vegetables. I also raise free-range quails and chickens for eggs. This year the campground began to gain momentum. We are on the river bank, which is very unpredictable. Just two weeks ago, a flood washed away two years of work. I am very lucky that I did not lose my home either. Everything is transitional. Everything is constantly changing and all I can do is keep moving forward.
– Don Robertson from Marblount, Washington
Megan McGrew and Daniel Cooney of PBS NewsHour contributed to this report.