And so Clara sat and watched and waited. And knew the agony of doing nothing.”
Louise Penny, Still Life
*Trigger Warning* Miscarriage
I had originally scheduled my next book review for today – and may post it as a bonus post later this week instead – but as I have been focusing on my mental health this week in response to the latest (albeit unsurprising) extension of the lockdown here in Ontario, I felt a change of plans was in order.
This is a post I have been ruminating on for a while now. A difficult one for me to write because I’m not sure how much of the insanity of last year I want to share with the world just yet.
Despite my hesitation, my feelings on this topic have been begging to be written down, to be shared, to be allowed a resolution and a sense of closure. So, here goes.
I have technically been a stay-at-home mom (though one working several freelance contracts simultaneously) since July of last year. While I went back to work initially three months after giving birth to Aria, I found that the stress of keeping on top of all my work tasks while keeping a little human alive was too much for my mental health to handle. Not to mention the fact that we were all also trying to find our rhythm in the midst of a global pandemic.
I don’t know how mothers in countries without parental leave do it…
…shielding my eyes from the brightness of the window, from the day I am not yet awake enough to meet.
Cathy Marie Buchanan, The Day the Falls Stood Still
Well, that’s just life during a global pandemic, is it not? It’s hard enough at the best of times to great each day with unbridled enthusiasm (especially if you happen to be resolutely NOT a morning person, like me…) let alone when we are living through a once-in-a-lifetime worldwide crisis that makes each day seem to bleed into the next.
How are we supposed to meet the day when we aren’t even quite sure what to call it? Monday? Friday? Wedursday? What month are we even in?
I would apologize again for missing a post just after finally committing to a schedule I thought would work for me but, well, what’s the point? Who even knows what year it is anymore.
Don’t worry, though, this post isn’t going to just be all doom and gloom. I promise.
Yet no certainty is possible. We must accustom our eyes to the twilight
Peter Ackroyd, Foundation
When I sat down to write this today I confess that I was completely unsure of what day of the week it was. I had all the best intentions to start scheduling posts ahead of time (I even have an ambitious schedule of post already brainstormed and posted on a lined sheet of paper on the wall beside my desk) and yet, so far, this level of organization has eluded me.
Now, one might ask, does not the fact that Monday begins the workweek give it some kind of dreaded importance making it an impossible day to forget? Perhaps for most this is the case but since I have decided to forgo the 9-5 existence in order to stay home with my little Aria, the days of the week have accordingly lost their typical structure leading to days that feel full and fast on their own as opposed to simply things to get through until the weekend rolls around once more.
But what about my husband? Doesn’t his work schedule make it easier to remember what day of the week it is? Another good question, hypothetical reader of mine. Yes, Louis does work full-time at a more typical 9-5 type job which necessitates remembering the existence of Mondays. However, since we have been slogging through this never-ending pandemic, he has had the great fortune of working from home which means Sundays are not capped off by a desperate attempt to be under the covers at a decent hour in preparation for an obscenely early wake-up call. His hours being a bit more flexible, and minus the typical commute, Mondays have lost their ubiquitous “beginning of the work week blues” and have now become only a bit more structured than the two glorious weekend days.
What is the point of all this, you ask?
Another great question!
Only that I meant to write this post yesterday and quite literally forgot it was Saturday. That’s why.
So, after that loquacious beginning, lets get to today’s topic. Shall we? It’s related to all this, I swear.
Wisdom may be rented, so to speak, on the experience of other people, but we buy it at an inordinate price before we make it our own forever.
Robertson Davies, Leaven of Malice
As I was going through my book of quotes today (woefully out of date as it is since my novel reading has fallen drastically over the past few years…) I came across this sentence written by the brilliant Canadian author Robertson Davies – one of my husband’s favourites!
What struck me about this quote was the image of a price for wisdom. For me, that price seems to be time as I have so many things I am curious about, so much I wish to learn, and yet all of this takes time. Time which is hard to find as a first-time-mom working from home during a pandemic.
As though, knowing that everything is possible, suddenly nothing is necessary
Diana Gabaldon, Outlander
How is everyone doing? We are now in the 12th month of Covid-19-induced social distancing and the pandemic is showing no real signs of abating any time soon…so I imagine you have all been better?
One the bright side, if you’re reading this, you are alive. And that, in itself, is something positive.
Now that the days are shorter and we are well into a time of year that is difficult for many even without an international health crisis, I thought this might be a good time to introduce the second half of my post about coping mechanisms which I have found to be particularly useful to get me through these trying times largely in one piece.
And so, without further ado, here they are. I hope, if you are struggling, that one or several of these resonates with you and helps you to find some joy in an otherwise frustrating and disheartening time.
“…patience and perseverance generally enable mankind to overcome things which, at first sight, appear impossible. Indeed, what is there above man’s exertions?”
– George Borrow, Lavengro
How is everybody doing? Hanging in there OK? Can anyone believe we have been in the grips of this pandemic, at least here in Canada, for half a year already?
As I’ve written in previous posts, the last six months have been hard. I recognize fully that my Covid experience has been incredibly privileged compared to the vast majority of humanity. To start, I have a roof over my head. I’m warm, dry, fed, healthy, safe and am able to bubble up with at least part of our family. Both my husband and I have been able to keep bringing in paychecks and we have only one dependent who is an infant and therefore does not need to be homeschooled (I’m not supposed to be schooling an 8-month-old…right?). So, yes, all things considered, my situation could be much MUCH worse.
However, none of these privileges can fully combat the fact that we are living through a global pandemic, and one that looks on track to last a while longer (PSA: Wear your masks, people!). Not only is the isolation and fear crushing some days but learning to parent while not having access to our much-beloved support networks has been much harder than I could have possibly imagined. Yes, now we have at least one set of grandparents and a few uncles and aunts in our bubble able to help but that leaves two sets of grandparents, many uncles and aunts, and the rest of our extended family largely out of our daughter’s life for the time being. And this alone is, well, heartbreaking. As I wrote in a previous post, this is not in any way, shape, or form what I envisioned for the first year of Aria’s life. Not by a long shot.
Don’t worry, though, dear reader! This post is not meant to be all doom and gloom. I am actually going to offer below some coping mechanisms that seemed to have worked to largely bring me back to a place of calm and positivity in the midst of so much chaos and negativity. I hope they will help someone, anyone, to find even just a little bit of light in the darkness but, remember, it is still OK to not be OK. Take a deep breath. We will get through this, together.
“Moments like this act as magical interludes placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn – and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.” – Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
How is everyone doing?
We are now, let’s see, 6 months into COVID-19 self-isolation measures. Half. A. Year. How is this possible? How can it possibly feel like no time at all has passed while also simultaneously seeming like we’ve been in isolation forever? Is this how hermits feel all the time? The mind boggles.
Like many others, I have struggled during this time to keep on top of the many productive tasks I set out to consistently chip away at despite having what appears at first blush to be an unlimited stretch of time laid out before me each morning.
Wait, scratch that, who am I kidding? I have a 6.5-month-old daughter…I wake up before the sun and by the time I catch a moment to take a deep breath that same sun is somehow on its way down again. I wonder if the days feel as unreasonably short to a baby as well.
Motherhood aside, as this is not what I wished to post about tonight, I can summarize the last few months in one single word: Rough.
“For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary. It is all. It is undying. And it is enough.”
– Diana Gabaldon, Outlander
I hope you will forgive me, dear reader, for not posting this yesterday…Easter spent without family was rougher than I expected (especially as it was my daughter’s first Easter) but I’m hoping writing this today will help ease the pain. If only just a little.
“Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened. Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
We’ll appreciate them so much more when this is all over. What will we appreciate, you ask? I didn’t really have one single thing in mind when I chose the word them. Fill in the blank: When COVID-19 has been vanquished, I will finally and truly appreciate _____________. Regardless of what your answer was (family, friends, restaurants, crowded shopping malls, travel, work, your annoying neighbour who comes by to borrow sugar every day), it’s true, isn’t it? When this is all over, everything – even the things we profess to dislike or even hate, will be somehow less odious. Because right now, they are simply not within our reach.
Right now, we are all on lockdown, unsure of when the rules and regulations will be lifted, unsure of what life will look like when it goes back to “normal”.
It’s as fascinating as it is frustrating that this has been hard on us all. During a normal workweek, the prospect of being told to stay home with our families for a few days would be a godsend to many of us – a chance to rest and recuperate.
But the undefined, seemingly unending nature of this quarantine is different from a mental health break or a vacation. So very different.
Families convene by skype, blowing kisses through the screen. Grocery stores are an oasis, their shelves sanitized on a nightly basis in anticipation of the touch of an unknowingly-infected hand the following morning. Food packaging is left on the front porch, cleaned and cleaned again before being allowed through the hallowed front doors. Swing-sets and slides are cordoned off to discourage those too arrogant or foolhardy to respect the simple request to stay home.
If you really think about it, unless home is not a safe place for you, we are being asked to do the one thing we should desire naturally: spend time at home with our loved ones. But the lack of control, of choice, makes this simple act a painful one.
What will the day be like when restrictions are lifted and we can once again be free to shake hands, to high-five, to hug our loved ones? Will we be filled with joy or fear that this isn’t really over…not forever? How long will it take for this to fade from memory? For the COVID-19 scare to feel like a dream?
I don’t know the answer but I hope this day is soon, and that the suffering to get there remains minimal. One can hope.
But as for this time, this time that has been given to us (whether you think it is a gift or not), we, for the most part, have the freedom to decide what to do with it. Not, it’s not the freedom we are used to but those of us who are lucky enough to have a roof over our heads and ready access to food (and toilet paper) still have a freedom of sorts.
So, will you bemoan the times you are living through? Or will you make of them what you will, what you can, assuming you and your loved ones remain healthy (andI hope they do)?
For my part, I am working on finding the light in the dark, the hope in the sorrow, the sunshine in the rain and the rainbows between the clouds. Soon, oh so soon, these oppositions won’t seem so stark, so dire.
But, for now, let’s take the positive where we can find it.
This too shall pass and what you will remember, dear reader, is what you did with the time that was given to you.
And, remember, life is beautiful…especially when you STAY HOME
PS. This is hard. This is not normal. This is a pandemic. It is OK to not be OK. All I ask is that, for your sake and the sake of your loved ones, you do what you can to take care of your mental health. For me, writing and focusing on the positive are my coping methods. Yours may be different. Don’t listen to anyone telling you you’re doing it wrong. This is unprecedented for our generation, as long as you’re taking care of you and yours in the best way that you can, it is not possible for you to do it wrong…what do they know? Have they lived through a pandemic before? You do you.
Aside from the Travel Tuesday blogs I usually post weekly (OK, OK, sometimes I post them on Wednesdays…) I’m thinking of writing these Solidarity Sunday posts every week while this self-isolation period is going on. Let me know what you think!
Who you are is defined by the next decision you make, not the last one” – Rachel Hollis, Girl, Stop Apologizing
Hello dear readers, if you are indeed still out there. It’s been a few days. OK, it’s been over a month, but who’s counting?
I am, to be honest. And I’ve been struggling really hard not to spend a good chunk of my time every day beating myself up at least a little for how much I have allowed my writing goals to take a back seat this year (and I’m talking the back seat of a 747, not a mini-cooper).
When I actually allow myself to pause for a minute and attempt to cut myself some slack, however, I find myself reflecting on what actually happened this past year that pushed writing from the priority I wanted it to be to the “wouldn’t it be nice” archival section of my brain. Not only did I get married in June, in a largely DIY-wedding (shout-out to our wedding party of 20 people and all of the family and friends who made this possible), but I also became pregnant with our first child (due in mid-January), bought a house, got a new job, and moved out of Ottawa (the city where I was born-and-raised). Any one of these things could potentially throw a resolution or two out of whack but all of them? Suffice it to say pretty much every single resolution I wrote about in my last New Years themed post was successfully defenestrated somewhere between January and December of 2019.
But here’s the funny thing about resolutions: they are entirely self-imposed. No one, and I mean no one, is going to judge you for not achieving them. Even if you’re the type of person who shouts their 10 New Years Resolutions from the proverbial rooftops, by the time the first week of January has passed even the people who love you most have already forgotten what exactly you had set out to do with your new year. And by December? Most people don’t even remember their own resolutions, why would they remember – and thus judge you for not achieving – yours?
So, recognizing that I am by far my own harshest critic, I have been working hard to focus not on what I didn’t do this year but instead on what I did. I’d say playing a huge role in pulling off an enormous bilingual wedding is a pretty solid start. Growing a human? Not unimpressive. Finding a new job in a completely new niche and making it my own? Fairly notable. Buying and helping to set up a new family home? At least worth a smile and a pat on the back.
These accomplishments are nothing to sniff at and I need to remind myself daily of how much has transpired this year and, yes, even marvel for a minute at the fact that I am still smiling despite the months of stress and constant anticipation for the next big thing.
Even if nothing about my hectic version of 2019 resonates with you, I bet the following observation will. Along with all the specific achievements I listed above, and even more than any of them or all of them combined, the aspect that I find most remarkable is my ability to dream up a new list of resolutions even after my last ones crashed and burned so spectacularly. I mean, how incredible is the human spirit that even after setting goals and getting nowhere near the finish line on any of them, we can resolve anew to better certain aspects of our life in the coming year? I could just as easily tell myself resolutions were simply not for me and give up on the idea entirely (and, indeed, if resolutions are not your thing, no judgment! To each their own), but instead I sit down at my desk yet again and put pen to paper to determine what my big goals are for the year. Never doubt the power of perseverance, even when it seems most futile. Something is bound to stick at some point!
So, as far as 2020 is concerned, I have decided to narrow down my resolutions to three big ones in the three main areas of my life where I want to see improvement (you know, while I simultaneously learn to be a parent…):
Mental Health: This year, I would like to explore my coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety (meditation, reading, exercise – especially yoga, time with loved ones, entertainment, writing) and put into place a game plan for when I am feeling overwhelmed or panicky.
Fitness: This year, I would like to return to my bare minimum of doing yoga every single day (once I am recovered from childbirth that is) and add exercise from there. Even with a kid, if I could get back to exercising every day of the week, say just for 20 minutes some days, I know I can get back to a place where I feel strong and healthy and comfortable in my own skin.
Career: Finally, this year I aim to take the leap to put myself out there as a writer and editor. I know I have the ability, I just have to have the courage to try. Even if my efforts only produce enough recognition and payment to provide some extra cushion to our budget, I can say I am getting paid to do what I love. How cool would that be?
So there you have it, three broad goals for 2020 to put myself firmly on the path I have strived to walk all my life: one that leads to a happy, healthy and fulfilled existence I can be proud of. The lack of specificity was entirely on purpose, by the way. I have found in the past that setting specific goals (I.e.: I resolve to not have a single panic attack this year or I will write for 30 minutes every day) tends to encourage making excuses for why I cannot check that box off on this particular day until a month goes by without any real progress. I find the more broad I make my resolutions, the more likely I am to chip away at them instead of allow them to hang intimidatingly above my head.
Ultimately, I am trying to look forward as much as possible instead of back – to define myself by my current and future decisions, not my past excuses. I have no idea if this new strategy will be successful but I do know it is worth a shot.
So, what resolutions have you set out for yourself this year (if any)? What’s your take on what kind of resolutions are most successful? I’d love to hear more perspectives on this.
I promise I will return to my France trip on my next post, thank you for indulging this little tradition of mine for my last post of 2019.
And remember, whether you succeed in your resolve or not, life is beautiful.