How are you? If you’re feeling frayed with worry about pretty much every aspect of your life, then we’re in the same boat. Today’s new ‘normal,’ with ever-changing information to process and restrictions on our daily lives, leaves us all feeling physically exhausted by stress yet unable to rest and regroup. Instead, we feel a deep and unshakeable sense of uncertainty about what’s to come.
But social isolation and me, we’re old friends — and I know that this new “normal” will get easier to navigate. About a decade ago, a life-threatening medical crisis struck both of my children simultaneously and without warning. In an instant, I was hurled out of the driver’s seat of my own life and had to figure out my new normal.
Making tough decisions out of love
I am a healthy person. Yet I’ve lived in social isolation and physical distancing restrictions, on and off, for many years. In fact, my whole family has. The fragile health of my children still takes center stage in most every decision made within my household. We have sacrificed countless gatherings with family and friends, playdates, trips to restaurants, and even the grocery store because the risk of exposing our children to illness has been too great.
The decisions to stay home bring with them deep disappointment — both to my household and to those we don’t get to see. It’s incredibly hard to say “no” to people you care about. Each time, I find myself apologizing for decisions that are out of my control, drying tears, giving hugs, supporting others when I also need support. I truly wish I didn’t have to make these decisions, but I’ll make tough decisions out of love, all day every day, to keep my loved ones safe.
‘You’ve got this’
Much like my own crisis, the COVID-19 crisis is one without a clear solution. The only way forward is to beat this beast at its own game. The spread of the coronavirus thrives on togetherness and so we must resolve to exist apart. But living separated from our friends and loved ones is hard. There’s no sugarcoating that.
One upside to my experiences, though, is that I adapted quickly to this round of social isolation. I knew that it would push my limits, both physically and emotionally. I knew that it would be hard to stay true to the ‘rules’ of social isolation, especially when my kids beg for normalcy. I knew that when I feel weak in my resolve to maintain healthy boundaries, I’ll look myself in the mirror and say, “You’ve got this” — because hearing it in my own voice brings me the resolve to dig deep and find my strength.
Tips for enduring social isolation
Whether our bouts of social isolation last days, weeks or years, I rely on a few ‘go-to’ actions to get me through. Perhaps you’ll find they help you and your family too.
Let it out. First, I admit that there is nothing I like about the situation at hand and that I hate it for making me angry and scared. Then I share my feelings with a couple of people I trust, because saying it out loud gets it off my chest. I also find relief in letting out one big primal scream into my pillow. These actions acknowledge the situation and my feelings about it for what they are — major downers. Once that box is checked, I can move on, feeling focused on what needs to be done.
Put on your game face. While I could spend all day in my pajamas and never brush my hair, I make a concerted effort to shower or wash my face, change my clothes, and brush my teeth each morning. On really tough days, I put on makeup and make my bed, too. These small acts help me to create a sense of order for myself. Once done, I feel more prepared to tackle what comes my way that day.
Control what you can. Social isolation takes my sense of control and chucks it out the window. I absolutely loath feeling helpless, so I focus on controlling what I can control, today. Getting up and dressed in the morning, completing household chores, taking on a project I’ve been meaning to do forever, reaching out to a family member or friend to connect —when I complete these tasks, I gain a feeling of control. These small wins build my confidence.
Weathering the storm
I’ve been called a warrior, a force, an inspiration for what I’ve endured, what I’ve helped bring my family through. In truth, I am an ordinary person who found myself faced with extraordinary circumstances and adapted because I had to. Today, you find yourself in my shoes, as together we face COVID-19.
When the dust settles and we emerge from our social isolation bubbles, I will still be me and you will still be you, but we will be different. We will mourn the parts of our old lives that didn’t come through the battle intact. Yet we will be wiser. We will look at the world through a slightly softer lens. We will appreciate the small kindnesses and gestures from others just a little bit more. We will cherish handshakes and hugs in a way that feels almost wondrous at times. We will be more resilient to future challenges. We will look in the mirror and see a better person, spouse, parent, child, friend, neighbor, and coworker for having weathered the storm.
So learn from my experience. It will require tough decisions each and every day. But hold the line; do not feed the beast. You can do this. I’ve got your back.
Katie Litterer is a mom to 11-year-old twins and family partnerships coordinator at Boston Children’s Hospital.
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