Long ago, I ditched the practice of making New Year’s resolutions, though the advent of a new year always seemed an opportune time to embark on new habits (you know the ones: lose weight, exercise more, and other loftier ambitions). Yet my well intended resolutions rarely lasted beyond January. Then several years ago, a friend introduced me to a new practice to mark the new year: the choice of a single word which acts as a “guide” for the year ahead.
It’s just one word; one that symbolizes something I hope to explore and expand upon in a given year. Words like gratitude, clarity, heart, and rewrite have been past choices, and each new year, I set my sights on a new one. Once chosen, I print my word, mount it in a small 1.5-inch frame and place it on the corner of my desk as a daily reminder. This year, however, as our daily lives have again been constricted by another, more virulent wave of Covid, selecting a word for 2022 proved to be more challenging than in years past. For several days, I was woefully stuck. My notebook pages became a forest of unrelated words, reflecting the struggle of finding and choosing my single word. I knew why. The reality of yet another period of reduced social contact and isolation dampened my spirits and rendered my thought processes to the lacklustre and mundane.
Two days ago, my mental fog abruptly cleared. My choice for a 2022 word was triggered by a short article in the current issue of Intima, (A Journal of Narrative Medicine),“Facelessness and the Glass Between Us: Finding Connection in the Era of Covid,” written by Hannah Dischinger, MD. In it, she posed the question: “How can we share the human experience of sickness without use of our faces?” In other words, how do we connect with one another, when our medical masks rob of all but our eyes in our interactions? “Connect” became my 2022 word of choice.
CON-NECT (verb): to bring together or into contact so that a real link is established.
(Definitions from Oxford Languages)
I scribbled the word “connect” on a new notebook page. I quickly realized it had connotations well beyond the limits of masks and Zoom interactions. I acknowledged my heightened anxiety and cautious behavior, retreating to the safety of our home like a turtle pulling into its shell, and a spiritual malaise setting up permanent residence in my daily life. Connections with family and friends had become, once again, inhibited by necessary caution and the sagging spirts that we’ve all been susceptible to in a protracted time of pandemic.
“It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much. – Ellen Bass, “The World Has Need of You” (in: Like a Beggar, 2014)
It’s been a tough time for everyone. Loneliness is on the rise. Declining social connectedness is likely the major explanation for the increase reports of loneliness and isolation. That’s concerning, because physical and mental health risks are also associated with loneliness, making us more vulnerable to anxiety, depression , illness or even death.
Our connection with others is fundamental to being human. The necessary social isolation due to COVID challenges our needs for social connection. And the longer this pandemic drags one, the more effort it takes to make those connections so critical for our mental and physical well being.
How to find my soul a home…
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
Can make it out here alone.
(By Maya Angelou, “Alone,” (in: Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna’ Fit Me Well, 1975)
“That Nobody/But nobody/Can make it out here alone…” In the early days of the pandemic, we found some novelty and respite from isolation and loneliness by having online Zoom chats with friends and family. But the occasional virtual interactions grew to become a dominant part of our daily lives. Weekdays for many workers have evolved into constant Zoom group meetings. Even regular doctors’ appointments were relegated to the online format. Now, after months of leading workshops and having meetings on Zoom, when friends suggest Zoom to “catch up” with one another, it feels more like work than I would like. I have a case of Zoom fatigue.
On the positive side, Zoom and other virtual formats make it possible to connect with each other in real time in this pandemic time, but the virtual experience is not at all the same as face-to-face, and it is tiring. As one Stanford researcher explained, staring at one another in “Brady Bunch” galleries or as talking heads, is a kind of “disembodied” experience that can result in “non-verbal overload.” Zoom fatigue, which many of us have experienced, comes from the lengthier periods of close-up eye contact and constantly seeing ourselves on the screen, which is a bit like staring into a mirror for extended periods. Our usual mobility is also reduced: we’re stuck in our chairs. And we end up feeling like talking heads without our usual non-verbal cues or gestures which are such an important part of human communication.
At the same time, the virtual format has been beneficial in many other ways. For me, it’s enabled my workshops to continue and be available to many more people across Canada, even though the quality of the group interaction is necessarily limited. I am grateful, thus, that the workshop series for heart and cancer patients continue—the shared stories of those who attend are a large part of what motivates and inspires me. Nevertheless, as 2021 came to a close, I realized I was genuinely Zoom weary, just as many others were.
So “connect” feels right for my guiding word for this new year. Covid isn’t done with us yet, and amid the rising numbers of cases in this current wave of the Omicron variant, it requires more diligence to make certain I act on how necessary and important connection is in my life—and discover additional ways to maintain the sense of connectedness with others in this ongoing period of enhanced caution and necessary isolation. “Connect” also reminds me that it’s not just about staying in touch with friends but energizing my daily life by connecting to new ideas, endeavors, creative pursuits, to nature and times of quiet reflection …the possibilities are endless.
So this January 1st, I’ve printed my 2022 word, put it in a frame and now it sits on my desk, a visible reminder to me to explore new possibilities for connection while also deepening those already present in my life. It feels right.
I wish you a safe and healthy year ahead, the warmth of friends and family, and a happy and productive 2022!
. Do you have a guiding word for 2022? Write about your choice and what meaning it has for you.
Or, greet the New Year by:
. Writing a gratitude list for 2021
. Reflecting on what the past year has held for you? What stands out? Why?
. Did you learn something new from 2021? What lessons will you carry into 2022?
. List what you want to explore, change or improve upon in the coming year? Why?