By Lisa Howard Cardwell, Marriage and Family Therapist Associate
I really hate that one meme that is taking over social media right now. You know the one, right? It shows a sign that says “You’re not stuck at home, you’re safe at home.” Another iteration of that meme is more to the point; it says “Stuck at home” with the word stuck crossed out and replaced with the word safe. It’s a great meme that sends an important reminder that we are safe and that staying at home protects us and those around us from COVID-19. It also reminds us to be grateful. These are positive reminders we can all use right now. So why do I hate this meme?
It’s really not the overt message that I hate – it’s the underlying message. The meme sends the message that if we are safe, we are not stuck. But the truth is that we can feel both. In fact, it’s normal to feel both. As we practice social distancing, we have many demands on us and our time. Many of us working from home are expected to keep up with our productivity to some degree while having more meetings on Zoom or other teleconferencing platforms than ever before. In fact, several people have told me their companies expect more of them than before since they are working from home with “fewer distractions” or “no commute.” Many of us have children at home who have school assignments and physical and emotional needs that we must meet. Our pets are confused that while we are at home, we are engaged in more activities that don’t include them than ever before.
Since we are working from home, we may feel the need to have the house spotless for those teleconferences. We might feel guilty if the laundry has piled up or the yard-work is left unattended. We are probably cooking at home more than we were just a month ago. I have friends who have told me that they intend to use this time to learn a new skill or finally lose those 20 pounds now that they have time to do so, all while homeschooling and working from home. The very thought of this is exhausting to me. The truth is, we may not be able to do all of this, keep updated on the virus, and actually get the sleep we need at night. If we maintain these high standards for ourselves, we may begin to feel overwhelmed. We will be safe, but we may feel stuck.
Most of the people I know admit to feeling anxious or angry right now. Many have reported feeling resentful of all the demands on their time and energy during a global pandemic. Every person I’ve spoken to about this tells me they feel at least a little guilty if they admit to these feelings outside of their immediate family/friend circle. Folks, it is okay to not be okay right now. We are capable of feeling grateful for our safety and yet stuck in these new circumstances that we could not have imagined just a few weeks ago. If you are anxious, angry, depressed, overworked, micromanaged, tired of homeschooling, and missing your commute, which may have been your only moments of solitude prior to this new normal, it’s okay.
It’s also okay to allow a few more dishes to pile up in your sink than normal, to blow off schoolwork for a few hours to enjoy your children’s company, or to enter that Zoom meeting with less than perfect hair. It’s okay if you don’t stick to a schedule despite your best efforts. It’s okay to tell your boss you need more time. It’s okay to call your therapist or find a therapist who offers teletherapy, and process all these feelings. Speak your feelings of gratitude. Admit your feelings of inadequacy. Face your feelings of guilt and work through them. Or don’t – at least, not until you’re ready. If you need to not be okay right now, that’s okay. Be honest with yourself about when you need to be okay again and then reach out for help. For now, feel whatever it is you need to feel. It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling, even if you’re feeling less than okay.