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Pandemic Thoughts from CSP Mentor Preston Radtke

Categories: Blind or Visually Impaired

By: Preston Radtke, CSP Mentor

The College Success Program is highlighting how the pandemic is affecting individuals in our blind and low vision communities. CSP Mentor, Preston Radtke, shared the following thoughts.

March 13, 2020, a seemingly meaningless lamppost on a calendar full of the normal highs and lows of life. However, as everyone knows, that was the day that everything truly changed. School closings, canceled concerts, restricted travel...and that was just the beginning. The coronavirus era has brought forth a whole host of unforeseen alterations to all aspects of working and living. In a way, coronavirus's most impressive feat is that it's one of the only occurrences on Earth that has affected the everyday lives of all of its residents.

I am not unique; I too have realized some dramatic shifts in lifestyle. For instance, the biggest change is in my work situation: I work at a major university, and before March 13, I took part in the standard wake up, commute to work, commute home-grind; a grind that I have grown to miss. As of this writing, I haven't been back in the office for seven months. My living room is my office, and my bedroom is my break room. I'm not going to lie; it hasn't been the most pleasant setup. For one, I deeply appreciated the camaraderie of office mates. I miss the lunches and random dashes for ice cream to ease the monotony of a cloudy Tuesday. Sure, we have Zoom meetings and virtual lunches, but it's not the same.

Oddly enough, working from home has actually increased my office's output. I don't know why, but ever since we went virtual, our production has almost tripled. I initially thought that working from home would make everyone stagnate and make an already stressful situation worse; but I wonder if the change in locale has been beneficial for my coworkers. It makes sense if you think about it, working on your home turf; not having to deal with the petulant, annoying office mates that are standard in many businesses. Our output has been so noteworthy that the department is seriously considering making our positions permanently hybrid once things get back to "normal." That's to say, a few days at the office and a few days at home each week for my team.

Living and working with a guide dog has raised some new challenges in the COVID era. Many of my trips with my guide, Burton, were very destination-based such as going to restaurants, shopping, etc. Now, since the majority of those have been closed, many of my trips consist of long geographic loops around my town and slightly aimless wandering and exploring. Aimless wandering and retreading the same route can only be so exhilarating for dogs and because of this I've had to be aware of Burton's interest level to make sure he's not bored. Sometimes a bored dog leads to a complacent dog, which could lead to behavioral or work-related errors down the line.

I'm very fortunate that so far coronavirus hasn't impacted anyone I know directly except for a family friend who has recovered. However, my father is the perfect candidate for infection, as he is older and immune-compromised. Also, my father had a third relapse of pancreatic cancer this summer, an occurrence which was made all the more stressful in the COVID era. Frequent trips to the hospital and family members not being allowed to visit him for extended stays made an already depressing situation even worse. Fortunately, the treatment he undertook a few weeks ago seems to have shrunk or killed the majority of the cancerous cells in his pancreas so hopefully (knocking loudly on wood) he is in the clear.

I really miss concerts, I must say. The prospect of taking a train in to New York or Philly, getting dinner somewhere and seeing one of my favorite bands is something I'd really taken for granted. If I'm being honest though, even if we do get a vaccine or a declaration of "normalcy", it's going to be a long time until I go to another concert or run around carefree in a tightly packed metropolis.

As a teacher, I deeply miss my interactions with my students. I prided myself on building an informal, yet informational classroom experience. Sadly, the human social experience and virtual meetings have yet to create equivalent interactive scenarios.

If I had any long-lasting advice, I would say take up a hobby. Immersing yourself in a hobby or pastime is always beneficial, but in these times of forced isolation and social exodus it's even more so. I'm not saying write the next American novel (but please give it a shot if you like), it could be something as simple as binging a podcast or TV show; or learning an ew instrument. Keeping yourself busy will stave off boredom and increase your overall health and well-being.

It's also really important to lean on your support system. Whether it's friends, family members, or your Learning Ally family, utilize your circle to make sure you don't further exacerbate the cycle of isolation. Remember, everyone is going through this, so if you're feeling lonely and left out, odds are your friends are as well. Reaching out and communicating with them could be beneficial for everyone.