Quarantine Stories: How The COVID Crisis Changed Lives For The Better

By: Kat Szmit

Topics: People

Mary Jo Nolan Keenan and her husband Ken, lower right, use Zoom to have a video chat with their children and grandchildren, something that has kept spirits up and smiles on their faces during challenging times. PHOTO COURTESY OF MJ KEENAN

In a world of grim headlines, political unease, and a global pandemic that isn’t letting up easily, it’s no wonder that people are feeling overwhelmed. But although the closures and quarantine requests have certainly altered life as we know it, not everything is bleak. In some ways, the COVID crisis has changed people’s lives for the better.

Jamie Neithold-Nash, a Chatham resident and chiropractor with an office in East Harwich, was used to long days and, like many people, not quite enough time to take care of herself. Then came COVID-19 and an important wake-up call.

For Neithold-Nash, the COVID-19 situation has meant an uptick in creative thinking and more of an opportunity to tune into the need for self-care.

“It seems like every day I am faced with very strong, often fearful emotions,” she said. “Confronting these raw, real, and complicated feelings has demanded that I listen closely and pull out of myself to observe what’s happening. Listening is a great gift and I’m fully aware that when I see that I'm overwhelmed and freaking out it’s a huge sign to take care of myself immediately.”

Where in the past, Neithold-Nash might have left the television on in the background or spent time mindlessly scrolling through social media, she’s now heeding her body’s warning signs and changing course.

“I am now vigilant about when I need to turn off the news and Facebook and turn to my ever-growing self-care ‘toy box’,” said Neithold-Nash. “Stress not only destroys my immune system, it also shuts down my brain’s ability to be rational. This virus has shown me exactly what stress feels like in my body and I’ve been able to use it as the trigger to stop, pay attention and figure out what I can do to snap out of it. Now, with more time and internet resources, I can access whatever I want to help me get back into my body and be present and safe.”

For Neithold-Nash, that means delving into prayer, meditation, nature, exercise, supporting her neurological health, meet-up groups, laughing, singing, sleep and lots of connecting with loved ones, often through technological offerings like FaceTime and Zoom.

“This computer communication is not only weird, but also, it’s novel, which makes it fun too,” she said. “I have a sense of pride that we are able to find each other with these amazing technologies.

I’m redefining how I work in my office and what social distancing needs to look like for those who want to come in. The gift is that as I’m taking care of myself and thinking outside the box, I know that I am showing up with more energy, love and strength.”

Overall, the situation has taught Neithold-Nash the importance of being present.

“I want to be present for what is happening right now, locally and globally,” she said. “The greatest gift for me is using new, creative ways to connect and be able to listen to myself. Be here now, as Ram Dass would say.”

For Monomoy baseball coach Steve Porter, the COVID crisis has inspired in him a sense of gratitude for the little things.

“COVID-19 has changed my life for the better because it has caused me to slow down a little and really appreciate what we have and how easily things can be taken away,” he said. “I also have such an increased appreciation for all educators as distance learning with my boys has been anything but easy. Those teachers do it every day with a smile on their faces. Very special people!”  

Monomoy Regional High School English teacher Lisa Forte-Doyle has been positively impacted both as an educator and on a personal level. Personally, the stay-at-home situation has given her time not only to catch up on household projects, but also to spend with her two sons.

Here's the biggest positive for me: my sons have come home, and we've been clearing the yard, fixing things, playing games, completing puzzles, and watching great documentaries together,” she said. “Chris was sent home from Outward Bound Baltimore with a stipend, and Aodhan is working remotely for the Yankees.”

Forte-Doyle has also appreciated emails from and phone calls with friends around the world and the U.S.

“We've all slowed down to chat and remind each other that we care,” she said.   

Educationally, Forte-Doyle is appreciating new bonds forged with her students.

“It's amazing that, in a way, we've become closer to our students, at least the ones who have been consistently coming to their Google Meet classes,” she said. “We see their rooms, the art and/or posters that are on their wall, their pets, their siblings. I am able to show them my pets and the art on my walls. This has been a special little window into their lives.”

For retired teacher Mary Jo Nolan Keenan of Harwich, the COVID-19 crisis certainly came with stress, but also a bright side for her and her husband, Ken.

In this stressful and frightening time, Ken and I have found positives in all that everyone is experiencing,” Keenan said. “We talk with our kids and grandkids on Zoom, a most special time as we normally hardly have everyone together at the same time. We cherish these get-togethers.”

Keenan said that Ken went from weekly chats with his siblings to daily conversations in which they share support, conversation, and laughter.

“I am in touch with friends I have not been in touch with for a while,” said Keenan. “College roommates, high school buddies, and former colleagues. We share memories, pictures, and updates, as we check in to make sure we are OK. These simple conversations help us to feel connected and thought of.”

Social media is also helpful, she said.

“As I connect with my Facebook friends, I have been amazed and encouraged by the amazing resilience of those I am connected to,” said Keenan. “Their humor, strength, and hope are so encouraging. Friends are reaching out to help others with their talents too—hosting sing-alongs, conducting exercise classes, sharing children's stories, and so much more. Their outreach is so encouraging and uplifting!”

Keenan and her husband have also been discovering nature more.

“Ken and I have begun exploring our yard and the surrounding woods, finding treasures that symbolize hope,” she said. “Myrtle starting to bloom, daffodils peeking their yellow heads out, wildlife visiting our yard (birds, turkeys, foxes). Nature is a powerfully calming force, which helps us tremendously. Our four dogs and two cats give us much joy too. Being at home with them has made our bond that much stronger.”

When Keenan needs a boost, she remembers that this situation, too, will pass, and then looks to more examples of strength and resilience.

“The human spirit through all this is truly a gift, one that spurs us on to stay grateful,” she said. “And continue reaching out.”