View From Here: When did you hit the “COVID wall”?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Or are you on the “Corona-Coaster”? You know – “The ups and downs of the pandemic – you go from one day loving your bubble, baking banana bread, tending the garden and the next day to crying and drinking vodka for breakfast and missing people you don’t even really like.” Yep! We’re all on this wild ride, and it’s likely we’ll ride many more ‘coasters and hit a few more walls. Karen Olson provides an insightful look into parenting during these times and how we need to talk about our stress and struggles. We’re all “done with this virus”, but unfortunately it isn’t done with us yet. Remember the 3 W’s – WASH your hands, WEAR your mask, WATCH your distance! And take care of yourself. If you are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, there are resources and help. See the HELP & HOPE numbers below.

By Karen Olson
Marathon runners know the feeling of making it 17 or 21 or 23 grueling miles, only to discover that even one more step is too much. What was the moment (or moments) during the pandemic where you said, “I can’t keep doing this” or “this can’t possibly work anymore”?
There have been a thousand tiny terrible moments. Friends losing their jobs, hundreds of thousands losing their lives. The dawning understanding of the disease’s long-term health effects in survivors. The hurtful realization that many in the community refuse to follow public health guidelines for the good of others. And now, that children, families, caregivers, and teachers are the latest victims of political manipulation. I’m weary of being at the mercy of heartless folks who seem to care little or not at all about the lives and wellbeing of the most vulnerable.
Today it really started to sink in that my kids may not get to go to school again for a long time, or at least not in a way that truly keeps them and their beloved teachers safe. And I started to panic, knowing that we may not have any kind of safe, consistent, affordable childcare for the indefinite future. Not to mention the serious impacts this season may have on the kids’ growth, learning, and development.
My spouse and I are so, so fortunate that we have steady and flexible work, in a time when so many have had their hours slashed or their jobs disappear. We are incredibly lucky that we can adjust our schedules to care for our kids, that we don’t have to decide between leaving our underage children unsafe or unattended and earning a paycheck. Thank goodness for my partner, who carries more than their fair share of the pandemic schooling and household management. I’m not burdened with the stereotypical “second shift” that so many women deal with, now more than ever.
And yet, I am utterly exhausted by the fact that, with a few exceptions, the kids have been with us every minute since March. Either I’m working, or my spouse is, or we both are and the kids just have to come along for the ride. We joke that Disney Plus is the nanny, except it’s not a joke anymore. I feel sick inside every time I have to substitute a screen for actual caregiving, and yet I know that it could be a million times worse.
When I shared my personal COVID-19 wall on social media, I asked others to tell me their moment of feeling they couldn’t go on, that the effects of this pandemic were too painful to feel, too complicated to manage anymore. Often, I think we hesitate to speak publicly about the ways we are struggling or suffering, not wanting to complain or appear ungrateful for the ways we have been spared when others have not.
But if we never allow ourselves to admit to others that we are hitting the wall, we deprive our community of the opportunity to care for us. We lose out on empathy, because we can’t care about something we haven’t experienced and haven’t heard anyone talk about. I’m not speaking about fruitless complaining or endless venting. I’m talking about acknowledging to ourselves and others that we are in a long, difficult season, and in this moment, we need encouragement and help.
My heart is expanded when I hear about new grandmothers who couldn’t support their daughters in the birthing room or visit their infant grandchildren in the NICU. I grieve when I hear about someone missing the wedding of someone they love or having to delay a memorial service month after month. I’m moved to hear about those with depression and anxiety who are facing unprecedented challenges to their mental health. I’m angry for those who work with the public and have to bear the brunt of anti-mask ranting and inconsiderate, dangerous rejection of health and safety guidelines.
I’m not a kid anymore, but I can remember how profoundly disappointing it is to have a long-awaited event cancelled, so I can imagine how they must feel to lose out on field trips, or graduation, or summer camp. I’m not trying to plan for college, but I can see how frustrating it is to not know what will happen to higher education in the fall. As a working parent with young kids at home, I haven’t had to face the profound isolation of someone who lives alone during quarantine, but when I hear how painful it is, I can empathize. I don’t have to say, “my life is harder than yours;” I can simply say, “this is incredibly hard for all of us.”
When I hit the wall in the marathon, I felt profound shame. Surrounded by people who looked like they were still going strong, I felt foolish and weak for not being able to simply grit my teeth and carry on. Even one more step felt like too much, until a stranger saw I was struggling and came alongside me. “Keep going,” he said, “and here’s how.” He set the timer on his watch for one minute, and said, “run with me for one minute. You can do this.” I couldn’t, but I did. Then we walked side by side, strangers in silence, for three minutes, before he set his watch again. “Run with me for one minute,” he said, and we did.
Just like the stranger on mile 23 of the marathon, I want to do better at noticing when those around me are hitting their wall. I want to see that they are about to lose it, really hear them when they say they can’t carry on. I want to say, “walk with me for a minute. We can do this.”
We’re all experiencing this pandemic season differently. We each may be hitting the wall at a different time, for different reasons. But we’re not alone.
Here are resources for HELP & HOPE — Available to anyone, anytime: