I have been online more than usual in the past week as I’m sure many others have been. I’ve gotten the facts from the CDC, the hype from all manner of sources from the news to neighbors, and the revisionist history that is being spewed. I’ve seen the panic many people feel playing out in words on social media. I’ve seen the denial, the political posturing, and the mixed messages. And I’ve even enjoyed many of the caring posts and funny memes that are floating around.
As a former teacher, I have particularly enjoyed many of the humorous posts about trying to homeschool your children. “Homeschooling Day 2: Things are not going well. Had to expel two students and the teacher was fired for drinking on the job.” There are some that share the frustration of parents who don’t know how to do math the way their children learned. “Learn that you carry the 2. I don’t care what you learned at school, this works too!” And the reminders from teachers that if you are doing it well, you don’t get to go to the bathroom whenever you want unless you take them all with you.
I also see parents who are frustrated by having the children at home all day, every day. People who have families who would like to see a little distance now. I understand that. And the longer it goes on, the more crazy you make each other as you vent your frustrations. As you sound off on social media about the trials you face, remember that there are people who see your posts and envy you. Many are maneuvering through this in a time of loneliness and isolation—two things that can exacerbate fear, panic, and hopelessness.
There are single parents who are doing the same thing you are, but they are doing it without another adult to help, to talk to, or to lean on. I remember a friend, a single parent of three children, who had the chicken pox not running through her house but taking a leisurely stroll as it infected each child one at a time. She was stuck in the house for weeks on end with the children. My son hadn’t had them so I couldn’t go over there with him, but when he went to visit his father, I’d go over to give her a “break” when I wasn’t at work. I put that word in quotes because she spent that break going for groceries, stopping at the pharmacy, or doing other things that had to be done. These single parents now may have no one to come in to babysit while they get groceries. They are expected to teach the children or at least help them through assignments sent by their school. And for many of them, there isn’t even a quiet bath when they can count on being alone and uninterrupted.
A very long time ago when I was a single mom of a young child and my friend (the one with the three little ones) was at the same point in life, we found ourselves craving adult conversation and companionship in the evening. We would often end up on the phone. One would ask, what are you watching and we would tune into the same program. Then we’d watch TV “together” for an hour or two. The conversations would be much like sitting in a room with someone watching together. There would be long silences on the phone while we were engrossed. We would comment as things happened and chat during the commercials while making a snack. My friend Mary Cay calls now and we have found ourselves doing the same thing. It’s not the same as being in the room, but it offers companionship.
As this time stretches on, remember there are many, many people who, like me, are living alone. When we self-quarantine, we are left with no one to talk to in person and no one to eat with. We face hours of silence or television broken up by the calls of friends. I love to read but have found that the necessary concentration is lacking right now. I live alone and don’t mind doing so; however, right now it would be really nice to have someone to play a game with, take a walk with, and get a hug from. My schedule is usually busy, and I am out of the house and in contact with others almost daily. I have many friends who have called to check on me, and I call to check up on them as well. But it isn’t the same as being able to visit my son or cook dinner with my granddaughters. I would never do anything that would compromise my family’s health, but I would give anything to cuddle up on the couch with Lily, listen to Alyanna rehearse her song for the upcoming show, get a tour of the latest tech added to Chapin’s room, seen Nick’s smile and chuckle, and get a world-famous Lydan hug!
This is a time when people are facing new bouts with anxiety that they have not dealt with regularly. Others, who have suffered from anxiety and depression all of their lives, have had this piled on top of their usual suffering. They are probably in a dark place. If those suffering with mental health issues also happen to be single parents or living alone, it is difficult for anyone to assess where they are emotionally. Quite often I don’t let on that anything is wrong. I don’t reach out when I’m at my lowest because the depression tells me nobody cares anyway. I’ve been in a good place mentally through most of this, but the last couple of days had things that slammed me hard and left me sinking into my depression. They let me know how vigilant I need to be.
I know techniques to help me out, but it is sometimes hard to engage them when in the throes. I have to be careful to regulate what and how much media I take in. Too much news doesn’t panic me but puts me into a fatalistic state. If I listen to a press conference where I hear how “tremendous” the response has been through this when it is obvious that it hasn’t been, I want to scream. The news can take away any hope, but I need to know what is happening so it becomes a conundrum. Watching a “comedy” program yesterday that turned out to be absolutely depressing sent me down a spiral—especially because it dealt with people my age being alone and seen as irrelevant. I try not to envy others. But when I hear of another grandmother who does get to spend time with her granddaughter, I am jealous. It isn’t fair. She has a spouse AND a grandchild to spend time with…and then I’m digging back out again.
My depression tells me I am alone in this. My rational brain (when I can access it) knows that everyone is dealing with anxiety. Lots of people are alone. And there are many, many people who are in far worse shape than I am and dealing with much more than I am.
While we are quarantined, remember to reach out personally to someone. Offer to pick up groceries for the single mom. Offer watch her kids while they play outside (so you can keep your social distance) and allow her to go for a walk or a drive. Call someone who lives alone. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them and give them a voice to hear and a real conversation to be a part of. Don’t multitask during the call. Let them know that they matter.
If you are living alone, reach out to others with a phone call. If you are lonely, they are probably lonely too. Don’t sit and think how no one called you today. Think about who you need to call. Yesterday my phone didn’t ring. I barely noticed because enough phone calls have been coming from friends all week, and today I had a ton of calls. Tomorrow I’ll make sure I’m making the calls. Go outside to the patio or yard on the nice days and invite friends to come and sit with you at a safe distance. We are all in this together. Make sure that everyone can feel the together part even while we have to keep separated.
Stay safe. Let others feel love coming their way. Take care of each other. God is still in control and someday things will go back to normal.