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Building pandemic resiliency: We can’t control COVID, but we can control our reactions

Sudbury fitness consultant who experienced tragedy shares her thoughts on surviving hardship
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Michelle Munro of Sudbury provided essential life advice to a Workplace Safety North webinar in Sudbury this week to people feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the pandemic. (Photo Supplied)

People who are stressing out about the COVID-19 pandemic could consider building some mental resilience techniques to help them get through the ups and downs they might experience. 

That was part of the advice provided during a lunch hour video conference event on Wednesday. 

The webinar, Building Resiliency in Uncertain Times, was the sixth and final installment of the Feed Your Brain Lunch and Learn Series presented by Workplace Safety North (WSN) in Sudbury. 

WSN community engagement specialist Angele Poitras, who hosted the event, said resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. 

Poitras said Sudbury resident Michelle Munro is an example of being resilient. 

Munro, the owner of Round Two Fitness in Sudbury and a part time professor at Laurentian University, was invited to speak to the importance of learning resilience for both mental and physical health and wellness.

Overcoming personal tragedy and difficulty is something that Munro has experienced in recent years. She revealed she is a widow whose first husband committed suicide. They had three children. 

As time passed, Munro married again, and had a fourth child. As time went on, her second marriage had difficulties. Munro is now separated from her second husband.

She told the online audience that when her first husband died, she was 36 years old. Munro said she experienced profound grief, but at one point told herself: "I am way too young for this. I can fix this. I can get married and then I won't be a widow anymore."

Munro said she eventually realized this was not the answer.

"I created a situation where I distracted myself from the emotions of becoming a widow; from the grief. I distracted myself both with a new relationship and with many bottles of wine. And I came to a very dark place for probably two-and-a-half to three years," said Munro.

Eventually she realized she needed help and found support from others. 

"So I connected with the widow community and probably one of the biggest resilience messages I can give you or anybody in the face of grief — and regardless of what that grief or mental health issue is — finding people that are going through the same thing is so important," said Munro.

At first Munro said being surrounded by others who had similar feelings led to her thinking it was normal to act out a bit.

"A profound example that I found when I connected with my tribe of widows initially is that there's a lot of widows who sit on the kitchen floor and drink at the end of the day,"  said Munro.  She said for a while she felt it was normal, but realized it was not.

"Pulling myself out of it and connecting with the widowed community and coming to the other side of it, I often said you know I was sharing my fitness journey and back to fitness, and people would tell me how inspiring I was, and I would say no, no I am just some drunk girl that pulled herself off the kitchen floor,” she said.

“And I minimized it a lot for a long time, and I don't do that anymore, because I do know how hard it is."

Munro told the audience that despite personal hardships, one needs to find moments of happiness and savour them. She said this is not always easy to reconcile. 

"Maybe COVID has led to the loss of family connections or the loss of a job or other types of secondary losses that have come along with COVID,” she said. “

And if you relate that to the loss of a spouse and you get to the other side and you start to have happy moments, you'll pull yourself back and say wait, I don't have permission to be happy yet. I can't be happy. I am a widow. I can't be happy. I've lost my job."

Munro said people have to realize the importance of enjoying special moments, even little ones, as part of their journey back to happiness.

As the webinar wrapped up, Munro was asked to provide closing comments. She referred to wellness author Jen Sincero, who has written a series of books called You Are A Badass. 

"In Jen Sincero's book one of the things she says is, it's not your fault if you're messed up. It is your fault if you stay messed up,” she said. 

“One of the things I draw from that in our current pandemic life is that this whole thing that is going on is not our fault. We can't control that. What we can control is how we react to it and how we behave in this situation."

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Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

About the Author: Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at covering health care in northeastern Ontario and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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