Recovering From the Invisible Disaster
My story may feel familiar. In no way do I think I am unique in the trauma I have been processing the beginning of this pandemic, this an important conversation to have at every opportunity. You are not alone in this, and yet, you are unique. The way I am processing and recovering from our invisible disaster is different from you, yet we are all following a similar pattern of trauma and recovery. Same invisible storm, different boat.
There is no pinnacle moment in this Pandemic like when a natural disaster hits. There is only a cascade of ever-increasing concern and stress. There is no enemy, no one to hate. What we are frustrated with is a series of decisions that are profoundly affecting our lives and we have no say in them. We are all traumatized. 60 days quarantined, watching the news, obsessing over social media, checking on the loved ones we were isolated from before we got word of a plan to keep us safe. 60 days to imprint a continual state of fear. When the plan is finally revealed, it is not to eradicate this virus, but learn to co-exist with it while treatments and immunizations are created. We have stepped into a scary unfamiliar world and we are faced with a choice. Retreat or co-exist. Both are viable choices and my story is the journey to co-exist and begin recovery from this trauma. As unique as I feel, I am still following the same 4 stage trauma recovery pattern that everyone goes through.
Stage 1 – IMPACT
The Initial Shock
Thursday, March 12th, 2020
The head of the Oakland County Disaster Response (also the Ferndale Fire Chief) presented the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority with the upcoming expectation of a the Covid-19 outbreak, on Thursday, March 12th, at 8am. The facts he laid out shocked me, so much so, that as the chair of the board, I had to be reminded to continue the meeting. It was hard to pay attention while I mentally listed all the things needed to keep my staff, customers, and family safe. It was hard to talk while there was a lump in my throat and hard to make any decisions when I knew my foundation just turned to sand. I knew in that moment that my leadership role just took on another ton of responsibility and I was terrified I would not measure up to it.
At 11:30 am I gathered my staff and I told them the news. I pointed out the signs I just put up about hand washing, distancing, and reporting any symptoms. As I handed them the pamphlets from the county I broke down and cried. “This is real,” I told my team. My production staff is young and prone to not believing anything like this can affect them. We did not make candles the next day and by Monday, when the schools closed, we laid them all off. I sent the production team home with a $200 cash bonus, for what I thought was a two-week quarantine.
Tuesday became a day of strategy with my management team. I was obsessively waiting for the stay home order, so I flipped the script and I planned for it. We homed in on one goal, “Stay in business.” What do we need to do to stay in business once the order came in to go home? We created then three objectives to that goal: communicate (customers, staff, and community), manage inventory, and manage financial resources. We populated our action items and executed the first stage of our plan. I had a purpose, focus, and direction. I was confident and energized. We had 30 days of inventory on the shelf and 30 days of raw materials. We had a line of credit application already in process and my banker was communicating openly with me. I thought this was it, emergency handled.
Stage 2 – RESCUE
I may have been acknowledging what had happened on many levels, yet I was not fully processing it. I was still dealing with the initial shock and the range of emotions that were surfacing. I talked to my therapist, so I thought the shock was handled. I did videos for my community and shared my vulnerability and invited my customers to create a web of hope with me. My invitation to put your name on my resilience spell went viral and I had more names that space to write them. “I love you all. We are resilient,” had become my regular statement when talking to anyone. I was willing to hold this space while creating my own rescue.
Quickly my journey to close my line of credit was put on hold and I began the journey to close a PPP loan. I called myself the “Money Hunter” and applied for every grant and loan I could find, negotiated with landlords, vendors and looked for every overpayment and money leak I could find. Once the stay at home order finally came in and the two weeks were predicted to extend to three months, fear started piling on. I was strong for everyone who needed me. My retail store closed, my factory closed, my sales and marketing staff needed to stay on the payroll, and I needed one person per building shipping orders. This nightmare kept growing and my plan needed to keep up. We revisited our one goal “stay in business”, and everyone checked in on their part. Phones were forwarded, key documents scanned digitally for easy access and daily check-ins kept us apprised of daily needs. I had to keep reminding myself why my businesses were closed, we have a virus killing people faster and faster every day. This was happening to everyone, not just me. This virus is invisible, and we are making a million micro-decisions every day to avoid contracting Covid-19 or passing it on. It was easy to forget the big picture and why we are here when you are counting the pennies and wondering when and where you can buy groceries again.
The first day of the quarantine, it all hit me, and I got sick. Really sick, as did my husband. The doctors said we were not symptomatic enough to get one of the precious Covid-19 tests, so we fought it out at home. I did not have a high fever, they kept saying I had a bad cold. That was all I could do for two weeks: stay home, sleep, eat rice or soup because nothing tasted good and cough the worst cough of my life. All those emotions running around all coalesced into fear and then I became afraid of the fear. Every day I wrote out everything I was grateful for to counter the downward spiral.
My strategy, however, was in play and I had a team of people focused on our one goal and taking care of business in my stead. Loan papers were signed, grants were won, and products shipped, and problems resolved because of our focus and if it didn’t further that goal, it could be postponed. The weeks where I was sick are a blur and I only know what happened by rereading email and getting recounts from my staff
Stage 3 – INTERMEDIATE RECOVERY
Acceptance of the new normal set in and I started creating a space of recovery – physically and emotionally. Lots of zoom meetings and more strategizing. Waiting on PPP, going on unemployment, watching my savings dwindle caused me to swing from being amazed at my supportive business community into fear and disillusionment on the enormity of the task at hand. Then I remembered, only now exists. I have a goal and a strategy to get there. I have a team on layoff itching to come back as soon as possible. I have managers who are not letting us sink and working harder than I ever saw before. I was recovering from being sick and my mind was clearing. My Mantra was “what can you do today to create a new normal.”
The videos to my customers and team started up again and I kept the faith of the moment, the new normal. Talking to my community of businesses we collectively decided that surviving this pandemic involved a daily decision to keep going. My million micro-decisions continued each day. I was exhausted and I took it slow. That was really all any of us could do. It was almost a comforting limbo while the waited. The PPP wasn’t funded, the banks were not talking about any other loan, everyone was closed. All I could do is wait and hang onto my sanity. I made a conscious decision to stay in the facts of Covid-19. I read reports from the CDC and the hospitals that were treating the worst cases and left the conspiracies to those who could mentally afford them. I could not.
What I did at this time is reimagine my world. Since this was a giant re-set, I had nothing to lose in the exploration of what I want to leave behind and what I wanted to move forward with. I started to call my customers and see how they were holding up and I was inspired. Most of us were asking the same questions “What are we leaving behind? What are we making this mean for us? What are we taking with us into the future?”
The new strategy began. I talked to entrepreneurs and we ask each other a ton of questions. I talked to legislators on the local, state, and national levels. I learned a lot, and I was inspired to never settle for less, or faster, or growth for growths’ sake. I fell in love with my business all over again. I updated our goal from “stay in business” to “stay in business as the best magical candle makers” and I couldn’t wait to start up again… and then we did.
I almost fell right back into the old, overwhelmed fast-paced, nothing is good enough, crisis again. I posted a sign with our new goal to keep on track with the new normal to be the best magical candle maker. Our strategy included re-training everyone on our original processes, slow down to ensure quality, remember why we make these candles, and stay safe. One of the hardest things to manage has been resetting expectations of turnaround time on orders. Our customers have been patient, it is our self-judgment that we are slower to fill orders than we were pre-COVID-19. We must remind each other daily that we are still in the early stages of coming back and be gentle with ourselves and make communication an equal urgency as shipping the orders.
Stage 4 – LONG TERM RECONSTRUCTION
Recovery is going to be slow and I have tentative plans for long term reconstruction. I have a new future vision that releases me from legacy beliefs the kept me small. I am stepping into the ideal of what I want my business to contribute to the world, “Empowered Belief.” I am living my values and ensuring my entire production team will be making $15 an hour by the end of the year. I am letting self-care be my personal driving force and living life just a bit slower.
I do not know what commerce will look like by the end of 2020, so it is difficult to make firm plans. I am taking my time and casting my lots in eight-week increments while instilling the inspired ideals into our foundation. Deliberate action to move forward and not fall back into old habits means I must be a leader 100% of the time. Planning sessions start with two questions: “What are we doing this month and what might next month look like?” and “Where do we want to end up and how does that get us there?”
Futurists are telling us that we are forever changed. No-touch commerce is here to stay for a while, people will invest in comfort, only the best or cheapest will do, customers will choose to wait rather than settle for mediocrity, and there will be a huge focus on self-care and personal health. Every day there is a new piece of information to assess about Covid-19 that changes the rules and causes a new set of micro decisions. I am focused on the lessons learned over quarantine and blending them with my future vision to create the reboot I needed to let go of my fear of the possibilities and start living them. We are all in the same invisible storm, different boat that we can rebuild it as we sail.