Got Kids? Keeping Sanity While COVID Keeps You Cooped Up.
It was a gray day as it seems to be here in Indy lately every 9.5 out of 10 days. I sat across the desk from my husband in his home office. My elbows rested on the cool glass as I held my head up with my left hand. I felt my heart racing slightly with a tinge of pressure in my chest. I took deep breaths for I knew this feeling. I've had it before. I was anxious. I sat there and in desperation spelled out everything that is going on that's giving me anxiety. I've dealt with anxiety before. It usually happens when I get stressed or overwhelmed. Since the afternoon of March 16th, we've been doing our part to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. We've been cooped up in the house, all 6 of us and the dog. It was starting to get to me.
I felt guilty for having these feelings. As a mother who is usually working full time, I long for more time with my family, and I am getting that. I mean most definitely I am getting that. This is time that I can do all the things that I usually do not have time to do like prepare meals, which I find to be very important with ensuring that our diets consist of primarily whole food. Most days, I've been preparing all three meals and snacks. This is time that I can use to actually play with my kids. I've been playing lots of monster, robot, cook, Barbie, and PJ Masks. This is time that we can bond as a family. We've been taking walks, watching movies, and playing board games. Yet, with all of that precious time that I've been spending with my family, I find myself sitting across from my husband overwhelmed, frustrated, and stressed causing me to have anxiety.
My anxiety does not become an issue often. I have never required medication and have been able to learn how to manage and control it when it rears its creepy head. I had more issues with it when I was doing my medical training just because it was a stressful time in my life. For those who do not know what anxiety feels like, here's what it feels like for me. My heart races. My chest is heavy. My breathing is deeper, and I have this uncontrollable sense of doom, like something bad is going to happen. It's like an overwhelming sense of nervousness that seems to come without a particular event. If I do not get a grip early, I feel myself start to panic. What I've learned to do is to talk about it. I first started talking to my mom then my husband about it. As he learned more about it, he was able to better support me. He's never experienced it, so I understand that it must be difficult to support a condition that you, yourself, have never experienced. We've come a long way from where we started in this.
I remember when I had my first, I guess it was sort of a panic attack. I graduated from medical school a couple of months before residency was to start. I was able to slow down and spend time at home. We had just two young kids at the time. I spent my days playing and cleaning, playing and cleaning, playing and cleaning, playing and cleaning, playing and cleaning. That's how it felt. It felt like it was the same thing every day, all day. We didn't have much money at the time so I couldn't really get out much. to do things. So most days were spent in the house playing and cleaning, playing and cleaning. I felt I would clean the same things over and over again. I remember vividly, one day I was wiping the island counter and thinking to myself, "If I wipe this counter again..." I felt like I was going crazy. One night, it hit me. All the symptoms hit me at once. My heart was racing, breathing labored, and an impending sense of doom crept over me. I looked to my husband for help, but he had NO clue. I mean no clue how to be there for me. I didn't know what to tell him either because I wasn't even sure what or why this was happening to me. I called my mother. She offered to come to pick me up for a drive. When she arrived, she asked what I wanted to do. It's night and there's not much to do. However, I knew just what would make me feel better. I asked her if she could take me to get my new inhaler prescription filled at a pharmacy. I know, right, super relaxing! I only had the prescription because I saw a new primary care doctor who felt I should have an inhaler on hand since I had asthma as a kid. Although, I found out later I didn't actually have asthma and had never been tested. It was likely anxiety that I was dealing with as a child. Any who, we went to the pharmacy, and I bought my inhaler. I had a sense of relief. Next we just drove around for a little while. Then at like 1-2am, if I remember correctly, we ended at a breakfast spot, called Perkins. We ate and talked. I was feeling much better. My mom was able to explain to me what was going on. Oh, I thought, that makes sense. My current situation was getting to me. The mundane redundancy was driving me...anxious! Once, I knew what was up, I was able to do things to make it better.
I do not have issues with anxiety as often now. I would even go further to say that it's a rare occurrence. However, a few days ago, it began to rear its creepy head again as I sat across from my husband in his office. For me, the mundane redundancy must have triggered it again. Everyday was not exactly the same but it was. I was being pushed and pulled in every direction all day long by my family. Mommy is home! Let's do this and that! Watch me do this and that! I was happy to do it, but at the same time there was NO time for me. My youngest had only taken maybe 2 naps in all those days, and those weren't without regret later. One he took while we were out taking the kids on a drive and the other was a random afternoon. As a result of both, he was up those nights until 1-2am. What gives! No nap, the day is a mess. With a nap, the day is a mess. Momma can't catch a break! That's just one kid. The other three, have their moments as well. My youngest daughter puts on multiple performances a day in addition to wanting to spend one-on-one time together. My oldest daughter has an attitude about her E-Learning at least once or twice during the day. My oldest son spends most his time being social through his video game. I usually NEVER let him spend time like this on the video game, but I feel that given the circumstances, it's a great way to be interactive and social with friends that he cannot physically be around at the time. My husband does his part, but how do I put this? He does what HE sees needs to be done or with what I ask him to help. I don't know about you, but I cannot stand nagging. Every time I feel that I have to ask for help, it feels like nagging. Needless to say, that'd also been a contributing factor to how I was feeling that day. I need to get it together I thought to myself as I sat their trying to keep from being engulfed by my feelings.
Ok, I decided. Things are changing, starting now. Here's what I've decided to do, and it's only been a couple of days, but it's been working. I feel so much better.
1. There needs to be more structure. I decided that meals, rest-time, snacks, bath time, and bed time will be uniform. No more making a snack for one person, then 10 minutes later making one for someone else, with the foods that I just put away I might add. Nap time or rest time is now a requirement. It's around 1-3pm. At that time, the younger children must go lay down. If our 4 year old does not fall asleep after an hour, I let her get up. The youngest lays down for a couple of hours whether he falls asleep or not. The older two entertain themselves during that time. Bath time and bed time are scheduled. At 7:30, I start baths. The kitchen closes as baths are being run. That means no more running around getting last minute snacks for anyone. They know after the kitchen closes that's it. By 8:45-9:00, the three youngest are in bed.
2. I make time for me. Rest time is for mommy too. That's time that I get some peace. PEACE. Ah, sweet peace. Kitchen closure is for me. Scheduled bed times are for me. Oh my gosh, I feel so much better giving myself this time. If some of you have already had the scheduling system down, I know I'm late to the game. My career does not allow us to have a regular schedule. My day starts and ends at a different time, each day. With that, I have to be flexible in my mornings and evenings at home. Now that I'm home, I am realizing the same flexibility that was keeping me sane when I was working regularly, has me going crazy as I am home with my family. With structure, I have time to do things that I want and need to do. It feels great not having to squeeze myself into my day.
3. It's okay to say no. I'm home every day with my family. A dream come true. Then reality struck. I'm home every day with my family, but there's no relief. No going to school, no going out to do anything together or a part outside of the house. There weren't even naps happening. Everything was nonstop all day long. Every one wanted my attention all day long. They are used to my husband being home. He works from home, but mommy being home is new and exciting. "Let's try it out!" is what they must have been thinking. That's how it felt any way. Mommy can you get this? Mommy can we play this? With me? No with me? I wanted to say yes to all of it. I should have wanted to say yes, right? I felt guilty for not saying yes at times. I had to let that go. I had to let them know and myself know that it's okay to say no. Once I did that, it all seemed to click. I was able to actually have fun with the kids when they asked to do things together. I guess that was because I knew that I didn't have to say yes to everything. Saying no and being ok with saying no ended up being better for all of us.
I feel like structure has allowed me to maintain my sanity. The kids know what to expect. I know what to expect. I know when breaks are coming, and it makes it easier being cooped up with the family that I love dearly. Needless to say, in order to continue to properly show my love and keep myself from becoming an anxious mess, this had to happen. It feels great. For those who already have a system down, I hope this was at least entertaining for a few minutes. For those who are looking for help, I hope this does the trick. Most of us have been in a position as parents where we feel guilty about not spending time that we feel we should be spending with our kids. I'm here to say that you're not alone. It's okay to take time for you. You need it.
Always striving to help,