Discovering my real source of stress in the time of COVID; don’t judge me
I took 3 days off from work this week. It was the first time off I have taken in 2020 and the first break I’ve had since the pandemic hit. My job is normally pretty intense but these past few weeks have felt especially heavy and stressful. As a leader in a national organization, managing a crisis, thinking through emergency policies for an entire staff, creating financial contingency plans, redesigning sustainability and succession plans that took over a year to create, and making space to support everyone on staff who is experiencing anxiety, stress, and depression (myself included) all started to feel daunting weeks ago. Take that and sprinkle a restless 3 year-old and demanding 5 year-old on top, and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for a crispy burnout. My anxiety levels at the end of most days have been so bad that I sometimes just cry. No reason, no logic. I just cry. I used to have really bad anxiety attacks in college and things got so bad last week that I thought I was reverting back to that time. So I took 3 days off. What I learned was honestly, disappointing.
What I learned was honestly, disappointing.
Obviously, a day “off” from work for a working parent in the time of COVID really just means a day focused on your other full-time job, being a mom/teacher. Admittedly, my partner and I let go of our lofty aspirations to keep daily learning schedules weeks ago. Our new goal is to regulate what the kids watch online, set parental controls for time on the tablet, switch Netflix shows to Spanish when possible, and aim to each do at least one screenless activity with the kids per day. Most days we fail but I’m getting better at being ok with that. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I did not set up my days off with delusions of parental grandeur. I knew that I needed my own time of vegging out in front of a screen so I prepared for that. I made time for Netflix, writing, social media and doodling. I also knew that if I didn’t do anything with my children during this time, I’d feel like a lousy mom so I also made a short mental list of things I could with the kids so I wouldn’t hate myself on Thursday when I went back to work. (Not the healthiest motivation but hey, that’s what I’m working with.) A youtube workout with Master Lee from Karate class, some drawing together, practicing sight words twice, and we’re good — guilt parade averted! I was looking forward to this extra long weekend and created a practical plan. Now onto some rest and relaxation!
Jk. I recognized that my long-awaited break was not going as I intended once my fourth anxiety attack crept up and I’d made my way to my bedroom in a huff yet again to practice some breathing exercises, scream or cry. It was then that I realized something truly disappointing: my job isn’t what’s stressing me out; it’s my kids.
my job isn’t what’s stressing me out; it’s my kids.
I used to be a stay-at-home mom. (SAHM) I hated it. I did it for nearly 2 years with my first child and 2 years with my second, with a few months of overlap when we were preparing to move out of state. And while I’m immensely grateful for even having had the privilege to do it and sure, I got to create many wonderful memories, the truth is, I was unhappy. I have worked through letting go of the guilt of admitting that I hated it and I’ve embraced that it was just not for me. I know several stay at home moms who are AMAZING at it and (mostly) love it. I just wasn’t one of them. This week I finally realized that this quarantine has been triggering AF for me because it’s taking me back to a time when I was severely depressed, completely lost, miserable and mad at myself for feeling all of those things. I didn’t expect it but this pandemic is taking back to some dark SAHM days.
This week I finally realized that this quarantine has been triggering AF for me.
My days off have shed light on the fact that while my job can be very stressful, I actually enjoy the stress that comes with it. I love my job! It’s the kind of stress I welcome and use to thrive. The stress that comes with having my kids home all day often feels crippling. Since the kids aren’t even in elementary school yet we’re supposed to come up with daily lessons and activities too. Not only is this hard but I simply don’t want to do it! As awful as it might sound, I’d honestly rather be working. And yet again, I feel guilty. Those SAHM memories are coming in vividly now and it’s making me twitch.
Now that I’m more present to what’s really coming up for me, I’m trying to navigate through it intentionally. I am working through some new strategies to keep my stress levels low and fight against depression and anxiety. I am embracing the fact that my kids’ time in front of a screen does not make me a bad mom but actually contributes to my wellbeing. I’m forcing myself to go for more runs (I really fell off during COVID) because exercise really is my medicine. And I’m throwing my whole superwoman mantra out the f***ing window. That sh!t is just not helpful right now.
This is as far as I’ve gotten.
I’m sharing this to remind all other parents that you’re not alone and don’t need to feel guilty. I also want to declare it to the world to hold myself accountable before I set foot in another dark place. This is an impossibly hard time, y’all. In no world can you simultaneously be a full-time worker, a full-time parent, and a full-time teacher. No matter what your circumstance, you’re doing great. There is no wrong way to do this. Let’s remember that and cheer each other on instead of reminding each other of what “should” be getting done during a time of crisis. I know I could use that kind of support.