I’m an introvert. Wayne, Alice, and my father-in-law are extroverts. We all live in the same house. Up until today, I had been doing pretty okay with the pandemic. I have lots of quiet activities that I can do. I’ve been procrasticleaning and procrastiplanning to my heart’s content. I have books, projects, workouts, recipes, binge-watching, and all sorts of things to occupy my body and mind. I’m basically an indoor cat.
Wayne, Alice, and Wayne Sr. are not indoor cats. Wayne Sr. is the quiet and loyal family dog who needs to go out twice a day for a long walk but is otherwise content snuggling with the family. Wayne is a platypus. He spends all of his time hunting (focusing on work 90% of the time), his comfort food is meat, and when you least expect it, he waddles into goofy town. Alice is a bunnaroo. A bunnaroo is a cross between a bunny and a kangaroo. She never stops. At times she can be the sweetest little cuddle… until she explodes into jutting arms and legs and jumping. This is probably where I get all of my mystery bruises.
To all the introverts stuck in houses with extroverts, I see you. I see you trying to keep your extroverted loved ones happy and healthy. I see you hiding in the bathroom for an extra few minutes (or at least until someone notices that you’re gone). We’re all in this together, in separate houses, but united by our love for being hermits. We’ll make t-shirts. It will be fun.
So what do you do when you don’t match your family’s pandemic style? Well, Wayne and I are trying to find the right family balance to keep ourselves from burning out during the long haul. Wayne Sr. (who I don’t talk about often enough) works delivering auto parts and is considered part of the essential workforce. He’s seventy years old and gets to leave the house every day. He’s got a fancy letter and everything. Alice is… well, she’s almost 3 and currently learning the “you can’t always get what you want” lesson. She’s taking it pretty hard. There are a lot of tantrums, complete with stomping around, crying, snot, and then sulking away from everyone.
This morning (actually Monday, because I make these all the day before) I woke up anxious. As someone with good control over my anxiety, I took notice.
I don’t have anything specific that seems to be bothering me. It’s a general feeling of anxiety that I can’t shake. It’s in my bones, my chest, and my thoughts won’t stop racing. I’m plagued by bunnaroos in my mind. “I have to pee. Maybe if I made a pie with apples AND blueberries… Alice needs—what was the name of that book with the lady who turns into animals? I can’t… Wait, that’s a weird noise. AND IIIIIIIIIII-Yi-IIIIIIII will always LOVE YOOOOOOOOOOUUUU!”
This anxiety could be a lot of things. My best guess? Reality is starting to catch up with me.
Here’s a useful tool: Take out a sheet of paper. Draw a big circle in the middle. On the outside of the circle, list out all the things that you think about that you cannot control, no matter how hard you try. Examples might be the weather, the price of tea in China, or becoming Spider-Man. Inside the circle, write out things that you definitely can control, like what you eat for breakfast, how you choose to spend your time, or where you hide the cookies from the kids.
Lastly, find a highlighter. Highlight all the things, both inside and outside of the circle, that you have been spending most of your attention on. There’s your self-check-in. Are you spending more time worrying about things on the outside of the circle? Are you focused on things you cannot control?
When a crisis happens, I immediately focus on the things in my life that I can control. Having anxiety and depression has oddly prepared me for these moments in life. I take note of important information that is outside of my control and then use it appropriately to modify the things within my control. In a way, I become the glue… only it’s a lot easier to be the glue when you don’t have to keep it together for anyone other than yourself.
When things are hard, I find the strength to increase my patience and reduce my frustration level. I become even more compassionate, understanding, and at times will fall into a “Hakuna Matata” level of zen. I just don’t know how long I can sustain it.
I am reminded daily that, although Wayne Sr. isn’t working in a hospital or grocery store, he’s in an age bracket where he is more susceptible to COVID-19. Delivering auto parts is probably one of the safer essential services being provided right now—he doesn’t work with customers and he doesn’t handle money. He’s still at risk. He’s still on the front lines as an essential worker.
My Canadian Mum is a nurse. She manages several nursing homes. She’s on the front lines every day. My Dad is a lawyer. People still need lawyers so he goes into the office. I have friends that work at the grocery stores, family members that are doctors and teachers, people that I care about who are manning the fast-food windows and delivering dinner to your door.
I can’t control COVID-19. I can only control my actions. I can do everything in my power to keep people safe by staying home. I can be the glue in hopes of preventing my family from going completely off the rails. I can provide a level of normalcy.
Until I can’t anymore, at least.
Today is just one anxious day. Knowing myself, if I take it easy and focus on self-care, I’ll be back in fighting shape tomorrow. My only real concern now is, how long can I do this?