BellLet’s Talk Guest Post — COVID Life: What It Means to Be “Stuck Inside”

I am quite privileged to have a wonderful cadre of brilliant, smart & intelligent friends who surround me.

One of which is Carrie Goar.

You can learn more about Carrie here:

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Hey, how’s it going over there?

Me? Well, we just survived a March that felt 124 days long and I have yet to wrap my arms around what a “successful” day feels like. Socially isolating alone with two 9-year olds is kicking my ass. So far so good, today: it’s the wee hours and the kids are still asleep.  Coffee, a work to-do list and a homeschool schedule are giving me a sense of control.  

It’s a lie, of course. Like every day for the past 2 weeks, the chances are high that all of it will go to hell sometime before 11am.

Here’s how it is: I coach the kids through an hour of reading and writing first thing in the morning (WIN!), then I get on a phone call for work, then I execute on something the call required, then I get another call, then there’s a fight over the iPad chargers, then they’re starving and need to be fed (again!), then the dog barks to be let out then in (again!), then one of the kids is crying and needs help being “less sad” and before I know it I’ve done little more than answer email and they’ve just spent 5 or more hours playing video games.

Parenting is a job. The administration and maintenance of a household is job. Teaching is a job. My work as a start-up CEO and co-founder is a job. Suddenly, I’m doing all four jobs at once.

I had a small breakdown a few days ago because I’m not used to doing so many important things, so badly, so consistently.

Humans are infinitely adaptable and resilient, but I have yet to fully adapt to this new Groundhog Day, claustrophobic, anxiety-fuelled reality. I’ve been measuring my performance against “life before” and failing spectacularly across the board. Of course I have been. How could it be another way?

In the early days of a global pandemic, how can I expect to maintain a pre-corona level of work output; to parent in as engaged a way; to ensure my house is as well-run, and to be the Ann Sullivan of homeschool teachers I fantasize about being?

I’m not used to doing life half-assed, but here’s the thing: I’m now doing FOUR JOBS AT ONCE. It seems to me the best, most reasonable expectation right now, is that I do each of them quarter-assed.

25% successful execution on each front. This should be the new, Corona-benchmark. Not forever; just for now. Because fighting for normalcy while living inside its opposite is what losing feels like.

I haven’t arrived at whatever the “new normal” is yet. I’m­ still in active transition from how-life-used-to-be to how-life-is. It’s helpful to remember that during a global disaster it’s appropriate and right to feel disoriented and overwhelmed and to not function at peak performance.

Then there’s the sadness to contend with.

I personally have lost opportunities, birthday parties, travel plans, connection. We’ve all lost our freedom and a sense of control. Others have lost their jobs or loved ones they can’t live without. 

So, what do I do? I wake every few hours through the night, cry unexpectedly, lay too long in bed, eat too much, bake like the Cake Boss and compulsively watch Tiger King. In an age of COVID-19, this is what mourning looks like.

These past few weeks haven’t been a time for self-improvement. So far, at least, they don’t feel like an “opportunity” to learn the ukulele, a second language or take zoom bootcamp classes.

It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s that this movement from grief to acceptance leaves me untethered. Ungrounded. Despite the schedule I set each day, I can’t seem to successfully put a pin in these endless parenting-working-homeschooling days.

As in great art, the external reality reflects my internal one: I am stuck inside, and I am stuck inside.

The advice is always to “be gentle with yourself” though to be honest, I have no idea what this exactly means. As a type-A-ish person, I’m not especially good at lowering my expectations.  

What I do know, is that comparison is not only the death of joy but also of simple self-acceptance. I’ve been coaching myself to keep my head down, swim in my own lane and not worry about what everyone else is doing, or how they’re doing it. All that productivity-porn is just a lot of splashing water two lanes over.

Even if we manage to contain COVID-19, there is no “getting back to normal,” however. That ship has sailed. This also keeps me up at night, keeps me emotionally stuck and if there’s such a thing as grieving for the future, there’s that too.

There is no right or appropriate way to deal with a pandemic. However each of us is coping is the most we can do right now. This week is better than last, and as we continue to adapt, presumably next week will be better yet.

In the meantime, for my own part, I’ll continue to optimistically force a shape on each day, accept that doing a quarter-assed job is enough right now, and be grateful for the chance to do better again tomorrow.

Carrie Gour