The world is in crisis unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetime. Every one of our lives has been upended. Unlike the apocalyptic scenes that come to mind when imagining a global emergency, we’ve been forced to stay home, which for most of us is comparably luxurious. In most suburban communities, at least, no one has had to forage for food. We are not constructing shelter from refuse. We haven’t had to use less electricity, or even forego the pleasure and convenience of ordering takeout. Yet we are still faced with an invisible threat to our lives if we are not diligently careful with our daily activities. And that is enough to send the modern American into a state of mental distress they may have never experienced. For someone who is more accustomed to mental distress, this is my worst nightmare.
I thrive on human interaction, not because I am a social butterfly but because I am only now, in my early thirties, learning how to exist in and of myself, independent of another. Most of my life I have relied on others to tell me what I like, what I want, and what I think. If you asked how this was going a month or so ago, I would have beamed ear to ear and told you I was killing it. “It’s been a long road, but I’m really making some headway!” Enter: global pandemic, raining all over my proverbial parade.
Suddenly I’m yanked back into a stage I’ve already worked through. A vast unknowing, wherein I am restless and depleted at once. A state that requires small, calculated, deliberate actions to build a safe, positive mindset, and then fiercely protect it.
Now, in case you’ve forgotten, I have not been drafted into war or stranded on an island. I have been told I have to stay home. The horror! Yet these mental muscles I’ve worked hard to build feel suddenly delicate and some days I feel I’m doing all I can to survive. And there’s nothing wrong with that! “These are scary times”, we are assured by public figures. “We are in this together!”, they insist. So why, for the love of all things holy, have the goody-two-shoes of the world felt the need to measure and compare how we spend “the quarantine”?
In the days leading up to our local school closures I saw something shared on Facebook: “COVID-19 HOME SCHEDULE”. I thought maybe it had something to do with cleaning routines to help prevent the spread of the virus. No, this was a perfectly produced infographic, suggesting that while the majority of the free world as we know it is at a standstill, we should be scheduling a day full of productivity worthy of a Pinterest board.
One of the elements of my personality that I struggle with is my “overachiever”. She can be a bit of a bitch. She likes to take on too much and do too much and always be able to say she made the most of her time and that has something to show for it. Even when this particular piece of personality isn’t at the helm, her voice lingers in the back of my head. However, during this period of personal growth I have been learning to let her have a limited amount of stage time and encouraging her to collaborate with the other players in my personality. She’s adjusting well, I’m happy to report, and even becoming more tolerant of my tendency to go from over-productive to comatose in a matter of moments. Coexistence at it’s finest! Then, the world had to feed into this anal-retentive drill sargeant and give her an indefinite period of free time, stuck in the house surrounded by a plethora of long-avoided tasks and the deep-seated feelings that accompany them. She loves a Pinterest project, and gosh darn it she could fill up a board just for this occasion, lickety split!
This is a great time to really commit to that squat routine I pinned so long ago, we’d surely see results by the end of this. There are already several half-full bags of old clothes and toys to be donated sitting around, why not fill ‘em up and get ‘em out? The playroom needs organizing and in light of remote learning, I could easily convert it into a makeshift classroom. I’ve really been wanting to get into artisan breads and here I am, finally finding myself with the time to intently watch dough rise. I love crafting, so this is a great opportunity to try a few new projects that I could set aside for Christmas gifts. I’ll be so pleased with myself come December. What I really ought to do is devote some serious time to mastering the elements of doing my work online so that I can be a shining star in my department and yearn for a pat on the back from administrators who, as it is, are fairly clueless as to what my job entails.
Yet here I sit with unwashed hair, wearing five-year-old maternity leggings with holes in them, which were pulled from a basket of laundry washed two weeks ago that never managed to make it back to the dresser. I think I’ve managed to consume at least one vegetable each day, but I’ve had far too much coffee, and carbs consist of a solid 93% of my diet. My kids have played more video games in the past few weeks than they have cumulatively thus far in life. I forgot to give my five year old a bath four days in a row. My neck and back are in incredible pain, from either using the dining room chair as a desk chair three weeks in a row or from harboring a ridiculous amount of stress and emotional discomfort, with the added bonus of a wildly interrupted physical routine. Most days I get my work done managing to exert every ounce of focus and social skill in my body, but I'm left feeling drained and then instead of embarking on this array of productivity ideas, I collapse in my bed. Cue that overachiever, who promptly lays on the guilt for turning to Netflix rather than checking off an item on a list. I struggle to binge watch because this nagging voice in my head tells me I need to “stay busy!” and so I attempt to multitask but realistically that just means I’m scrolling on my phone, now unable to devote enough attention to follow the show, and further fueling the anxiety and bad feelings I was trying to battle in the first place.
Reminding myself of the many things I’ve learned in my efforts to grow, we can’t “battle” these feelings. They are not able to be swatted away. They cannot even be staved off by driving oneself into a manic state by filling every empty second of the day and properly documenting it to share a picture perfect “Pin” with the outside world that feels all the more distant these days. The best thing I can do for myself is get very still and allow the feelings to come. Let them sit, then let them pass. I can listen to my body and just do what it tells me to do, not the conflicting voices in my head. When I feel tired or achy, I should rest, stretch. Hide the phone, put on a television show and actually enjoy it, guilt-free. When my body is ready, I can do something more active, but I cannot abide by my overachiever’s definition of “productive”. Maybe today, being productive is writing this, to get some thoughts out so that they don’t accumulate in my neck. I am finding that when I am more gentle with my expectations of myself I feel better about whatever it is I have done, even if it isn’t a to-do list-full of projects.
When this is said and done, we will not be awarded any gold medals for our successes during this trying time. There will be no “What I Did on My Pandemic Vacation” essays assigned to the children. All I can hope to say when we regain some normalcy, is that I didn’t make anything worse. That I kept my head above water and didn’t allow this global emergency to fully penetrate and damage the work I have done on myself so far, even if it did cause a bit of a hiccup. That I was able to be present for my children, and help them to feel as safe and secure as possible in spite of the terrifying state of the world. The lesson will be that we got through it safely, and that will surely be considered an achievement.
[PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS NOT MY ORIGINAL WORK/MMC]