I’ve lived with anxiety in varying gradients throughout my entire life. As a kid, I was considered “shy,” always hiding behind my mother or sister when introduced to new people. Throughout high school and young adulthood, I struggled to quiet my inner paranoia over how others perceived me, always “in my own head.” I averted my eyes when passing someone on the street, not comfortable enough to look up and say hello.
Now in my 40s with a child of my own, I’ve mastered the many challenges my social anxiety presents, finding healthy ways to keep my self-inflicted fears in check. No longer dependent on two to three glasses of wine to feel comfortable in social situations, I’ve struck a manageable balance of social engagements and “me” time. My anxiety is not a limit anymore, and I’ve flourished. Then came COVID-19, a worldwide crisis that has brought many of us to our knees. My anxiety has resurfaced to an astonishing degree, an ever-persistent lump in my throat that I can’t seem to eradicate.
As an introvert, I require a lot of time alone to function at my best. If I don’t get enough time to myself, I become extremely stressed and anxious. Little things turn into massive obstacles that feel impossible to overcome. At my worst, I freeze, unable to forge ahead until I have a chance to recharge on my own. I’ve developed an acceptance of the fact I require a steady stream of self-care and do my best to make it happen. But with COVID-19, quarantine, and social distancing, it’s become almost impossible to make time for uninterrupted self-care.
My son, a very social first grader, is quite my opposite socially, and thrives on interaction — lots of it. Thanks to the coronavirus, all of his typical outlets: playdates with friends, swim lessons, trips to the playground, museums, gym, and even school, are nonexistent. He relies on me in ways he never has, and I’m struggling to show up for him in the way he needs. On top of being his parent, I am now his teacher, his friend, his confidante, his playmate, and (besides electronics) his primary source of entertainment. I might be able to manage these roles, if only I could drop all of my responsibilities, work and home, and forget about my own needs.
As I struggle internally with unanswered questions related to the current pandemic and what the future holds for us globally, my son needs me in ways he never has before. His emotions are at an all-time high, and as a 6-year-old, he doesn’t have the tools to work through them on his own. He needs me, but at the same time, my own anxiety and fear screams unrelentingly inside my head. I made a decision that something had to give. And that something was not going to be my sanity. Struggling to control my own anxiety and now guide my son through his, I made a choice to let go. I let go of the notion that my house had to be spotless at all times. I let go of the idea that my son had to finish three hours of schoolwork every day, and I let go of the ideal that excessive screen-time made me a bad parent.
I came to a very important understanding, that as much as my son needs me, I need to show up and be there for myself. This means making the time for self-care every single day (usually in the form of a long walk with my dog listening to an audio book). There’s something about being outside in nature, lost in a good story, indulging in a moment of distraction from ever-present concerns COVID-19 has thrust upon me, that is simply reinvigorating. It’s a very simple ritual that recharges me just enough that I’m able to be present for my son, attending to his needs in the way he deserves.
I’ve accepted it’s OK if my child watches a lot more TV than he typically would, because we are going through unprecedented times, and sometimes it’s what I can handle. It’s OK if he has emotional outbursts that don’t make sense to me, because right now, I’m struggling to make sense of my own emotions. My job is to be there for him, to validate his feelings, and to comfort him; my job is to show up with an attitude of positivity, making the best of a tremendously difficult situation. To do that, I have to take care of myself first. After all, the only way out of this epidemic is through it.