First-person: How the Great Recession prepared me for the pandemic

By Brandon Thurner:

Isn’t it amazing how our past is often prologue, and in very unexpected ways?

I never thought that being laid off a few times during the Great Recession a decade and more ago would have the advantage of providing top-notch training in social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.

But in fact being laid off not only gave me the opportunity to go back to school for an additional degree and gain valuable internship and work experience. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it also provided the chance to discover potentially life-saving ways of daily survival.

So when the coronavirus struck and ground daily life to a halt for Americans, I recognized a similar playbook –  although with the tremendous uncertainty added by a public health crisis.

One big difference between then and now, for me, is that I remain employed in my principal job as a government contractor, able to work from home, although I am furloughed from my Sunday side job selling books – a gig I began during the Great Recession.

The lesson I learned from these earlier challenging times is that during health, economic, and personal struggle, the most important thing is to learn how to be comfortable with ourselves and in our own skin.

Everyone has voices in their head that tell them to do or not do certain things, talk with or not talk with certain people, and whether to be optimistic (with a healthy dose of realism) or to be negative and downtrodden.  David Cottrell wrote about these personal choices each of us makes in his book Monday Morning Choices.

Learning to be comfortable in our own skins can be challenging and filled with self-doubt, especially with an unexpected amount of time on many of our hands.  However, a few basic patterns and routines may help folks through the additional amount of time brought on by different coronavirus-caused situations in life:

  1. Set up a schedule and a set of routines – work, eat, and exercise at relatively the same intervals each day and week. Also, be sure to find or rejuvenate a hobby that can be done solo – as you can guess, I enjoy losing myself in reading the printed word
  1. If you are newly-laid off, job search, eat, and exercise in a similar set of patterns while also reaching out to friends and family who remain supportive, and
  1. Many employers are being more relaxed about employees with families either having children in the background during conference calls, or being flexible on working hours to accommodate for the changed nature of schooling and daycare for children

No matter our station in life, each of us must figure out a new set of routines – or adapt previous routines to fit what will be a “new normal” way of living for some unspecified time to come, driven by the science and situation on the ground.

Part of adapting can be helping in ways small and large.  Simply asking your neighbor how they are doing – sometimes this may be happening for the very first time given the previously fast-paced lives many of us have lived – or participating in community-based events to help others.

Two community-based ways to help include the Fairfax County Democratic Committee’s COVID Connections program, which aims “to provide volunteers an opportunity to reach out to their neighbors, regardless of party affiliation or voting history, and provide support,” as well as the Providence District Democratic Committee’s food drive through the Food for Others organization.  Non-perishable food donations are being accepted at contactless drop off points as well as direct financial donations to Food for Others.

I am thankful for many things in life – including having different ways of experiencing the labor force. This will hopefully lead to a better understanding and empathy of the challenges others face as we work through the deadly coronavirus.

Photo: Normally bustling, Maple Ave. in Vienna on a recent weekday morning is still due to coronavirus lockdown. Photo by Brad Swanson


Brandon Thurner is a member of the Providence District Democratic Committee, where he serves as inaugural vice chair for statewide support



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