What does it feel like to wake up every morning not quite sure what the day will bring? To be disconnected from family and friends, with no workplace to go to, and little or no stimulation to ignite a passion, learn a new skill, or bring a smile to your face. Maybe worse yet, no hugs to reassure you that everything will be okay.
That’s what isolation feels like.
I am reminded that people with intellectual disabilities have historically been isolated and segregated from their communities and now a lot of us are having this moment in time where we are metaphorically walking in their shoes.
We too feel isolated, unsure about what’s next, and generally anxious.
And now we know that we’ll all be homebound for the entire month of April trying to combat the spread of the Coronavirus in our homes and communities. For many it’s getting harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We as human beings are designed to connect with other people. Yes, we have technology to bridge the gap but I believe it will be the limited human interaction that will be making this period of uncertainty and confinement so challenging.
None of us are participating in the routines and interactions we take for granted every day.
Maybe in the long run this singular moment will provide greater insight into how important it is to be connected to our families, neighbors, faith and work communities.
Penn-Mar as an organization has worked hard over the years to connect the people it supports with just such communities. In fact, our mission is to encourage the exact opposite of the situation we find ourselves in now. But like you, we’ve had to hit the pause button. Right now the traditional communities are not available to connect with.
During this lockdown period we find ourselves in “protect and maintain” mode and that is confusing to a lot of people. Our highest priority is to keep our team members and the people we support safe and healthy. And our immediate challenge is to ensure the proper support is available in our 56 residential homes, 24 hours a day, where people with disabilities, much like you, are grappling with the enormous changes to their life and routines.
Operating in lockdown requires amazing creativity and engagement on the part of our Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). They are going above-and-beyond to make each day as enjoyable and meaningful as possible for the people in our group homes.
Online resources, including web activities and games, have been a tremendous help during this period of confinement. And we are doing what we can to support our dedicated team members, having special meals delivered to the houses, for example, as one way to thank them for their tremendous commitment and the many sacrifices they are making to support everyone in their homes.
My hope is that when this pandemic is finally behind us, we might emerge with a different attitude about what is most important in our lives.
We’re all in a learning place right now and there will be different lessons learned for different people. Hopefully we will have a better understanding of who and what are really valuable, and maybe discover what’s not really that big of a deal after all.
“We’re are all in this together” is a phrase I know you’ve heard countless times in the last few weeks. But it’s a cliché that speaks to the moment and offers a comfort of sorts. The Penn-Mar family has been counting on the amazing efforts of our team members to help those we support come through this time of crisis ready to emerge fully engaged in our world. Maybe, no let’s say hopefully, this experience can be the catalyst for creating a kinder culture for all of us.
When we look back at what we are all experiencing right now I believe we will find ourselves with a deep desire to never experience this isolation and disconnection again. Let’s all use the pain and the emotional lessons we are learning right now to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, is embraced and welcomed by the spirit of community and connection. If we don’t, we may have missed the biggest lesson of all and squandered an opportunity to all be better people.