Driven by the pandemic, Vermonters have changed their routines, their careers and their countries

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The pandemic prompted Kathleen Hoffman to quit her teaching job in St. Albans and move to Madrid. Courtesy photo

When a phrase like “I’m going to drop everything and move to Spain” pops up in a conversation, it’s often a melancholy addition – something said jokingly during a difficult time.

But Kathleen Hoffman is serious.

Spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic and concerns over proposed cuts to her pension benefits, Hoffman, 54, decided to quit her teaching job at Missisquoi Valley Union Middle / High School in Swanton in search of warmer winters.

She will be moving from St. Albans to Madrid in September, and instead of teaching English Literature, she will be teaching English as a Foreign Language.

When Hoffman started sharing the news, some of her friends and family were shocked – or thought she was joking. How can someone leave their 31-year career and move on their own to an unfamiliar country?

“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do since I was 20,” Hoffman said before marriage and parenthood put things on hold. “With the pandemic and everything that’s happened, I said, ‘You know, I think it’s time to do something different. “”

Hoffman is one of many Vermonters who have made surprising changes in their lives over the past year, which has been dominated by the indelible impacts of the global pandemic.

The human toll has been devastating: Covid has killed more than 600,000 Americans since the start of the pandemic, a number that is approaching the population of Vermont. The death toll worldwide is approaching 4 million.

In the context of such a loss, whole swathes of people reassessed their priorities. Some have changed careers or incorporated new hobbies into their daily routine.

Paul Foxman, director and founder of the Vermont Center for Anxiety Care in Burlington, said the pandemic “has precipitated an explosion of anxiety,” but he hopes some people have made positive changes in their mindset as well.

“I would like to believe that people became quieter, slowed down and realized they could do with less,” he said.

Mental health impacts

By now, the impact of Covid-related fear and isolation on people’s mental health is well documented. Mental health researchers have learned that there is no “one size fits all” response to the pandemic, according to Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychological sciences, public health and medicine at the University of California, Irvine.

“We also learned that the pandemic has not affected all people equally and that some communities of color have been hit by higher rates of disease and death and uneven access to the vaccine,” said Silver, according to SciLine, a nonprofit news service.

More and more people have sought professional help with mental health. Foxman said his practice gets six or seven new referrals every week and his therapists are all busy.

Foxman said the pandemic brought together the three ingredients of the anxiety formula: uncertainty, ambiguity and unpredictability, which are normal responses to stressful and uncertain situations.

“It’s unsettling for pretty much everyone,” Foxman said.

He believes that there will be a period of transition before people fully adjust to a “new normal”, whatever that implies, and it will be a challenge for those who suffer from clinical anxiety – which can be severe and severe. continue long after the risk has ceased – be comfortable in social situations.

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on young people. According to Julie Balaban, assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth, there has been a “huge upsurge” nationwide in hospitalizations of young people for serious mental health problems since the fall. .

Children were affected differently, depending on their age and stage of development. Parents struggled to keep young children busy and active instead of school or daycare. The lockdown also raised tensions for some teenage children – “a normal time of conflict with parents,” Balaban said.

Some kids have been able to stay in touch with their friends on social media, but Balaban fears a difficult transition to in-person schooling for less outgoing students.

“Even when the schools reopen, it will be a difficult transition for them because they have been away for so long, and it is not something they were comfortable with or qualified to start with,” Balaban said. .

New hobbies, new jobs

Now that the pandemic is fading, Vermonters are looking at the changes they are going to make with them and the lessons they have learned.

Julie Trottier, 55, from Williston has jumped into the sourdough bread trend and always bakes fresh breads to share with her friends.

Others have found new ways to get out of the house and new appreciations of the world around them. David Zeidler said he and his girlfriend, Julie, had not been together for more than five months before the pandemic hit. The two restaurant industry workers, on sick leave due to the closures, were suddenly stranded at home for days.

“It was getting a little feverish in the cabin,” admitted Zeidler, 39.

David Zeidler and his girlfriend, Julie, battled cabin fever during the pandemic by attempting to visit all 251 towns and villages in Vermont. Courtesy photo

Looking for something to do outside of Zeidler’s apartment in Essex Junction – now shared by the couple – they cooked lunches and set out to join the 251 Club, a group that encourages Vermonters to visit the 251 cities in the state. (They succeeded in all but two.)

Zeidler, from Connecticut, said he now had “a much greater understanding of the state as a whole, underrated parts of it, and beautiful parts that I didn’t know.” He’s kept plenty of notes and looks forward to seeing the less-traveled parts of the state again now that the restrictions have been lifted.

The pandemic has also brought about a shift in Zeidler’s work-life balance. He works fewer hours in his job as a waiter / bartender, devotes more time to the PR company he runs for small groups and reconnecting with his old passions.

Lindsay Toye’s career change has been more complete. The Hyde Park resident worked as an office manager at a homeowners association in Stowe before stepping down due to pandemic issues. Millions more workers nationwide have quit their pre-pandemic jobs in search of better pay, better hours or better adjustments.

Toye, 28, decided to go back to making candles, a trade she had previously done only to give Christmas presents to friends. She creates elaborate arrangements that mimic succulents, using soy wax candles and different shades of verdant stains.

During the pandemic, Lindsay Toye quit her job as an office manager to make candles. Courtesy photo

Toye now maintains a stall at the Jericho and Jeffersonville Farmers’ Markets, and his business, GeminiGenuine, has over 1,000 followers on his Instagram page. She said she walked dogs at Stowe on the side to supplement her income.

“I grew up going to craft fairs and having a genuine interest in being an artist, but never having the enthusiasm behind me to really go all out,” Toye said.

Hoffman said she had a moment of panic when she realized her health insurance was expiring at the end of the month. Every now and then, she said, she will have an “Omigod, what have I done?” moment.

Then she thinks of her father, who died at 52, and who couldn’t see the world like Hoffman did.

“It’s time to go do something for someone else,” Hoffman said, “and for me too.”



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