Years ago, when my husband was on a long deployment and my kids were little, I recall a civilian friend comparing our seven month deployment to her husband’s short business trip. “I know how you feel”, she said. I politely smiled but in my head I said “Umm…my situation is MUCH WORSE.”
Later, when my husband changed jobs and never left town I grew accustomed to his presence and almost panicked when he told me he had to travel for seven days. IN A ROW. I remember eating my words a bit and realizing that both situations presented some anxiety for mothers of young children, even if one scenario was more intense. Noted.
Fast forward to 2020. Admittedly, my life during this pandemic has been pretty easy. Since March, my family has not worried about unemployment or paying the bills. We have not worried about groceries or healthcare or a safe place to quarantine. My husband’s job continued as always, I had time to help my kids with online school and our stay-at-home orders found us watching movies and completing puzzles within the safety of our house.
On paper I have zero reason to complain. I have a large backyard in which my children can play, I have a community of friends around me who offer support. Plus, I am an introverted person who prefers to be at home above all else. Isn’t this what I always wished for? More time with my kids, more time at home and less time in the carpool lane? Haven’t I always valued the slow life? Haven’t I wanted time to stop so I can savor this stage of parenthood? YES!! EXACTLY!! So… what is the problem? Why am I feeling… down? (Is that something I can even admit without sounding like a complete jerk?)
Things could be so much worse, I tell myself. People’s businesses are going under, people’s loved ones are dying, people’s homes are being foreclosed and you are feeling down? Your husband isn’t deployed, your family isn’t sick…pull up your positive pants and make the best of this year! STOP CRYING OVER SPILLED CHAMPAGNE!!
But…I can’t. And I am consumed with guilt over it. I feel sad and… (dare I say it out loud?)…a little depressed. I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to snap out of it and distract myself and focus on the positive… but I am still struggling to maintain status quo. And I haven’t wanted to tell anyone because it makes me sound shallow and ungrateful for the ease of my life.
But might this be similar to the example above? If another person has a more intense experience than me, does it void my own? Someone could say “I have it worse than you” and I would agree 100%. No argument. But does that make my struggle unworthy of addressing? (This is my own self-talk here.) What if I stopped ignoring my feelings and actually dealt with them?
See, I haven’t been sleeping or eating or feeling well. My stomach hurts. I have found myself uninterested in doing much besides eating chocolate cake. (Maybe this is why my stomach hurts.) My best analogy is that I am living in a never ending holding pattern with no landing strip in sight. We circle around and around every day, on the same route, watching the same scene below, hoping somehow we will return to Earth.
We will invite friends to our house when COVID ends.
We will return to school when COVID ends.
We will attend church again when COVID ends.
We will travel to see our families when COVID ends.
I won’t be teaching third grade math when COVID ends.
But when is the END?? We don’t know! And that in itself is mentally exhausting. As a military spouse I can say that anything is possible if you have an end date. The unknown is what wrecks the mental game. So here I sit, admitting that my mental game is a bit haggard and disheveled. (Is yours?) Our short term survival-mode has turned into weeks, months and seasons, taxing our adrenals with its nebulous timeline and making us mentally tired. (And I haven’t even mentioned the stress of racial justice, wildfires or our nation’s upcoming elections. God help us.)
For the very first time in my life, this vague timeline feels more like an absence of a timeline. Every year I have progressed from one step to another, into another phase, another journey, another season. But in 2020, I am doing the exact same thing today that I was doing six months ago (just in a different state) and I am unsure when my movement will again begin. My kids are still schooling at home, public venues are still closed, activities are still cancelled, we are social distancing with all of our friends, and still not seeing our families. Our mental states are not only weary, but perplexed. And therein lays the root of my “problem”.
So how do I continue managing my mental health in an era of time that doesn’t seem to move? In my rational moments I do know that our world will eventually get past COVID-19, just like we moved forward from the Spanish flu and other pathogens. (And if not, Jesus is coming back y’all, so start investing in His heart and yours!) But the question remains- what do we do in the meantime, the “down” time, the never ending home quarantine? I’ve been thinking about it.
— We need to honestly acknowledge our feelings and talk with a trusted person about them. Maybe even a counselor. Are you aware of the common signs of depression?
Lack of interest
Changes in appetite
*BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.*
—We need to try to focus on the here and now, rather than three months down the road. We only know what life is like this week. Or this day. Or this hour. (And hasn’t 2020 taught us that the future is unpredictable?) Make today count!
—We need to try to find small ways to boost joy and keep the time moving forward. Maybe it’s a new soda every Thursday night (true story), decorating your Christmas tree three months early (considering it), Zooming with your best friend every week, leaving your house/ isolation unit for a day in nature or finding ways to volunteer and help your community. Make it happen!
— We can continue to give ourselves the same Grace in Quarantine Land that we offered to our souls in March. Have we forgotten this already? Admittedly, I needed a refresher.
Although I have days where I feel stuck in a never ending spin cycle of kids yelling at me over Google Classroom, I am trying to continue moving forward. One foot in front of the other, one more breakfast prepared in the kitchen, one more morning logging into our computers, one more afternoon reading with my sweet kids, one more evening kissing those precious faces goodnight. I have successfully passed much, much harder challenges than this. Truly, I am grateful for all that I have been given.
But if I feel a little downcast some mornings, I’m learning to be okay with that, too. 2020 is an entirely new sport and the former rules don’t always apply here. Some days I may win and some days I may lose, but I will try my best to make my plays count. And if not…well…there’s always more chocolate cake, right?
Good luck to us all,