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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

'My whole life changed': North Texans on jobs, friendship & identity as COVID-19 marks two years

Two women sit on a bench outside, framed by a black iron fence overlooking a lake. The day is overcast, the cloudy skyline is dotted with trees.
Trevon McWilliams
/
KERA
Lauren Bridges and Tamra Nicole are best friends and Dallas residents. The pandemic shifted the ways they connected. "As girlfriends, we don't have the same outlets that we had, like, let's go to brunch, let's go to happy hour, let's come over," Bridges said.

It's been two years since the first reported case of COVID-19 in North Texas. Best friends Tamra Nicole and Lauren Bridges have weathered job uncertainty together as their industries changed during the pandemic.

Tamra Nicole remembers the first few months of the pandemic as a haze of anxiety and confusion. She was staying with family in Houston and headed to Dallas right as the country shut down.

"I was so frantic. I had just lost my job," Nicole said. "I'm not receiving any unemployment. I have no real money. I'm on food stamps. Am I going to even be able to stop at a gas station and get gas as I'm driving back?"

Nicole is a fashion stylist and custom clothier, who previously worked in luxury retail. She was one of more than 1.7 million people who lost their jobs in Texas in the early months of the pandemic, according to data from the Texas Workforce Commission. Her best friend, event planner Lauren Bridges, gathered people together to help Nicole pay rent in early 2020.

"It's really just been by the grace of God that things worked out," Nicole said.

Touchpoints for their friend group, like brunches and gathering together for birthdays, were absent for a majority of the past two years. It made navigating the pandemic that much more difficult.

"A lot of people haven't felt consistency in a long time," Bridges said. "We didn't have our normal ways of coping."

Leisure and hospitality, according to a report from the Texas Comptroller's Office, was one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic. Bridges and Nicole saw their industries shut down seemingly overnight.

Two women stand in front of a large lake, trees and walkways dotting the path behind them. The woman on the left is in jeans, a white shirt and maroon boots. The woman on the right is in a fringe jean jacket, khaki pants and a white shirt.
Trevon McWilliams
/
KERA
While the pandemic was a challenging time emotionally, Tamra Nicole is grateful to have prioritized her mental health. "I'm happy that I set that foundation for myself, because I don't think without that I would have been able to get through, really," Nicole said.

"There was a question of if I was going to lose my job or not, because the company did severe downsizing because of the pandemic," Bridges said. "No one was traveling. No one was doing live events. No one was doing anything in my event industry. So I'm wondering, each week, is this going to be my last week of having a steady job?"

Nicole was also trying to navigate a very different retail landscape. She worked as a personal shopper and stylist, but now no one was shopping for clothes. They were buying toilet paper and doing home renovations as they waited out the virus.

"My whole life changed," Nicole said. "The career that I thought I knew and loved was gone. The lifestyle I knew and loved was gone. It was really having to figure me out and everything I had known to be."

Two years later, Nicole and Bridges feel cautiously optimistic. Nicole started a styling agency, a dream she's had for more than 10 years.

"There was some good out of it," said Nicole of the pandemic. "There were some things that were birthed. It was just a whole lot of pain to get through."

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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