Yesterday, as I was driving in my car, my mind started to wander, as it usually does, and I pictured a day in the future when I will be sitting with my grandchild reminiscing about the pandemic of 2020. As I envisioned that encounter, my mind immediately shifted to my grandmother, who for most of my life, brought every conversation back to her experience during the Great Depression.

When the market crashed in 1929, she was a young wife and mother. The years that followed turned her life upside down. Lack became the mental foundation on which she built the remaining years of her life; it became her story. The trauma, pain, and scars stayed with her like a noose around her neck, and she was never able to break free.

As I remembered my grandmother I wondered, what will my story be?

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Today, people are experiencing financial devastation similar to those during that horrific time in history. Many have lost their jobs and homes, friends and family members are sick, and they no longer have a sense of security. It is easy to get stuck in the pain, and it’s challenging to see the proverbial bright side.

Over the years, I have witnessed people become a victim of circumstance, bound to the dark periods of their life. They got so lost that they couldn’t find a way out. For awhile, I was one of those people. I felt sorry for myself and played the same story over and over in my mind.

But once that story got old, I realized that it was time to let it go and change the way I viewed the hand I was dealt. I finally understood that no matter what happens around us, we always have the power to change the way we see it and handle it.

The year 2020 will be a defining moment in many of our lives, one that we will carry with us until our death. Health concerns, financial insecurity, loss of loved ones, isolation, caregiver PTSD, political unrest, have altered the world that we know. The psychological fallout will likely be devastating. It will be my grandmother’s depression.

And, as I imagined, years from now, we’ll share stories with family and friends and tell our grandchildren about life in 2020. But, how will we really remember this unprecedented event? Will it be a source of pain from which a person never recovers, like my grandmother, or will it be a springboard to something different or possibly better?

While there’s no way to avoid what’s happening in the world, there are ways to regain a sense of control, even when everything feels so out of control.

Psychologist Dan McAdams developed the Theory of Narrative Identity, which he describes as an internalized story we create about ourselves. This story evolves and changes based on the experiences we have. According to McAdams, our stories tend to focus on the most extraordinary events, good and bad, because those are the experiences we need to make sense of and that shape us. 

Research suggests that we can edit, revise and interpret the stories we tell about our lives even as we are constrained by the facts. Our power comes in rewriting the story in a more positive way. So, while we can’t change the past, we can change the story to provide meaning from hardships.

So, when thinking about your story, ask: Does the story serve you? Is this the story you want to tell?

If the answer is no, here are a few ways that we can navigate difficult times and not allow them to define us:

  • Accept what is. Change is an inevitable part of life. Fighting events outside our control drains our energy and creates anxiety. Accepting a situation provides the freedom to devote precious energy to the things we can control and change.
  • Don’t identify as a victim. A victim is defined as a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action. By this definition, we all are victims at one time or another. But, some feel like victims all the time. Don’t waste energy blaming or getting angry, but rather do what you can to change the narrative. When the blaming begins, turn your attention away from the negative thoughts.
  • Look for the positive in any situation. There is always something for which to be grateful. Sometimes it may be harder to find, but it is always there. Focus on the happy memories being created by spending time with family. Dream about the new job you may find. Recall the conversations with long-lost friends. Be thankful for good health.

Remember, we write our story and the power of the pen can be life changing.

So, how will you remember 2020?