We Can't Be Superwomen Forever So Stop Expecting It During COVID
“Welcome to 6 months of 14 days to flatten the curve.”
I saw that on Facebook recently and while I tend to be an optimistic and positive person, this one got to me. Maybe because of where I am emotionally lately and Facebook algorithms have the ability to read our minds and feel our body language, I’ve been inundated with posts that mirror how I feel right now. To simplify: overwhelmed and depleted.
I am a firm believer in protecting others. So at the beginning of COVID, I was on board with self-isolation, staying indoors and wearing a mask. I had friends on Facebook that argued this was a slippery slope into removing our rights and I thought, “oh come on! We can do this for the betterment of others!” Then I had friends who posted about the increased suicide rates of the younger generations and the increase in abuse with those quarantined with their abusers. And that was hard to read because I knew they were right. And then after five-and-a-half months, I started to feel it myself. I’m just over it.
And my guess is that you are, too.
I posted on Facebook recently about how as moms, we are REALLY feeling it. It’s not that dads aren’t, too, but more moms take on the increased tasks. I’m seeing articles about how men’s careers are excelling right now while moms are having to quit their jobs to stay at home with children. We’re going to see a major gender disparity in the workforce in a few years because of this pandemic even worse than it was before 2020.
As a Director of Communications, I go back and forth of working from home and working in the office. I stress over my team and the stress they have. I’m more involved in their daily lives than non-military companies might be. I know when they travel outside of SoCal, when they don’t feel well, when they’re stressing over taking care of young children and distance learning or taking care of at-risk family members. And I FEEL it on a personal level because I care about their well-being while also prioritizing the mission. While some employees working from home have slowed down, my work has increased at a rate that I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain but I didn’t expect COVID to last this long so I thought I could manage until it was over.
As a mom, I’m also trying to keep my kids’ spirits up but I can tell that they’re feeling it, too. One had his future come to a sudden halt because he was trying to join the Marine Corps when this all started. PT was halted, the rock-climbing gym was closed and all he had left was to work at a grocery store while angry and stressed customers yelled at him because they were out of bread. He then switched gears and decided to focus on college, but schools are closed and he doesn’t learn well via distance learning.
The youngest does better on distance learning but only if I am there every morning to make sure he logs into each class and does every assignment. If I go into the office to manage and support the team that can’t telework, he doesn’t do his assignments. If I’m home, I manage being on meetings with constant kid interruptions. The hardest part is that the school promised to put everything onto one platform to make it easy for kids and parents. I was excited because I’ve used Canva in college many years ago. But instead, the teachers just use it to put up links to Zoom, but the next teachers uses MS Teams. The next uses Big Ideas Math, then FlipGrid and so on. The assignments aren’t always in the assignment tab, some are in the weekly agenda tab, others in the To Do task bar. There is no consistency. He misses his friends and horseback riding and he’s bouncing off the walls because he can’t do anything.
Add to all of this that my husband is a Marine. He doesn’t telework. His mission continues and he works later and later each day. I’ve taken on the cooking because I may be juggling 500 things a day but I’m home 75% of the time doing it. And no one can go outside because it’s 129 degrees on our patio (not exaggerating) and the state is on fire. I’ve had to cancel a girls’ spa day for the last four weekends straight as our governor says football can open back up but not nail salons.
There was a week where my hair stylist was open, and I jumped at the chance to go somewhere that wasn’t work or the grocery store. While sitting in the chair with my mask on, a woman walked in. She was in tears asking if there were any openings, she just needed to get out of the house. I could tell she was embarrassed, but I felt it, too. She talked about how she only works and cares for an at-risk family member and she just needed to get her hair done to feel human again. So we cried with her because we knew how that felt.
Counseling appointments have been cancelled. Minor surgeries for me and my son (wisdom teeth) need to be rescheduled. But more than all of that, I just feel “done.” I NEVER feel done. I thrive on deadlines, on high stress situations, on getting things completed. I immediately shifted into my normal mode: exceeding expectations and getting things done when everyone says it’s impossible. As a titleholder, I switched to virtual volunteering and teaching child sexual abuse courses online. But this week, I could tell something was wrong. This week, I felt it. Depleted.
And then a friend sent me an article about surge capacity that helped me makes sense of it:
Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different — the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely.
“The pandemic has demonstrated both what we can do with surge capacity and the limits of surge capacity,” says Masten. When it’s depleted, it has to be renewed. But what happens when you struggle to renew it because the emergency phase has now become chronic?
Ok, that makes sense. I can understand surge capacity. But there is no end in sight. Europe is going back on lockdown due to a large second wave that is bigger than the first wave. History tells me that the U.S. could be just a few weeks away from similar situations.
So I started looking for answers:
- Expect less from yourself
That made me feel better about how I haven’t made the bed for weeks except after I wash the sheets. I work out 3 times a week instead of 5. I’ve been forcing myself to paint more and allowing myself to watch more episodes of my favorite show – something I never did until 2020. We have to replenish more than we did previously. We have to find new ways to get our energy and that means doing less. We can’t be superhuman for extended periods of time.
- Grieve the temporary loss of your support systems
Never have I wanted to attend church more than now. I realize that it’s because I’m craving support systems that I use to have constant access to and I no longer do. Church, counseling, brunch with girlfriends, kids going to school. All of it has been taken away from us for much longer than we expected. My church is now doing a “socially distant brown bag dinner” in the parking lot because they recognize that we are all struggling. I’ll probably attend depending on whether I can get myself to feel like getting in the shower and doing something with my hair. Virtual meetings have not made me feel that need lately.
- Shower and do your hair
I’ve never been the kind of person who “needs” to get ready for work to work from home. I do great in yoga pants and a bun with no make-up. But now, in this extended version of self-isolation, I realized I’m going longer and longer in between “getting ready” and it’s taking a toll on me. So now I have to force myself to get ready for no reason other than to lift my mood.
- Find a hobby – any hobby
I have to force myself away from technology and I can’t go outside in this heat. Krav Maga is closed. Horses are shut in. My usual hobbies aren’t accessible to me so that leaves painting, something I really love now and am grateful for in this environment. I’m so grateful I did an in-home office remodel in March and added a corner for an easel and paints. Painting has become my therapy. This week, I also found myself writing again – something I LOVE but haven’t found the time to do. Now I’m making time because I know my mental health needs it.
- Give yourself grace
I’m really hard on myself when I feel like I’m not getting enough done, but lately there is no way I can possibly catch up. I’ve decided that it’s time to be gentle with myself and stop mentally beating myself up. I think that might help you, too. And, I bought Epson Salt bubble bath and a bath caddy, then paid someone to deep clean my house. Because right now, I need all the help I can get!