Well, the ‘C’ virus (a.k.a. COVID-19) is on my mind again. Even though the conventional five stages of grief are considered to be rubbish by many psychologists, the first stage of grief –– denial –– rung true for me.
Like many, I was in denial.
A 24-hour news cycle inundates us with terrifying headlines. It can also be difficult to parse out what to take seriously and what to, more or less, ignore.
I was busy. I was happy with the direction of my business and personal projects. And I had exciting plans for the Spring and Summer. Upending my entire life because of a global pandemic was the last thing on my mind.
I just didn’t want to believe it.
It was easier to ignore it –– until I couldn’t.
I felt the anxiety and tightness in my chest, starting to brew. As days passed, reality set in, and I started to panic. It wasn’t long before denial was simply no longer an option.
Businesses sent workers home. School districts closed. Restaurants stopped serving dine-in customers, and some even revamped their entire business model. Grocery store shelves started to empty. The price of gas continued to fall, and the stock market started to fall even more rapidly than during the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
All of my social media news feeds were flooded with articles, posts from friends, family, and other small businesses, about COVID-19. It became abundantly clear that I had to realize that this was indeed going to affect everyone and everything I hold close to my heart.
Amid the frenzy, I knew I had to do my part and take action. After the initial denial and panic, I took action. Despite my anxieties, I had to act.
Look for the helpers
I knew I needed to serve my family, friends, myself, and my clients differently than ever before. So, I allowed my fear to motivate me –– I made plans.
I contacted clients. I prepared my business for the uncertainty ahead. As the owner of a photography studio, promoting family sessions and other photography just doesn’t seem right at this time.
Inspired by other U.S.-based photographers, I recently started my Sidewalk Sessions Project. I’ve been driving around South Eastern Wisconsin and collecting donations for the Hunger Task Force –– in trade for snapping a family photo from a safe distance. In just three days, I’ve collected $1,044 in donations.
Acknowledge the silent pain
I knew I had to stay strong for the long-term well-being of my business, relationships, and sanity. I was able to acknowledge that, even though it was terrifying. Amidst the silence of social distancing, sorrow and fear washed over me.
The world has slowed down, and almost everyone is at home –– shut away from the outside world. For better or worse, this leaves us alone with our thoughts. It’s been in this quiet that my emotions have come to the forefront.
I can’t help but openly cry. My eyes have been glossier than a new coat of nail polish as of late.
I cry because I’m both sad and afraid. I fear for the business I’ve worked so hard to build. I fear for my family (particularly those who are older or have preexisting health problems), friends, and their families. I weep for people all over the world who’ve lost loved ones and those who may still lose them before this crisis is complete.
I’ve recognized that it’s okay to feel big emotions.
The uncertainties of our journey are palpable
Even though I’m practicing social distancing, I’m not alone. I believe in humanity. I believe in empathy. I believe we will get through this. I also believe that it is okay to not be okay.
While we’re on an uncertain journey, it’s okay to feel everything. I’m working (to whatever extent possible) to keep my businesses organized and afloat. I know I can do it, and I hope to inspire others in my situation to do the same.
There is great strength in vulnerability. These are scary, unprecedented times. It’s only natural that I cry, beg for kisses from my doggies, or hug my husband a bit tighter.
Ren Lenhof is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based photographer and blogger who has been featured on Martha Stewart, Huffington Post, West Elm, Pepsi, and more! Check out her lifestyle blog and photography at
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