It has been exhausting to pretend that everything is perfectly okay during this pandemic. I can’t do it anymore. I need to start telling my truth about what’s really going on, to lift the curtain on the social media white lies. I hope you can find safe spaces to tell your truth too. My pandemic truth is I’m not fine. I’ve been not okay in my life before. This is not my first rodeo.
After my first marriage ended 21 years ago, I was standing in the aisle of a grocery store, totally paralyzed and unable to choose what food to put in my cart. I lost the ability to make even the simplest decision. My poor young kids (then ages 4 and 7) ate Kraft Dinner for months as I figured out a way to get my head screwed on tight again.
When Aaron was diagnosed with Down syndrome, I tried a different tactic to deal with my stress. I became busy. Like really busy. Busy getting him into therapies, busy taking him to appointments and then busy advocating and trying to change the world. Soon the busy became a badge of honour, until my ovary randomly burst one day and I was forced to slow down.
When I had breast cancer, I walked around a slow-motion muddled mess, slowly suffocating with fear. I got lost driving to familiar places and again couldn’t decide what to have for dinner. (I’m grateful to all those who brought us prepared meals because we sure needed them).
This pandemic has brought another wheelbarrow of stress into my life, and I’m sure into yours too.
Grocery shopping decisions have been hard, so I just order online. This minimizes the stress of choosing. There’s nowhere to go anymore, so I just take the same walk with the dog over and over again. I wear the same jeans every day with a black or grey top. There’s comfort in the familiar and easy when the world is swirling in chaos.
Now, over 18 months into the pandemic, our son Aaron withdrew from public high school. I took this loss and sudden end to his school career hard. Over the summer, I had signed up to be involved with many different health care projects and was in the midst of finishing my manuscript for my second book. There was an allure to having time to work when my kid went back to school and I got caught up in the busy life again. I said yes to too many commitments and generally overextended myself.
Yesterday, I woke up agitated after a restless sleep. I dropped Aaron off at his private class and went on a rare trip to Costco in my heavy-duty mask, zooming up and down the aisles as fast as I could. Back the car, I tipped the deli chicken packaging in the trunk, fatty liquid oozing everywhere. I could feel my heart racing and my jaw clenching. “Calm the fuck down,” I kept telling myself, which of course never makes me calm the fuck down.
“I’ll go visit ducks in the park,” I thought to myself. “That always helps.” It was peaceful to walk in the forest and look at the mallards and wood ducks paddling around the lake. I got back in my car and waited for a long train to pass. Then I started panicking, thinking about everything I had to do, and here I was wasting time at the duck pond. The busy started creeping into my thoughts: all my to-do lists, the stuff I’d put off doing, all the people who wanted to talk to me.
I quickly drove home, entering our condo’s parkade. I went around the sharp corner to get to our parking stall as I had done a million times before. I didn’t turn the steering wheel enough this time and BAM the passenger side of the car smashed into the concrete wall. The sound was sure loud. I scraped both the front and back doors in my haste.
I got out to survey the damage. Thank god I hadn’t hit another car. Or a person. It was bad. Both doors were dented terribly and a door handle was seared off. This was going to be an expensive mistake for one second of inattention. (Sure enough, the estimate from the autobody shop came in at over $5,000).
Today I’m sitting with the embarrassment of this ridiculous accident and waste of money. The last time I had a foolish accident was the day my husband’s father died. I backed the car out of the garage and took off the side mirror.
Clearly I don’t think straight when I’m stressed. The stress from this pandemic is not going away anytime soon. That’s the first thing. I cannot keep functioning like everything is fine. Everything is not fine.
The second thing is I’ve fallen back into my old friend The Busy Trap. I use busy to comfort myself during times of stress. I don’t want to do that anymore.
My little car crash has caused me to pause. I need to recalibrate my life again. Aaron isn’t at school every day and I haven’t adjusted for that. I cannot just go working as if he is. He needs me and I need to be his mom.
Plus, the pandemic is causing this weirdly delayed stress response. I feel like my head is in a vice, just like when I had cancer. That’s what fear feels like. I’m afraid every minute of every day, even though our family is double-vaxxed. I do a risk-analysis every time I step foot outside the door. Is this safe? What mask do I need? How quickly can I run this errand? Nothing is carefree anymore. The weight of the never-ending pandemic is wearing me down.
I’m going all Marie Kondo as I ask myself what brings me joy? My family. My impending grandchild. Storytelling. I need to stop everything else and just do these things. In my busyness, I tend to give too much of myself away to other people (another bad habit of mine).
If nothing else, this pandemic has shown that we all don’t have as much time as we thought we had on this Earth. Nothing is guaranteed. This brings me back to the age-old question: what is important in life? It is not having a packed schedule. It is not working for the man.
It is caring for each other. And while we are at it, it is caring for ourselves too. A good first step is being aware about how the pandemic affects you. And acknowledging that this is still a really stressful time. Living with this type of chronic stress is not good for us. We must govern ourselves accordingly.
You do not have to crash your car like I did to learn this lesson.
We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. We should not be forcing ourselves to function as if we are not, no matter what our governments tell us.
If you are not okay like me, you are not alone. Consider cutting back on your busy schedule. Drop things that don’t give you joy. Now is the time to focus on what really matters. For me, that’s love, family, storytelling (and dogs). Everything else can wait.
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