Several weeks ago, when Jessica and I first started discussing the possibility of a two-part, pandemic-focused series on the topics of uncertainty and hope, we were struck by the correlation of these themes with Good Friday and Easter; the corresponding emotions of anxious uncertainty and hope felt especially relevant. As we reflected together on our own experiences and the experiences of those around us, it became clear that this current season of uncertainty has presented unique challenges for all of us. We have all painstakingly weighed priorities in an attempt to determine what’s safest for ourselves and our families while also being most feasible within the limits of our circumstances. Although there has been a diversity of experiences, the unifying theme of stress has been woven throughout.
As a full-time, stay-at-home parent, I initially underestimated the impact pandemic-related restrictions would have on my life. As the weeks turned into months, it struck me recently that although it’s now been over a year, I’m still struggling to settle into a rhythm of activities based strictly within the confines of our home. Throughout this season, I have tried my best to concurrently fill multiple roles as entertainer, distracter, comforter, confidant, friend, playmate, educator, parent, and disciplinarian during this social-restricted, non-stop, round-the-clock rotation. I realize that’s part of the deal of being a stay-at-home parent; but in the depths of the most difficult times this past year, when we hadn’t seen anyone for months, the necessity of filling multiple roles without the benefit of help from family and friends felt particularly overwhelming and unsustainable. I failed time and again attempting to achieve a balance between maintaining perpetual family and home responsibilities while also trying to take care of myself.
Even though there are many challenges to parenting young children during a pandemic, one of the biggest hurdles for me has been adjusting to a wide-open schedule with all the unstructured time that has resulted from closures and recommended guidance for social limitations. It has required a surprising amount of energy to create a structure and fill the day with pandemic-friendly activities when there are few opportunities for interactions with others or outside-the-home stimulation to offer distractions. While the loves-to-be-in-control side of me has enjoyed aspects of the opportunity for complete control, the flip side has been that time itself has felt illusory and planning out an entire day has, at times, felt daunting. And yet, to add to my stress, at the end of the day I wonder where the time has gone as I realize, with a pang of self-imposed guilt, that I hardly accomplished anything.
This issue of the intimidating, wide-open schedule has been compounded by the fact that through it all, I have maintained my innate desire to be perpetually busy, despite dealing with inexplicable weariness. Although keeping up with my little ones is a busy task, I still experience unplanned free moments when my kids are happily playing and my mind seizes the opportunity to wander. Rather than taking a moment to breathe and simply be, instead I often find myself confronting a relentless cycle of overthinking and then dealing with the inevitable emotional spirals that result from my internal avalanche of questions. Without the benefit of being preoccupied with a busy schedule, I often find myself fixating on a barrage of swirling thoughts often related to life’s purpose, the inevitability of mortality, and general anxiety over the unknowable, uncontrollable future.
Although there were literally just a handful of times where I was physically alone this past year, I frequently struggled with a sense of loneliness and a lack of motivation. These experiences often fed my insecurities, broke down my defenses, and fostered doubt and existential anxiety in unexpected ways. Often, these emotional burdens stemmed from innocuous sources like guilt from my increased reliance on television as a distraction. Other times, my spirals were rooted in more complex causes, such as fighting unexpected exhaustion, feeling helpless to make any positive changes in a struggling world, feeling discouraged regarding my value to society as a stay-at-home mom, and feeling frustrated over being unable to simply enjoy more moments with my kids. I can freely acknowledge it’s been a difficult season, but I have had a harder time accepting my troubled emotions and lack of energy with grace and understanding.
Of course, if I had given myself permission to listen to the much quieter, kinder messages of truth, I would have been reminded that we are all doing our best, that we are all struggling, that we are all exhausted. If I had more often extended grace and comfort to myself, I could have quietly reassured my anxiety and accepted my exhaustion as a normal part of the season. Ideally, this would have helped me internalize hope and peace. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to rely on truth and comfort throughout this season. Instead, the chaos of uncertainty augmented my insecurities.
As I reflected on this past year, I realized that while this season has highlighted so many uncertainties, at the same time it has also focused on one certainty: death. As if to emphasize this fact, there’s been no shortage of tragedies to break the heart. Behind every death count statistic are individual people who suffered. An untold number of individuals have had to face new realities of unemployment, limited access to critical resources, complete disruptions in life. Of course, through it all, the world carried on, injustice continued, violence continued, unimaginable hardships continued.
Throughout the unrelenting news cycles, it has been difficult to not become consumed with sorrow. The issues seem especially insurmountable and I have felt helpless knowing there hasn’t been much I could do to make a difference. This has caused incessant pondering of heavy, unanswerable questions: How do I attempt to stay informed with what’s going on in the world without being completely consumed with the tragedies? How do I confront my guilt over my own experiences which seem insignificant compared to the magnitude of loss experienced by so many? How do I live with purpose and meaning when confronted with a daily deluge of reminders on the inevitability of death?
Writing about the magnitude of this pandemic and the impact it has had on my emotions helped me recognize why I have been feeling exhausted. It is clear that several personal insecurities, coupled with navigating a difficult season, have contributed to many emotional spirals this past year. Eventually this season of uncertainty will shift, but until then, I will continue to fight the shadow of stress, doing my best to strain for quiet moments of hope.
Wendi, her husband, and their two kids live in Minnesota and are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and a member of the podcast Moms Who Wine.
photo credit: personal photo