Presence During Pandemic

depression, motherhood, quarantine

For me, quarantine started off strong. I felt extremely equipped to live life in lock down. I was already staying home with my son, Ezra, and we were already going out to explore parks several times a week so it felt like not much had changed for the first month and a half. My partner, Alex, was able to work from home so we were all safe. 

But I knew something was wrong when, on a beautiful spring afternoon, I went jogging and didn’t feel elated. Usually the combination of physical activity, beautiful weather, and sunshine makes me feel so happy like I’m just bursting out of my skin with gratitude. But I felt frustrated, and like everything was a struggle. 

This feeling persisted and grew. The difficulty of not easily being able to run errands or leave the house and go anywhere indoors, the isolation of not being able to see friends or go to our usual haunts like Free Forest School gatherings, playground meetups, and our weekly story-time began to wear on me as did the behavior of those who didn’t believe the virus was a big deal. Ezra’s changing emotional landscape felt more difficult to endure without the release valve of community to help me blow off steam on difficult days. I began to feel impatient with Ezra, something that I was not used to feeling.

I was comparing myself to how I felt the previous year when life felt full of hope and joy because I had just quit my job to be a stay at home mom, a change I had been longing for and thoroughly enjoying. But the change in daily enjoyment that lock down brought made me feel like I was no longer able to enjoy being home with Ezra and was wasting the opportunity.

I was feeling like life was on hold until we could safely leave lock down and also feeling major scarcity because this time at home with Ezra as a young child is fleeting and precious. I stayed home in order to be able to experience it and here I was stagnating and wishing the time away. I felt guilt and disappointment. I kept coming back to the phrase “this wasn’t what it was supposed to be like” and all I could do was spiral down into thoughts of what I enjoyed about life pre-covid and mourn for the loss. 

I did all the things you’re supposed to do to feel happy. I journaled, maintained a robust daily gratitude practice, slept enough at night, ate healthy foods, exercised, got plenty of sun and time in nature, gave myself permission to relax, communicated with friends… but none of those things worked and I continued to spiral down into anxious and angry thoughts basically all the time. 

Here are a few things that did help

Therapy

I assessed the length of time that I’d been unable to pull myself out of depression as a sign that I needed outside help. I had tried to find a therapist during my postpartum time but the tedious combination of insurance restrictions, getting a therapist to return my calls, and finding someone who didn’t have a three month-long wait list made me give up and eventually it was no longer a priority. 

This time I circumvented many of those obstacles by signing up with Betterhelp.com and was immediately assigned a therapist (the first one was not helpful, the second one was the charm) and I was able to virtually meet with someone who helped me scale up and out of some of the deeper pits I’d been stuck in. 

Quarantine Journal

Two of the fears I fixated on were that this was a wasted time and that life was on hold until quarantine was over, which, in turn, made me feel fear and scarcity because this is the only time I’ll have at home with Ezra as a young child. The answer to overcoming these fears is actually ongoing, but was also right in front of my face. I’ve been rehashing what I want to remember from the quarantine and  more deeply experiencing the good times I’ve had since it started (rather than the good times from the “before” times) that have made this experience something to cherish. This has helped immensely. What that looks like for me is working on a quarantine journal which I plan to make into a book (just for my family) in order to memorialize this historic time and also to directly remind myself that, even though I am struggling and suffering and not enjoying life as much as I used to, there are indeed wonderful moments happening for my family which are worth remembering. 

Right around the time that I started working on this journal, my mother said she found a box of old letters in the garage. Some were from the seventies when she and my dad and brother first moved to America from the UK. The letters were from my grandmother keeping in touch after the move and also saying how much she missed getting to see my brother grow up. My mother spent the day reading these letters and amidst the loneliness of this experience she was able to feel more deeply connected to her family. It was also like a time capsule that she was able to joyfully look back on. This felt like a sign, an encouragement to create my own time capsule that can one day be used as a way to reconnect with this period of time. 

No, this isn’t a wasted time, I can see that now. I’m making a keepsake of the things that I will always remember fondly during this worldwide event. I’m memorializing my experience for my family and for myself, to remind myself that I am living life and living through experiences that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Life isn’t on hold and one of the ways for me to fully grasp that is to recount, preserve, and commemorate these experiences.

Integration 

I only ever have two breaks from the constant and unbridled attention of a two year old: nap time and bed time. Into these few hours I’ll try to fit journaling, cleaning, exercise, making art, communicating with friends, meditation, showering, eating, down time, and basically anything else at all that I want to do. Most of the time I’m exhausted during these windows of time and really need to unwind and I feel like it’s hard to get anything done. 

The answer that I’ve been working on is to integrate all these things into my time with Ezra. To not keep my life with Ezra, and my life full of things I enjoy doing while Ezra is asleep, so separate. 

The other day, the importance of this was made clear when Ezra brought out his purple ukulele and began to strum while he sang “daisy, daisy.” It was so beautiful it made me tear up with love and gratitude for this gentle, creative child. The reason he knows to play guitar and sing is because he sees his daddy doing that. A few weeks ago when Alex’s parents visited for the first time since the quarantine started, we lit our Shabbat candles on Friday night. Our ritual includes each of us sharing one thing that we’re grateful for. Ezra said that he was grateful for living life playing with Grandma and Grandpa. He knows how to do this because he sees gratitude practiced daily. I always include him when making a daily gratitude video that I send to my friend (it’s called magical morning practice and I highly recommend it). 

Ezra is learning at all times from what he sees his parents doing. There are so many things that I enjoy that I would love to pass on to Ezra and be able to enjoy doing with him one day. There is no way that he will pick these things up from me if he doesn’t see me doing them. He won’t learn to dance or make art from watching his mommy doing it if I separate those parts of my life from him. 

I’ve started trying to have daily dance parties together. I play music and dance around with him. Specifically, I play jazz music so he can see what it’s like to dance to this music. I also keep asking Alex to dance with me (and sometimes he does!) so Ezra can see partner dancing. Swing dancing has been such a huge part of our experience together and our identities for over a decade and it feels unacceptable for Ezra to not know about this part of our lives. And if I want him to be able to experience it and enjoy it then I need to introduce it to him consistently. 

Quarantine Friend

Another thing that was weighing heavily on my mind was Ezra going through such a significant portion of his life with no other children to interact with. A time when he should be developing his ability to play with other kids, he only has me to play with and I was feeling really burned out, inadequate, and resentful (and guilty). 

So I reached out to one of my friends with a two year old that I used to see a few times a week in the before times. We’d kept in contact and both decided that we wanted to take the risk of letting our kids play together. We had both been living in a way that was careful and isolated and so we brought our kids to a park that we used to frequent before lock down and immediately I realized how much of a necessity it was to do this.

I was scared that Ezra would be stunted in his ability to play with other kids but as soon as we showed up the two boys took off running down the trail together. 

In the before times, Ezra was always the kid who stayed at the back of the hiking group when we used to do Free Forest School. He’d be way behind everyone else because he was inspecting everything and so we’d fall really far behind the group but here he was running gleefully with his friend. He immediately started learning swimming techniques from this other child who had taken swim lessons before lock down (and is also about four months older). 

It’s also been incredibly good for my mental health to have another person to talk to and interact, learn, and grow with outside of my family. 

In Conclusion

I can’t say that things are 100% better regarding my mental health while moving through this seemingly unending global crisis. I’m feeling more hopeful. I also feel like I’m able to better acknowledge and leverage the good moments to help pull me out of the depression and anxiety spirals I was finding myself stuck in.

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