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Parents: Don't Let Anyone Make You Think You're Not Doing Enough Right Now

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I recognize the feelings a little too well. There is a tightness, a sense of what’s coming that rises up into my chest. I consider it my almost panic attack, when I can tell my body is starting to need a moment, but it’s not to the point of breakdown. I stop and breathe deep. I repeat mantras, say a quick prayer and keep going. It was Ben’s first day back to work and I knew the anxiety would creep in.

I’m in the middle of changing Virginia’s diaper when it occurs to me, this too, is familiar. Not the diaper change, well I mean obviously that is familiar, but the being left alone. I am getting a little tired of the familiarity that comes in so many different waves. I mean, it’s not like a want a fresh terror every day, I just sometimes wonder what it would be like to have less of an understanding. This moment, like so many others recently, takes me back to transplant.

Thirty days, that’s how long I needed to have someone with me when I came home from the hospital. I could not be left alone, and I only left the house for doctor’s appointments, wearing a mask and carrying hand sanitizer. But then, those 30 days end and it’s me and Petey and Virginia. The three of us, left to navigate the days, the process of healing, of keeping ourselves isolated. I realize the day is on my shoulders and that Ben going to work can increase my risk of infection if he brings anything home. And so, as I’m changing Virginia’s diaper, I realize we’ve been here before. We’ve said goodbye to Ben during the day as he went back to work and we learned to navigate this new normal.

The angry butterflies, for lack of a better term to describe the feelings that creep in, come when I start to really think about what the day or week entails. But they are really good at coming on when they see a connection to current life and post-transplant life. When things start to get too familiar my mind doesn’t handle it well.

First it was the stay at home orders, then it was needing to wear a mask everywhere you went, the smell of the mask as I sat in the providers office at the cancer clinic and now I’m back to navigating taking care of a small child while trying to work and navigate those feelings. This time I’m healing in different ways, but I still have a long way to go. It’s heavy.

I recall the long days, the sleepless nights. I remember how often I found myself feeling alone and crying. Trying to navigate this new normal.

New normal. Isn’t that what we’re saying now? That we’re all trying to navigate this new normal. Except it’s not that new for me and that’s where the anxiety comes in. It remembers the things I try to move past, and it feeds on that and it’s exhausting.

Last time I had a few months before I went back to work and when I did it was part-time, from home. Now I’m looking at trying to be a full-time worker and a full-time parent. Being present for both, not letting anything fall. There are so many, many people in this boat with me. There are headlines after headlines about the balance. How living rooms are now offices, schools and playrooms. And for many it’s a brand-new feeling. It’s one I remember well, and one that I don’t feel I ever mastered. If we’re being honest with ourselves, I don’t think anyone really masters it. Because you can’t give multiple things 100% all the time. You must focus one way or another.

I try to start my days early so that I can get some time in before Virginia wakes. I tell people I do it so I have time to myself, time to focus, time to do things that I couldn’t otherwise do if she was awake. But honestly, I hate her seeing me tied to a computer. I understand that she may not remember any of this, but I wouldn’t want her memories of this time to be of my glued to my screen, tossing her animal crackers and asking her to just sit and watch TV until I’m done. That’s not fair to her or me. I know we’re living in unprecedented times and there is so much fear and unknown, but she doesn’t know that and I’d rather her not.

Truthfully, we’re all walking a tightrope right now. It doesn’t matter if you have human children or fur children or you live alone. You’re faced with this new challenge and you’re learning to balance your regular responsibilities with this new world. You’re learning to try to maintain a sense of normalcy for yourself when nothing is anywhere close to normal. You’re trying to remind yourself to enjoy the sunshine and take some time for yourself, all while being surrounded by an undercurrent of fear and unknown.

It’s hard enough to balance regular life when there isn’t a pandemic. We need to remember to be kind to ourselves. Social media and news outlets alternate between telling us about the wolves outside our doors and then how we should be living right now. The new hobbies we should be picking up, the mediation we should be adding in, the screen time we should be avoiding, the breathing techniques we should be using. We talk about avoiding going to stores unless it’s necessary, but on the next breath we highlight different home improvement projects you can tackle with all this new time you have.

Except you don’t. Because this isn’t a vacation. This isn’t the free time you’ve been dreaming of. If you’re home right now, it’s for a reason. Maybe you’re working from home, maybe you’re quarantined, maybe you lost your job. There are a whole host of reasons you could be home right now, but none of them are because you’re on vacation. So, you do what you need to do, what you can do. And it will not matter how you decide to use your time, people will see a flaw in it. If you’re just keeping your head above water, there will be people who think you should be doing more. If you’re getting projects done that you’ve been avoiding, people will think you should be doing less. That’s how fear works sometimes, at least that’s what I believe. It makes people look to others and judge rather than looking at themselves. I mean, that’s easier, right?

I don’t know where you’re at right now. Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle like me, where some days you get your work in, take care of stuff around the house and maybe even get some movement in and other days you overeat animal crackers and just keep the household alive. Or maybe you’re barely keeping your head above water and you have no idea how you’re going to handle the next day. Or perhaps you’re crushing it all, getting all the projects done and pushing forward. Whatever you’re doing, it’s OK. You’re doing the best you can, with what you have under the current circumstances and honestly, it’s not anyone’s place to tell you you’re doing it right or wrong. It’s actually never anyone’s place to tell you that, but especially now.

So, no matter where you are, I’m proud of you. You’re showing up and that is the most important thing you can do right now. So, keep putting one foot in front of the other and rest when you need to. But remember, however you’re navigating things right now is OK and it’s yours to own, not anyone else.

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Getty image via Olha Khorimarko

Originally published: May 13, 2020
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