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Look at the room around you. Without a doubt, it has changed over the last few weeks. Where there was tidiness now there are kids’ toys and school projects or work computers and stacks of paper. Where there had been a space for your blazer to hang on the back of the chair after a long day, now there is the sweatshirt you’ve been meaning to wash since last Thursday.
COVID-19 – the Coronavirus – is present all the time. It’s on our minds. It’s the elephant in the room. From those living alone and feeling the grasp of solitude even more fully, to the partners competing for “work from home” space, to the parents now trying to add homeschool teacher to their invisible load, along with extra responsibilities, questions, concerns, and maybe even some guilt about how they are handling this.
It’s not just the concern for the world or the anxiety for the health of your loved ones. It’s being a social butterfly or having one in your home that is now irritable, suffocated by isolation. It’s having to re-learn 3rd grade math and fear you’re not cut out to be a teacher so your kid could suffer academically forever. It’s worrying that telling your kids the world is a dark and scary place right now might traumatize them, but it’s probably worse to tell them everything is fine… Right? It’s not knowing the next time you’ll see your aging mother. It’s not knowing if you’ll keep your job or find a new one in all this. It’s wondering if your spouse was always this messy, annoying, and loud. Wondering how there is so much laundry if everyone wears pajamas all day? Is it wrong to wear pajamas all day? Can the washing machine even wash off coronavirus if there are germs on the clothes?? Did we even buy enough laundry detergent to get through this? Everything adds to that invisible load.
Everyone carries an invisible load every day. Parents juggle soccer practice, teaching kids how to handle bullies, keeping the house clean while living life, being a present partner, and still having some semblance of personhood. Partners balance how to build their career with how that affects their partner, their dreams as individuals and as a unit, and their roles as a person and a significant other. People, in general, have their health, their families, their goals, their future, and their shoulds and wants and needs. So this is no different, except it is. It is massively different. And it’s going to be. It might even be different forever. And that might just have to be okay. If these words about normal stress versus these new stressors in a changed environment have you feeling panicky, that’s fine. You’re allowed to feel panicky. It is valid to feel overwhelmed and overstretched and confined and sad and confused. Feel those feelings.
This is a time to stretch our creativity muscles. I don’t mean by learning a new language or picking up an instrument or becoming a Youtube chef or a TikTok star. I mean in those day-to-day moments where normalcy has been broken: teaching kids, having friends, getting groceries, ruptured vacations and events, altered or lost careers. The days are long, yet somehow blur. There is nothing certain beyond tomorrow and specific due dates for homework or work projects. What is worth holding onto from before? What really isn’t? What does it mean to be functioning NOW in this quarantined, socially distanced environment? This is a life nothing like what was happening before, and it’s okay to hold a space for however that makes us feel, and it’s also okay to let go of whatever normal was before and change our ways. Maybe your family doesn’t need Taco Tuesday anymore, but they could use a music break after lunch every day. Maybe you and your partner set up a time where you DON’T watch a movie together after sharing the same office all day. You’re allowed to not know what would make this better. You’re allowed to hold onto the habits you need to feel centered. You’re allowed to change completely. This is new and unprecedented, and we’re all stuck with a new pet elephant that lives in every corner of our lives.
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