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It's OK If You Can't 'Thrive' During COVID-19, You're Surviving (and That's Enough)

If you’re like me — a human parent living on the planet Earth in the year 2020 — you’re riding out the coronavirus (COVID-19), a new-to humans virus that causes respiratory infection and can lead to serious or fatal health complications, pandemic inside your home right now. Maybe clutching a two-gallon jug of coffee in one hand and using the other hand to halfheartedly bat one or more children out of your ever-shrinking personal bubble. Times are tough. And while everyone is struggling with very real fear about loss of life and economic uncertainty, some of us are faring worse than others.

I’m solidly in the “spinning around in a circle on the floor and whooping like Curly” stage. This is closely akin to “pulling each hair out of your head and silently staring at it,” and is just one step away from “counting the bumps on the wall while humming the theme song to ‘The Facts Of Life.’” In other words, I’m losing my mind.

My older kids are out of school, indefinitely. (The most frightening sentence I’ve ever written.) My husband and I are both working full-time jobs from home. Our childcare options are gone, victims of the national quarantine. And our baby is teething. We are taking turns holding her on our laps while we attempt to participate in Zoom meetings, but it’s a little hard to focus on work when there is literally a puddle of drool on your keyboard.

Oddly enough, a worldwide pandemic caused by an unknown respiratory virus for which there is no cure is putting most people on edge, even those without established mental illnesses. Case in point: my husband, an emotional rock and a persistent optimist, is starting to twitch a bit. And I don’t like the look in the eyes of our neighbor’s cat.

I struggle with high anxiety and depression on a daily basis because I have bipolar disorder. (It’s like two mental illnesses for the price of one!) I usually manage my condition well, with medication, exercise and therapy, but an unprecedented global crisis has been a bit too hard on the ol’ brain. I’m flitting all over the house one day like a deranged fairy, collecting every single crumb on the carpet with my fingers. I’m too sad to get up the next day. The relentless combination of isolation, fear and teething are actively destroying whatever peace I generate up from my “Yoga by Adriene” videos.

But I am surviving.

I am getting up each morning. I am eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yes, some of those meals consist of king-size Milky Ways, and this morning I had Oreo cereal with chocolate milk. But, I’m eating. I’m feeding my kids, too. (I’m not going to tell you what they are eating.)

I’m also working. Full-time. I’m making sure my husband has time to work, too. This is a two-income household for a reason: we need two incomes to make ends meet.

I’m sleeping. I’m taking a lot of sleep medication to do it, but darn it, I am sleeping! I’m remembering to go to the bathroom, sometimes. Occasionally, I sneak a shower in there or change out my pajama pants. The family has an amount of clean underwear. The dishwasher gets run. I make sure we have enough groceries and refill all the important medications.

In fact, I am surviving, and I’m darn proud of myself.

So, I feel a certain kind of way when I log into social media after a hard day of surviving and see a feed full of cute, color-coded schedules for kids and articles about the best homeschooling websites. It feels like everyone is talking about how to make up for lost educational opportunities, with fun science videos and printable math worksheets. Meanwhile, my kids spent the last week playing something called “Untitled Goose Game” on the Xbox — the sole purpose of which, apparently, is to mildly irritate the denizens of an English village. As a goose. They are being actively unenriched by the minute.

Other people are sharing kindness challenges. Or talking about how great it is to catch up on reading, or how the apocalypse is providing an opportunity to finally learn Italian!

I am not passing judgment, by the way. I totally get it. Normally, I’m all about thriving and growing and getting better. I wish I could learn Italian, too, or work my way through a Julia Child cookbook. I want to be able to supervise the education of my children. The fact they spend every waking hour right now in front of a screen fills me with quiet despair. It stinks. It’s awful. This isn’t the life I want for myself or for my kids. They’re smart, and interesting, and funny. They deserve to be enriched, darn it!

I’m smart, and interesting, and funny, too. I’d love to be able to finally potter around the garden and start the great American novel. And my husband would jump at an opportunity to geek out on the finer nuances of the Mog synthesizer. There is no end to the number of things we would enjoy doing with this endless time at home. You know, if we didn’t have three small children. And two jobs. And some pretty serious medical conditions to manage.

I can’t thrive right now, and neither can a lot of parents in America who are worried about paying the bills and keeping their kids safe, fed and in diapers. Throw mental illness into the mix, and thriving is even less of an option. It creates a whole lot of unnecessary pressure when the prevailing culture is lecturing us nonstop to see the silver lining, make the most of things and grow where you’re planted! Keep your kids engaged with online tutorials! Make slime in your spare time! Read through the classics! Catch up on your scrapbooking! Thrive, not survive!

Well, I’m saying no. No, I cannot thrive right now. No, I will not thrive right now. Surviving is enough. I am enough. My kids are resilient. If they fall behind on their times tables, they’re in the same boat as every other kid in the known universe right now. It is what it is.

When this is over — and it will be over, someday — I will go back to making healthy, balanced meals for my family. I’ll shower again, and wear clothes for grown-ups. I’ll stop rapid cycling through mania and depression. This isn’t forever. This too, shall pass. We humans are smart folks. We’re not going to let some virus push us around for long. When this blows over, the world will normalize again. I’ll have the bandwidth to bathe my kiddos, and read for fun, and attend meetings without a baby in my lap.

Meanwhile, I will not thrive, but I will survive. Meanwhile, that’s good enough. Meanwhile, let the drool fall: my keyboard is probably waterproof, right?

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Original photo by author

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