I’m usually the checker-in-er but recently I was checked in upon by a long-distance friend. “How are you holding up?” she asked in a text message. My friends in California are worried because I recently moved back to the east coast. California was one of the first states to recognize the potential impact of the virus and issued a statewide shelter-in-place order soon after the first cases were discovered. This drastically slowed the spread, and while my friends and the rest of the CA residents are still sheltering in their homes, the number of cases statewide is diminishing as is the number of deaths. Sadly, the number of confirmed cases in the much smaller state of New Jersey is still doubling on a regular basis and the number of people with the virus and number of deaths in our neighboring New York City are not showing any signs of slowing down. So I understand why they’re worried for us.
We’ve been sheltering in place for 3 weeks and I’ve been riding a roller coaster of emotions. Some days, when the sun is shining and I can busy myself with home projects and small wins, I feel like I’m doing okay in my little world. The first week was odd, just getting used to this new scenario of staying home, setting up my own version of school for the kids and eating the food we already had. By week two, we had started to get into a little groove. The kids were doing some schoolwork but also lots of art, imaginative interactive play, and getting outdoors. We made our own schedule. We had plenty of food plus a delivery scheduled on the horizon. My wife had just started a new job and was getting good use out of her well-designed home office where she spent a good 10-12 hours each day. Certainly, there were some issues, of course. The little dog had just had surgery and needed special care. The other dog was so bored from not going to the dog park that he kept escaping the yard running the neighborhood, prompting me to drop everything and chase after him. Overall we seemed to be dealing with the quarantine with relatively good spirits.
Then March turned to April and it officially became Spring with its moody weather. On and off rain and clouds or high winds filling the air with the chilly breeze made spending time outside less enjoyable. I aimed for Hygge, the Danish word for coziness and contentment. I wanted to watch movies with the kids, all snuggled up together under warm blankets but this was the week that their schools hit the “go” button on distance learning. Suddenly, I had two kids navigating assignments listed in Google Classroom with links to video lessons and outside websites for the work. Neither child could manage this on their own so I literally had to become tech support, reference librarian, and advisor just to help them figure out how to do the assignments given by their teachers. That is in addition to the family chef, which I’ve been all along, but was now required to make three meals a day so our food supply steadily dwindled and our kitchen was a constant mess.. The Instacart order arrived two hours late. Even though about half of the items was out of stock, I was grateful the delivery came at all given that many Instacart and Whole Foods workers were striking for lack of personal protection equipment provided by the company. (For the record, I support company provided PPE for all grocery workers and delivery drivers).
So how am I holding up? I’m holding things together pretty well. I’m holding the family together. I’m meeting everyone’s nutritional, physical, educational and emotional needs. I’m making it through the day. I do better when I don’t obsess about the news and just skim the headlines once or twice a day. I do best when I don’t let myself go down the rabbit hole of “what if’s” and stop myself before inventing worst case scenarios in my head or compare our situation to sci-fi dystopian fiction. At first I did a lot of yoga but only felt calm while I was doing the yoga. Then I did no yoga and wanted to stay in bed and pull the covers up over my head. Now I do a little yoga and try to keep the sense of calm with me at other times. I’m meditating more than I used to because I find it helps me when I feel torn between wanting to protect my children from the trauma of this whole experience and also being so annoyed at them needing me every second of every day.
I also feel spoiled and privileged then mad at myself for taking anything at all for granted ever before. I feel the weight of global fear of the loss of human life and anxiety about what the future may hold. I feel worried for the healthcare workers and scared for everyone who is now in an even worse situation because they are now stuck inside with an abuser, an alcoholic, or someone who neglects them. And I feel sadness for those who are experiencing a new depth of loneliness for what will be an indefinite amount of time.
Sometimes when I let myself feel all of those feelings it seems like it could break me. I can’t think. My body freezes up and it’s hard to breathe. It’s the freeze response in the fight, flight, or freeze stress response. On Thursday of week 3 it all came crashing down on me: the stress, the demands, the mess, the sounds, everything became too much and I just couldn’t handle any of it. I broke down and cried for the first time since this all happened. Once the tears started there was nothing I could do to make them stop. It was an accumulation of what I thought was keeping it all together but was really just keeping it all inside. Once it came out I felt quite a bit lighter. I decided the kids and I deserved the afternoon off. They were delighted for a “half day” and I laid on the couch considering writing but just staring at a blank screen. Then it was time to make dinner so I got up and just started moving again.
I had a FaceTime call with two friends in which we transformed our faces into cartoons and animals and laughed hysterically as we made silly faces and sounds. It’s not something we would have done in our friendship under normal circumstances but these are far from normal circumstances and all three of us needed a cathartic energetic release. I also had a zoom “happy hour” with some friends back in California. We tried so hard to keep it light and fun but unintentionally kept coming back to the topic of the virus and how sad, heavy, disconnected, and just worried we all felt. Seeing my friends and hearing their laughs make me feel better and surprisingly talking about it did, too. Even through the distance, I know we are holding each other up through this unusual time. So when I am asked “how are you holding up” I guess I should answer that I’m not. I am holding my family up and my friends are holding me up.
How about you? Are you checking in on friends and are they checking in on you? How can you hold each other up during this time?