Even in Loss, there is life. In hard times, there is healing. In chaos, creation & connection. And in this unanticipated solitude, I found unexpected serenity.
In the Beginning:
“If I had known I was going to have to parent through a pandemic, I would have done so many things differently. I’m failing at everything right now.”
Those are the words I sobbed to my closest friend over the phone a few months into the Covid-19 pandemic. She murmured soothing words of comfort and tried to encourage me to think positively. Frankly, I don’t really recall what she said. Only that our sole contact was through a cell phone connection and the pain of wanting, needing to be together but also needing to remain apart was contributing to my overall depression. For many months during this lock-down, I remained lost in my own misery and the sense of being incredibly overwhelmed.
My once predictable and routine life skidded to an unexpected soul-shattering halt but somehow – for some reason – bills were still due, rent payments were still required, my workload had increased and the help I had come to depend on had vanished. Like so many, I felt trapped in a never-ending limbo of uncertainty, panic, guilt, and terror.
Uncertainty because I was witnessing millions of layoffs and pay cuts within the world and my family certainly hadn’t been exempt. Panic because I was now working exclusively from home while entertaining my child and managing her virtual school schedule - which was challenging enough on its own – but because of the pay-cuts and layoffs, I was now making less while being saddled with more and more daily tasks.
Guilt…that ever-present emotion that threatened to drown me as what I deemed as failures seemed to mount up around me. I was lost and flailing from within a mountain of laundry, a sea of dirty dishes, and a kitchen table piled high with unpaid bills. My to-do list in all areas of my life towered over my 5’6 frame and the knowledge that I was not reading to my child regularly or getting to all of the homework apps or completing all of my work obligations or budgeting correctly or house-holding efficiently or exercising daily, or, or, or, or was crushing me. I believe I cried oceans of tears each day.
A barrage of possible facts, outright fiction, and the occasional nugget or two of truth assaulted my brain from news channels, social media, and friends alike. What to believe? Who to trust? What course of action to take? Science said one thing one day and then contradicted it the next. Conspiracy theorists leaped to conclusions with the speed of Olympic-level hurdlers although none of the precision. Living in a time in which the world was being torn apart by this new, infectious, and murdering virus variant was (and still is) terrifying.
The word unprecedented has been overused but truly these times have been just that. Speaking only for myself, I went from kissing my happy little preschooler goodbye and waving as she trotted happily into school for an 8-hour day of socializing, playtime, and education to explaining to an anxious and confused kindergartener that she would be learning on the computer and wearing a mask when we left the house. I, personally, went from strolling into the office Monday-Friday for a bustling 8-hour day of customer and client interaction, coworker gossip, warehouse visits, and taco truck lunchtimes to a hastily cleared corner in the living room and a Dell laptop issued from the office perched on my lap. My family, collectively, went from a 2-person earning household to a 1 person (with a pay cut) earning household.
The trauma of this new reality compounded by loneliness piled onto my anxiety-ridden psyche, devastating my ability to compartmentalize, focus, and forgive. My mental workload and subsequently my mental exhaustion seemed to rise each day.
Even in Loss, There is Life.
Humans are adaptable creatures and as the stay-at-home order continued to be extended, the shock of it all gradually shifted into a type of inertia. I had found another way to make myself feel selfish and inadequate in that I had realized that I was quite fortunate to work in an essential industry and keep my job. Many people that I knew had not been able to hang on.
Despite the toll and strain, I felt mentally and physically not to mention the stress I observed in family members, I clung to the idea of even though I was starting earlier, ending never, and taking on more and more, at least it was a much-needed paycheck. Some people had no choice but to continue to proceed into their jobs and risk their health – at least I could stay home. Others had to find daycares willing to accept their children, potentially exposing them – at least my child could stay home with me. Some people were desperately sick, and others had passed alone in a sterile environment – at least I was avoiding the poisonous clutch of Covid-19. What right did I have to feel strung out and weary when others had it so much worse.
And so, my days devolved into a long listless pattern.
Wake up. Shiver in my cold apartment and log in to work for 2-3 hours. Power nap. Wake up again. Prepare a small breakfast for the child. Arrange an area for virtual schooling. Log back in to work. Take customer calls and do worky type things. Pretend to be an IT tech for the child’s computer. Reset the Internet forgetting about the spreadsheet I had open on my work computer. Lose it all. Swallow tears.
Get both computers back up. Start spreadsheet again. Beg the bored child to listen, focus, and pay attention. Get interrupted on call by a bored and wiggly child asking if its snack-time. Glare and whisper threats if they don’t pay attention. Realize Google classroom is somehow logged out again. Place customer on hold. Grab my IT vest. Promise various bribes to the extremely disinterested, squiggly, and all-too-talkative child. Return to customer who is now annoyed. Rub at headache. Squint at computer screen. Bored child reappears, having wandered away from the talking teacher on Google classroom, and asks why birds are called birds, interrupting yet another call.
Rinse and repeat all the way until school is over. Subject myself to harsh and unnecessary self-criticism all through preparing dinner for not having given my full and proper attention to either my child to support learning and emotional development or to the customers for whom I am paid to support and assist. Realize the spreadsheet was never finished and resign myself to getting up well before my shift should start on the following day to complete it.
Afternoons faded into early evenings and this, usually, was the most pleasant time of day. (I know you thought this was going to be all doom and gloom but in the words of my closest friend, I’m not a tombstone). Even depressed people experience moments of joy, periods of peace. And early evenings were that time for me.
My work computer had been shut down; virtual assignments ended for the day, and both the office and cell phone were firmly set to do not disturb. During the remaining hours of daylight, my child and I enjoyed long masked walks down and around our block. There were no tears and while happiness might not be the right word, contentment definitely is.
Nights found us with a cartoon or something comedic playing cheerily in the background and even though I knew bedtime would re-awaken my internal feelings of failure, loss, and incompetence, I had the fleeting sense of hope. We had made it through another day and life was rolling on.
Even in Hard Times, There is Healing
As the pandemic continued, not much changed. Until suddenly, something did. A phone call shocking me directly out of the insidious doldrums. My youngest sibling, thrust out of college dorm life due to Covid-19 restrictions, was on the way to move in with me. A hasty but welcome and much-anticipated arrangement. My sibling, nicknamed Z for privacy, was a breath of fresh air in the stale predictable pandemic monotony of my home. We had always enjoyed a close relationship, despite or perhaps because of our unique childhood. Living together through these months cemented our bond.
Many nights were spent in quiet conversation and contemplation as we binge-watched reality shows: My 600 lb. Life, Halloween Baking, & Hoarders. I was thrilled to find our tastes ran so parallel – not just in TV shows but in foods, music, and movies. I’ll never be an avid jogger and they may never find the joyful abandon in writing that I feel but in so many other things, our tastes were nearly identical.
Bedtimes stopped being so full of self-flagellation. I gained a type of perspective on my childhood by discussing painful events and comparing childhood recollections. I will always say this sparked the beginning of an evolution. We encouraged each other, ribbed, and teased as siblings do, and discussed goals, dreams, plans, hopes, and wishes. Through it all, I felt incredibly seen and seen as more than just a mom or just an employee or even just a wife. I was a person who had ideas and some of them were rather interesting and worth listening to.
Yes, I could sing Baby Shark while cooking dinner and listening to a rambling story that began with a favorite color and ended in a rain puddle. I could draft a memo, take notes on a conference call, and submit sensitive documentation. But I could also do more than that, pandemic or not. And so could they. Am I fully healed? Are they? Do we know what we want our lives to look like 10 years or even further down the road?
No to all of the above. But the length of the pandemic allowed us to have time together that the demands of university, work, and parenthood would never have sustained.
And for this first step toward healing, I am thankful.
Searching for Serenity
As the pandemic wore on, I began to find solace in small things. No, I couldn’t go to a brewery with my coworkers for an icy IPA, but I could set aside pennies for take-out margaritas twice a month. I couldn’t see my closest friend, but I could spend upwards of 3 hours a day talking to her. We couldn’t visit the playground or parks or beaches, but we could and did take long meandering walks around the neighborhood, tracking our steps, and recording mileage. We discovered an interest in board games and I learned how to play several card games, all of which I promptly taught my kindergartener. If you are ever near us, watch out for the tiny poker player!
I reached out to businesswoman Stacie The Plug Stiletto whose digital empire was awe-inspiring (read more here) and through several consulting sessions discovered some ways that I too could monetize some of my own ventures. It was Ms. Stiletto who inadvertently recommended Vocal to me by tagging me in the Little Black Book challenge. My negative self-talk and innate sense of inadequacy told me I couldn’t do it. My pandemic exhaustion and mental fatigue confirmed that I had no time, no chance, and there was no point.
But then my stimulus check arrived and Vocal + was running a special - $4.99 for the first 3 months. I had just taken Ms. Stiletto’s class on Canva. I had reread the first draft of my first children’s book and allowed myself to believe – genuinely believe - it wasn’t total garbage. The pandemic was still here, seemingly to never leave. Lockdown orders persisted. My sibling (Z) had returned to university and I was terrified of slipping back into that strange depressive state of apathetic lethargy I had been in prior to their arrival. I signed up and a whole new world opened.
Writers and content creators were everywhere. The quality of work stunned and blew me away at times, and I felt that pessimistic worldview creeping in, guiding me into bleakness. You can’t do it. Moms don’t write. Where would you even find the time? You can’t even manage one child and your job and your home as it is. 2000 words? That’s impossible.
But what if moms did write? What if I wasn’t the only one? I wasn’t so arrogant as to think I was the only mom struggling with mental wellness or the only mom overwhelmed by the restrictions posed by the pandemic. So, what if I wasn’t the only mom who wrote or who wanted to write?
Like any good social media sleuth, I typed in “moms who write” in my Facebook search bar. When an actual group popped up, I hurried to click Join Group. Surely they won’t accept me. Or if they do, everyone will be mean. They’ll hate me. I’ll be weird. I don’t know what to say or what’s expected. (I AM going to work on this self-talk at some point). I was accepted in less than 24 hours and oh……I never understood what it meant to have a ‘tribe’, but I do now. I most certainly know what it is to not only have a tribe but to truly belong to one.
This group is full of talented, open-minded, funny, artistic, creative, and brilliantly intelligent women. Women who have set fire to the world’s expectations, women who mom (yes, that’s a verb) but simultaneously write. Women who choose to write because they can, they want to, and the world would be a little emptier, a lot sadder, and much less colorful without their words. And I am in this group and it is mind-blowing. I recently commented that I check every day, multiple times a day, to be sure that I haven’t dreamed it, to ensure that this space where we laugh, love, vent, and write is still there, and I am still apart of it.
The assurance and reassurance, the sheer understanding, that poured in struck chords in my soul that I’d forgotten existed. The void inside where anxiety and depression intertwine felt a little less dark and a little more serene.
The months between March of 2020 and March of 2021 have been a confusing cylindrical swirl of feelings, emotions, challenges, situations, dizzying downslides, and stolen moments of unbelievable bliss. When I reflect on all that I thought I lost during lock-down and all that I know I gained, I find myself focusing on peace instead of pain, on love instead of longing, and on the miraculous way we all survived instead of the mess we experienced.
I still have days in which my failures outweigh my feats and days in which I cannot bear to write and can hardly draw air to breathe. But it is in these moments that I will recall how the weight of the pandemic attempted to crush me and how the people I chose, chose me, and I won’t let go.
Thank you for reading my words. Thank you for listening to the voice of this creator. If you enjoyed my work, please send me a heart. If my words sang to your soul, leave me a tip.