Stressful but Thankful!

Face pic of Upendra

I am a new business owner from my community and barely one year into the business, the pandemic thing has put a heavy toll on my mental health, despite remaining safe from the virus.

The first time I heard of COVID 19 was January 2020 and I was working from my small insurance office in South Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At first, I and my staff thought it might not be that serious to disrupt our lives. We rolled on despite all the bad news coming out. Then comes March and all of a sudden, the things started looking ugly around. My staff was very anxious and preferred to work remotely. I thought our industry was an essential category of business, but the regulation issued by our PA Governor Tom Wolfe included us within the non-essential category. However, we were allowed to work with doors shut for customers which meant nothing! So I had to transition to work myself from home and set up my home office in the basement of my house. Since workspace in the insurance and finance industry could be carried out remotely, this wouldn't disrupt my business much, so I thought. However, my customers would still prefer to visit my office for so many servicing reasons. I posted a general notice from my social media page and emailed my customers to let them know that I was still open for business and would serve their needs any time as usual.

I trained my staff accordingly and helped him set-up his own work-space in his home. But the challenges of coordinating calls and managing schedules were something I had not anticipated well. My staff slacked, sales plummeted and life became so unpredictable. In May I had no choice but to lay him off indefinitely. I didn't go back to the office until late June with a temporary staff without a license. I ended up hiring another staff in late November. I had also applied for PPP loans and though it was not a significant amount, it did help me pay salaries to my temporary staff. I also put all the USPS mail on hold and would pick them up myself once a week. Except for a few days, working from home-office became a boring routine for me and it made me lazy as well with my health and hygiene.

I personally feel that being a new business owner and a small agency, I took a big hit but managed to absorb it. Despite the company leaders telling us that it's the best time to contact our prospects when they were mostly in their homes, I found reality to be quite the opposite in my case. Of course, almost everyone was home, either laid-off temporarily or permanently, and calling out to these distressed customers who probably have lost their only source of income was something I couldn't imagine. Everyone would give me a not-so-good response and it was totally understandable. Insurance I believed was the last thing on their table though they might need to drive around a few times a week or pay for home insurance it was still not as important as the food on the table or rent and mortgage.

On the community side, we were doing very well until the stay-home orders were lifted. I was involved with my close-knit Bhutanese/Nepali community in outreach efforts to educate and alert our folks and also to help with the distribution of essential items. We were counting positive cases and people were not very forthcoming to share their story as if it were a stigma. So far so good until the stay-home orders were lifted in July and things started looking ugly within the community. The report of increasing positive cases from the Allegheny county health department put extra pressure on the community leaders to have a weekly virtual meeting to mitigate the crisis and work in close coordination with the local health officials.

Though we lost only 2 community members due to COVID-19 so far, the rising positive cases have alarmed us. Our elderly population who live with their adult children were the prime suspects for COVID19 as most of them have some sort of health issues. On top of that, a death, whether a COVID related or not, in my community brings together a large crowd of people to support the bereaving family which now has been badly impacted by this pandemic. The limit imposed by the local funeral homes on viewing and funerals has caused severe constraints on the smooth conduct of our rituals but we haven't complained about it for the greater good of the community.

My family and I have been spared by this pandemic but many of my community members are not so lucky. I feel anxious about my aged parents who live with me as they often squirm and agitate when they can not go out and meet their friends and neighbors. My son is successfully adjusting to his hybrid schooling but school cases are also rising every day, giving me extra doses of anxieties.

In light of all this pressure caused by the pandemic, I have decided to sell my business as the current model doesn't seem to fit into the pandemic environment. I hope to continue to work in the insurance industry in a different model and cut my operating costs which are eating into my revenues. I guess many of the neighborhood businesses have been hit hard in a similar way as mine but the hope is what remains. There is nothing I can do other than to hope for the better days ahead with a positive mindset.

I don't think the pandemic will last forever, but the fear of newer versions of infectious diseases make me feel that our country is badly prepared for this. The myopic 'leaders' who have no concerns about the country other than the reflection concerns are to be blamed for this. It makes me feel ashamed of being an American when we have so many capabilities and the technical know-how to tackle any problem. Unless we get a good cohort of people in power, things will likely not improve for the Americans.

This story is part of a Refugee Communities collection.