I have anxiety. Anxiety kept in check by humor, sarcasm, a fierce drive to succeed, constant state of doing, and an inability to pause. This overproduction has led to great success in my life, but that success has also come with little ability to be still. It’s in the pause where we face our doubts, shortcomings, vulnerability, and ourselves. For people with anxiety, the pause is where the anxiety lives.
Exit stage left
In March 2019, after careful planning, I left my 15 year destination/tourism marketing career to focus on our family. Leading up to my exit we experienced a difficult period of loss, health issues and an inability to coordinate our demanding work/travel schedules. Everyone was frayed and something had to give – the give would be me.
Setting the record straight, I’m not a Super Mom. I do what I can, love with my whole heart and constantly feel like I’m failing. I don’t like to play or do crafts and hide from the PTA. I’m independent and need breathing room. I enjoy working outside the home and am energized by data and strategy. I’m disciplined and a control freak. Staying at home was uncomfortable. There would be no freedom, no strategic planning, no networking, no measurements to support the gains, no control, and a strong need for pause. Thank goodness there would be school, camps and peer support…
For the next year, I filled the days with activities, sports, entertaining, and commitments. All while I fell in and out of the grief that comes with leaving a career I was in love with, coupled with efforts to submerse myself and simultaneously avoid the pause. This began with hope that quickly morphed into deep regret, fear of failure, getting a companion dog, therapy, power lifting, over scheduling and cancelling everything, Carlos Castaneda, meditation, and ended in February 2020 with me waist deep in, being sort-of okay with me.
Anxiety became a Coronacoma
Fast forward to mid April, six weeks into both our fear-based stay at home choice and our state’s mandated Stay at Home Order from the Coronavirus Pandemic. Our college boy was home, who is immunocompromised, now distance learning and navigating a high-touch parentally zoned space. Our 8 year old twins were also home, in a crappy new school with no other classmates and an unfit teacher. Oscar, the companion dog, has been no companion of mine. My husband, whose barreling phone voice can break sound barriers, was now working from home 7am-7pm every day to ensure his job security, while also feeling guilty he couldn’t provide more household support to me.
We would be scared, uncomfortable and anxious. Like all of you, challenged with continuing on with the motions of daily life, from home, during a crisis.
Unravelling slowly and suddenly
The thing about having anxiety and having a novel global pandemic is, you’re not really sure how much is your anxiety and how much is actually the pandemic. It seems like normal pandemic anxiety is probably legitimately high, but surely enough you’re left questioning Who’s on first?
I quickly reverted to old ways of coping by establishing order to avoid the pause – The pause we are now forced to take. My daily routine consisted of news consumption beginning at 7am, followed by frantically Googling treatment trial updates, attempting to teach my kids grade school less any support, checking my respiratory rate at the slightest fluctuation, and endless quarantine activities to distract us from the totality of what this actually was. My glimmer of daily comfort and hope came from 50 minutes of data-focused Power Point slides outlining the crisis and recovery strategy, paired with clever dad jokes, delivered by Governor Andrew Cuomo. For context, I am a New Yorker. I’ve lived in Florida for 5 years but my heart is in New York, where our family and friends all reside.
Piecing things together again
I grew more afraid for loved ones, confused by the constantly changing messaging, panic wiping groceries, and concerned for our world. Old ways of distraction were no longer masking the anxiety like they used to. Slowly and just as suddenly, I was unraveling. While I knew I could not give up Andrew Cuomo’s comprehensive decks any time soon, like many others, I also knew things had to change. This was not okay.
A family we’re close with planned to holed up on Anna Maria Island, 40 minutes from home, a place they often vacation. The state required any rentals to be 30 days or greater. What if the salty air and change in surroundings could ease the pervading strain? Our spring break and summer travel plans had already cancelled and the monthly rental rate was so low, due to COVID travel uncertainty. The owners were open to any guests and we could give business locally.
While someday I’ll want to believe I was carefree and planned this deliberately, it was an impulsive effort to maintain my last thread of sanity. I booked for the month on the whim I could refocus my energy, slow down and hoped when we emerged there would be less fear and more science, understanding, and clarity.
We checked in on May 1. My husband would work from our home M-Th and the kids and I would be on our own much of the time. I would set the tone and pace. Anna Maria helped guide that pace for me. She was sleepy and quiet, and contained an ease that would normally make me uncomfortable. It turns out I craved it, we all craved it.
I became laser-focused to effectuate a change of mindset and expression. Utilizing reminders to pause, periods of quiet, minimizing interruptions. The kids fell quickly into the less complicated space. Our rhythm became more like liquid; leisurely flowing and light. The simplicity came to us from a need and unfolded itself through will.
Most days would be spent at the house casually tending to schooling, while gradually extending hours that tended to our souls. There was more laughter, puzzles, reading, lazy dinners and long evenings by the water. Everything got done but at a less frenetic pace. The kids soaked up the lack of routine, absence of people and our new surroundings. We adjusted while my husband could work the hours he needed, without the guilt, and could come out just in time to enjoy us at our best.
Read about planning a trip to Anna Maria Island here.
Silver linings and such
Over time the news became an unwanted source of anxiety, rarely on, and homeschool eventually closed. My kids are now familiar with my rhythm, which does not include constant entertainment, but when it does come, I’m all in. It turns out they don’t want to go-go-go all day either. Their behavior has been better than ever and we all can just come as we are and that’s okay. The exact thing I set out to do for my family a year and a half ago happened, slowly and all at once, without school, camps, activities, entertainment or a thriving career.
I don’t know if it was the ocean air or the pandemic’s fear and cruel wrath shifting all focus to maintaining basic needs, bounding you tightly to those you love while everything else is out of your control, but the pause came and it’s settling into our lives. This time I don’t feel like I’m failing because we are still, I feel like we’re growing. While I do know the change of view helped shift perspective, I now see how doable this could have been at home had I been willing to accept myself within the pause. Now that we are home, in the anxious space, I find resetting expectations and defining intentions prevents the slide.
When you have anxiety it never really goes away. It’s about creating a sustainable balance and knowing when you have to let go. Now, the focus will be maintaining the pause and not allowing what was our normal to become our normal again.
If things do return to normal, I now know we’ll be moving at a more meaningful pace. We’ll do the activities the kids enjoy, not the ones everyone else does. When I come up short I’ll work to remember I am not a failure. We won’t need gatherings every weekend, which will save the trouble of cancelling plans last minute. I’ll remind myself more often that my career is not the valuation of my worth. I’ll still keep myself out of the PTA and Book Clubs; some things will remain the same. Oh, and I’ll write here when I can.