By Amanda Kaliner
Amid all of the chaos, uncertainty, and anxiety that the ongoing pandemic has brought, life can start to seem very bleak. However, there are still a lot of things that can offer rays of sunshine in our lives if we choose to seek them out. Lisa Greenleaf calls New York City her family. She says it’s in her DNA. It is where she lived for the past thirty-three years. It’s where she raised her two children. It’s where she went to work every day, where she walked her dog. It is where she built a life. Then she visited New Orleans with her daughter, an incoming Tulane freshman, and she said, “I think I want to live here someday.”
It was more of an offhand comment, not something she truly thought would happen. She referred to it as more of a daydream and less of a future plan. As the main financial supporter for her two children, and her son still in high school in New York, Lisa didn’t think it was possible to uproot her life until she eventually retired, something she’s not ready to do anytime soon, thank you very much. But in March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and somehow the global nightmare was able to turn her daydream into a reality.
After six long months of quarantining in her small New York City (?) apartment, Lisa and her son Jack were going stir crazy. Jack had finished his junior year of high school and had nothing to fill his time with, and Lisa was getting tired of being paranoid and craving a hazmat suit every time she left the house. They just wanted to get out. So Lisa, now working remotely, decided to rent a car with Jack and visit her daughter Georgia who had stayed in New Orleans. She planned to bring her dog down, rent an Airbnb, and stay for the whole month of August. A permanent move was not on her agenda. When she first arrived, she referred to it as a “staycation.”
After only a few short days in New Orleans, Lisa realized that not only did she want to stay longer, but it was actually possible for her to stay for as long as she wanted to. Her job had announced that they would be remote indefinitely and her bosses even encouraged her to move when she expressed that she wanted to. In the most uncertain period that our world has faced in a long time, Lisa said that “you sort of start to think about your mortality, you sort of start to think about what’s really important,” she continued, “and I started to think about New Orleans.”
Lisa signed a lease within one week of her decision to stay. She did not even wait until more pieces of her life fell into place, but thankfully they did. Job stability, the most important aspect of Lisa’s decision to move, was guaranteed for her. Her ex-husband, Georgia and Jack’s father, agreed to take on the responsibility of full custody for Jack’s senior year of high school, and Georgia agreed to keep their dog Lexie at her apartment while Lisa moved everything out of her New York apartment. Lisa does not have a single regret when it comes to her move, and she said that living in New Orleans has been a dream come true for her so far.
As uncomfortable as it was for her to admit, Lisa said that she wasn’t even sure if she ever would have made the move ever this if it wasn’t for the opportunity of remote working that COVID-19 presented her. “I don’t know if I would have even done this,” she said, “in fact I definitely wouldn’t have done it unless I made the decision to not stay with my job.” She added that had COVID not happened, she’d still be going into the office day after day, and she’d still be holding on to the “someday” possibility of a life in New Orleans.
Lisa is not the only one who has benefited in some form from the COVID-19 pandemic. Claire and Caleb, a couple who met in New Orleans where Claire went to school and Caleb was stationed, had only been dating for less than two months when the pandemic shut down the nation. The pair had two options: “We could have stayed together at my place,” Claire said, “or we could go back home to be with our families, who both of us hadn’t seen in a while, but at the same time we didn’t want to put anybody at risk.” The two of them made the hasty decision to stay together, in Claire’s one-bedroom New Orleans apartment, and spend quarantine together. Neither of them had ever done anything like this before. “I had never lived with any of my partners, and neither had Caleb. And the one-on-one isolation period pushed us to navigate boundaries pretty early-on in the relationship,” Claire said. “Things that were so new for us had to be worked out so fast like budgeting for groceries and toiletries as a team, respecting one another’s personal space, and maintaining open communication.” All things considered, the two of them ended up making a great team. Discussing their boundaries is still an ongoing process for them, but during isolation they grew extremely close as a couple. They discuss their futures together, and when many restrictions started to lift, they have gone on road trips to meet each other’s families.
Caleb, having just finished his service in the United States Coast Guard, has chosen to start his college education at Columbia University. He was supposed to leave Claire and New Orleans in August to head to New York, but then Columbia made the decision to go fully remote for the Fall 2020 semester. So, Caleb chose to spend even more time with Claire, and he stayed in New Orleans to be with her until returning to his family in October.
Moving cities like Lisa did and starting a meaningful relationship like Claire and Caleb were attempting to do doesn’t sound like a particularly positive experience amidst a pandemic. However, Dr. Mara Kaplan Kaliner, a psychologist in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, says that this is actually something that therapists are seeing more often in the months since the pandemic has struck. “It’s interesting how humans make the best out of bad situations,” she says “you know we keep seeing this kind of connection to your own mortality manifesting in people, and a lot of that comes out positively. Things like home improvement projects, artwork, and a genuine effort to seek out connections with one another are becoming more common under COVID.”
There is definitely something to be said for COVID-19’s positive effect on the mental health community at large. Several mental health charities have seen a lot of growth during COVID. One such charity is Hope Recovery. Hope Recovery is a nonprofit organization that lends mental health support services to survivors of abuse, sexual trauma, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as any other form of mental health struggles. Support services include online group counseling, one-on-one support, as well as a confidential email communication system. Hope Recovery has always offered online support, so going fully online when the pandemic hit was organizationally easy for the organization. However, no one had anticipated the growth that Hope Recovery would experience during this time. Head of the nonprofit Kristen Price said, “Before COVID-19 struck in March, Hope Recovery had 5 support groups in total. Now, we lend an online hand to survivors in over 32 support groups each week.” Kristen believes that the pandemic has actually made it a lot easier for people to seek out help for their mental health struggles. Kristen said that COVID has actually opened a lot of doors for those who have not had access to transportation, or who have been shut in, to have access to mental health treatment by telepsychology. People are seeking out help in ways that they never have before, and Hope Recovery is offering all of the services that they can in order to help survivors.
Kristen noted that, while this is by far not the most important impact from the pandemic, Hope Recovery has also seen a large increase in donations since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “People, especially right now, want to help out where they can,” Kristen said, “and we have seen an increase in donations which has helped absorb the costs we have incurred from technology fees.”
Several survivors have relayed to Kristen that Hope Recovery being online has changed their lives. “Several of our members have told me that they felt more like flies on the wall in in-person support groups,” Kristen said, “since we’re fully online, a lot of survivors feel more comfortable sharing from their homes, spaces where they feel the more safe to do so.” Some survivors have commented that they never would have sought out help at all if COVID had not forced them to.
So, while life may seem bleak right now in the face of horrible headlines, death toll counts, and social isolation, that’s not all there is to this pandemic. There is a lot to be said for the good things that the COVID-19 pandemic can bring to people who are willing to seek them out.