If you’re reading this, how are you doing today? How are you feeling? How are your emotions? How is your mental health?
If you’re like me, living in the Western Hemisphere, chances are you’re feeling the full spectrum of emotions as we begin to navigate on this side of the world what our friends have gone through in China, Italy, Iran, Spain, and numerous other countries before us. We’ve seen the devastating fallout. We’ve also seen some of the finest things humanity has to offer in these unprecedented moments. This pandemic is here, whether we like it or not, and as we dive into these uncharted waters, I’m personally starting to feel like the sense of uncertainty has made my mind spin more than anything.
I have two kids, and live in Toronto, Canada with my husband. Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America, so with our population, we have the potential to become a significant epicentre if we don’t all work together. I’m not an expert on public health by any means, but to stay positive, I keep telling myself that I should have some peace of mind from the fact that our city was hit quite hard by SARS in 2003. Hopefully from that experience, we’ve put the necessary actions into place at the right time. But, I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m just a mom, living amongst all of you in uncertain times, hoping that we’re doing things right.
Just over a week ago, families in Ontario were told that school would be out for the next three weeks. Many other Canadian provinces followed suit. Before our kids’ last day of school, my husband and I looked at each other, suspecting that this would actually be their last day of school for an indefinite amount of time. Three weeks seems short in comparison to what countries have seen before us. But, we don’t know what we don’t know. The uncertainty of when they will actually be able to return to school is a reality.
Just a short week ago, my husband returned from the U.S. on what will be his last business trip for an indefinite amount of time. Before he left, the numbers in North America were still relatively low and no travel advisories were in place yet in this area – but I looked at him and said “I’m not panicked, yet, but this might not be the best week to travel.” He left, understanding that he may need to return home quickly, and took photos of an eerily empty Pearson International airport. He rescheduled his flight home one day early from O’Hare airport, as the situation started to rapidly progress. I’m incredibly thankful that he was able to leave Chicago before the massive backlog of international travellers that came through the city only three days later. The uncertainty of when any of us will be able to travel again is a reality.
From a leisure travel perspective, not being able to travel is the least of our worries – most of us are happy to put our vacations on hold for the collective good, to protect those most vulnerable in society. Oh, wait. In come the Spring Breakers. Has anyone else felt an irrational amount of anger about the selfishness of this? The kids who flocked to the beaches, who are completely unbothered that their actions will affect their parents, grandparents, and those in society who are immunocompromised? I’m living in a place where most of us aren’t even taking our kids out to playgrounds and having to explain why this is the case to our kids; yet there are individuals out there who give zero shits about the collective good. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about Carpe Diem and autonomy over your own life choices, until those choices can and will put other people at risk. The uncertainty of how many people in society are willing to work together to contain this virus is a reality.
At the beginning of this week, Ontario declared a state of emergency. Restaurants were ordered to close, except for takeout. Non essential workers ordered to stay home. Small and large businesses alike, told to close their doors. And while many of us felt a collective sense of relief knowing that this was absolutely the right thing to do, it doesn’t change the fact that families are now left wondering how they will pay their bills, put food on their tables, and keep a roof over their head. The uncertainty of how long this will last is a reality.
We are reading about “flattening the curve” and protecting our healthcare workers, who are fighting for us in the front lines, and quickly running out of supplies. Masks and protective equipment are being stolen from hospitals and clinics, taking them away from those who need it the most. Our front line healthcare workers are exposing themselves to save us – and the uncertainty of how long they will have to battle in the front lines is a reality.
When stressful times arise, one of my main coping mechanisms is asking myself: “What can be learned from this? What is the lesson?” Easier said than done when our collective anxieties and fears are at their highest, but as I’ve pondered the last couple of weeks, I know for a fact that I have a lot to learn about living in a grey area. I am a Type A personality – someone who is constantly in motion, and I’ve already accepted the fact that this is a lesson in slowing down. Being present in the moment. Having faith that this will come to an end, and that my loved ones will be safe, even though nobody can guarantee that. Aside from the concern about our parents who are higher risk due to their age, I know I’m at risk as a lifelong asthmatic. I have contained my emotional state in a place of “be prepared, not scared.” I’m not panicked, but in the back of my mind, I can’t help but know that if I become a statistic, it leaves my kids without a mom. I lost my dad at a young age, and, well – I want to be there for my kids.
The reality is, if someone said to me “this will all come to an end in 12 weeks, and everything will be better after that,” I could deal with that – because it provides a definitive answer. I’d try to come up with a plan for that 12 weeks, and figure out how we would survive. But, none of us have the answers right now. We look to the experts to guide us, but even the experts can’t fully predict how this will play out. We live in an age of planning, schedules, and constantly being in motion on life’s hamster wheel, and our lives as we know them have come to an abrupt halt. That doesn’t have to be a horrible thing, if we learn how to embrace the present. All we can do right now, collectively, is take this one day at a time. Try to find the silver linings. Try to accept that we are living with the unknown. Try to believe in the inherent goodness in people. Try to help those in need. Try to ask for help ourselves if we need it. Cry, vent, process your emotions if you need to – however you feel right now, it’s okay. You are not alone. Your village is here for you.
As we all navigate this unprecedented territory, I find myself looking to our kids now more than ever. Our kids have had their schooling, playdates with friends, and their activities come to an abrupt end. Yet, they are managing just fine. Kids have a beautiful way of explaining things, of accepting things, and most importantly, kids are able to live in the moment. Maybe that is what we all have to find a way to do right now.