Jodie Patterson’s symptoms weren’t textbook. Then again, there was no textbook for COVID-19 in early March; there barely is one now. But the reportedly typical signs to watch for—sore throat, fever, dry cough, chest discomfort—were all absent. Instead, she awoke with a piercing migraine that was soon zipping down her spine.
Away on a business trip, Patterson, an LGBTQ activist and author of The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation, pulled on some sweats and went to the nearest emergency room. She would spend the next two weeks quarantined in a hospital, miles from her home and family—not that her family could have gotten in to visit her anyway. She was on lockdown.
Over the course of that time, Patterson’s symptoms—which never mimicked those she expected based on news reports—subsided within a few days. Stuck in a small hospital room, she relied on what she said was a “pretty regimented and strict” set of self-care rituals to endure the isolated emptiness of the passing hours: she made her bed, stuck to an exercise routine, cleaned, meditated, and wrote in her journal.
Meanwhile, the world outside spiraled into a mass quarantine that she would emerge into, stunned.
Now back at home and reunited with her family, Patterson says she has managed a flood of grief and guilt—both for being sick and away from her family, and for surviving when so many have not. The mother of five children, ages 28 to 10, whose blended family lives in Brooklyn, is now back to managing her brood while working on a children’s book and as chair of the Washington, DC-based Human Rights Campaign board.
She revisits her hospital journal to process the experience and try to learn from it, so it can inform the way forward for her family. She is sharing those lessons here, with BLACK ENTERPRISE, for the first time.
We’re all used to a strong sense of control but this pandemic is teaching us that it truly is an illusion. With multiple personalities and ages trying to live and work together at home, day after day, Patterson said it’s critical to “Be intentional—ask yourself, `what am I building?’—but be flexible in mind, body, and spirit.”
Dial Down the Panic, Usher in the Calm.
Take extra care with “the words you choose, the way you carry yourself, and the things you say and do.” That includes the types and amount of content you consume—be aware of how stimuli affects you.
Amp Up the Optimism, Humor, and Joy.
“We have to remember what makes us happy and do those things, especially during crisis,” Patterson said. Even a little laughter “helps us get through, but it also clears the air.”
Most parents’ instincts are to shelter their children from as much of this crisis as possible. Be mindful of that, of course, but Patterson also teaches her children to look at and respond to inequities, to notice and call out disparities. “Building activists is important right now because we’re going to need change-makers,” she said.
Reimagine the Future.
“We’re unsure about the future, but we can use our imagination to help create what tomorrow shall be,” Patterson said. “Everybody’s worried about the future, but the future starts right now.”
Watch Jodie Patterson share her story of surviving COVID-19 on “On The Clock With Caroline Clarke” below.