A few days ago, I was talking to my younger brother on the phone. He’s the only person I have long phone conversations with. We usually chat about the everyday stuff of life — cool finds at the grocery store, the latest Netflix show craze (he’s always a step or two ahead of me), and our latest food creations at home.
But not this time. This time, we were talking about the state of the world.
It’s unavoidable right now. The virus-that-shan’t-be-named has not only taken over the world in a literal and painful way, but it’s taken over everything else. Headlines, news stories, memes, social media, conversations. They all center on this out-of-the-blue pandemic that brought us all to our knees in a matter of months.
And so my brother and I talked about its impact. He told me how heartbroken he is about having to lay off staff and keep people at work who shouldn’t be there. He manages a restaurant in Murfreesboro (just outside of Nashville). Like others in the service industry, they’re torn between trying to stay afloat and trying to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
As I listened to my brother tell me about the sacrifices he’s had to make — he and other managers in his area — I felt increasingly guilty. I’m saddened by the reality of his line of work. All over the country, people who run restaurants and hotels and salons and other small businesses face closure and layoffs.
No income. No way out. For an unknown amount of time.
Meanwhile, I sit on my bed in a nice apartment, unable to work not because I’ve lost my job, but because my head is so foggy right now it’s impossible to think straight. After hanging up with my brother, I thought, “Ok, you have no excuse. Other people can’t work. You can. Snap out of it.”
But I can’t seem to. And to be fair to the current global health crisis, this problem started long before we were all trapped inside. Being unable and unwilling to go anywhere, and having my husband and four-year-old at home with me ‘round the clock, just exacerbates the issue.
I’ve worked as a freelance writer for seven years and as an independent contractor — writing about health care for a private health insurance marketplace — for four of those years. My client is generous and kind. I’ve been given a lot of leeway in setting my hours and producing work. It’s a dream situation for self-employed writers.
And yet, I struggle.
I struggle with motivation, the desire to start working first thing in the morning because I know it’s the only time I’ll truly get to myself. But I also struggle with working in the evenings because I’ve been “on” all day and I just want to power down for the night.
I struggle with staying on task for longer than 15-minute increments before my eyes and fingers wander over to Twitter to check on Coronavirus updates.
I struggle with managing everyone’s time, especially my own. What looks good on paper doesn’t seem to work when the seconds start ticking in real life.
I struggle with setting realistic to-do for work and home, and I definitely struggle with following through on them.
I struggle with screen time, both defensive over my decision to let Arthur watch for hours at a time sometimes and fearful that by relaxing my screen-time rules, I’m turning his brain into mush.
In short, I struggle with work-life balance.
Doesn’t every parent? But it’s different right now, more palpable, less easy to sweep under the rug. Social distancing and self-quarantining throw these insecurities I’ve always held into sharp relief.
I’ve still got a job I can work from home and help from a spouse (who can also work from home). My preschooler doesn’t need formal education at the moment because he still has another year of preschool before he goes to kindergarten.
I am one of the lucky ones. We are not struggling from a financial or practical standpoint. But from a mental and emotional space? That’s where the cracks are. They were always there. Now they’re noticeable, almost tangible.
I sit and stare out of windows as I try to get one thing crossed off my never-ending to-do list. Do I use the next hour while Arthur is watching Wallykazam! on repeat to finish an article on Medicare or clean the kitchen or read more horror stories about how this pandemic might evolve?
How is it possible that three weeks has felt like three years?
We’ve been self-isolating since March 13th. We’re not sick and no one we know has been sick (thankfully). But I took the warnings seriously, so we’ve been hunkering down for nearly three weeks. With no end in sight to social distancing or the virus itself, life will continue like this for who knows how long. Foggy. Unclear. Unprecedented in our lifetimes.