My Oxygen Mask and Life During a Pandemic

Huddle up real close. I have something to say regarding life this past year. But wait just a moment, my oxygen mask is askew.

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

You know on airplanes before takeoff when the flight attendants give you that safety demonstration? Oh, I know you are supposed to be listening, but honestly a lot of us have zero interest in the safety demo when we just want to get to where we are going. Right?

Lately, I have been reflecting on that simple statement – please put your own oxygen mask on before securing others.

Hunting for My Oxygen Mask

Ever since the second lockdown I feel like my oxygen mask is slightly askew….or maybe out of reach. No wait, check that, it has gone missing entirely. Like nowhere to be found.

That might be okay any other year and any other time. But parenting during the pandemic and living through the pandemic seems a bit like free fall. In January of 2020 we were all sort of inside a plane coasting, and then in March we were trying to stay in the air while it started to plummet. First we were shocked and then we started flapping our arms as if we could keep ourselves afloat.

Let’s Face it Times are Turbulent

Do not get me wrong. I’d rather be alive and well during a pandemic than sick with Covid-19. But this is also not a thing that I ever thought I would say, or see or live through.

Pandemic or no, the commitments and demands in my home are substantial. In fact, they have escalated as they have for many of us. I know pandemic anxiety and mental health have taken a huge hit globally. We also have caregiver burnout here though and it has taken a massive toll this year.

Mental Health Triage

Parenting teens with mental illness and disability on board is a full time job on top of all the other time commitments we have every day. It is mental health triage at the best of times…..and these are not the best of times. Some days, it feels like there’s a dramatic drop in cabin pressure inside the plane and we are stretching for the nearest oxygen mask.

We made it through the first lockdown and while it was brutal, it is done. There were numerous times when I wondered if either or both of the kids were depressed. So, we sought out virtual therapists and I pushed them out the door walking with me, drinking water and eating well.

Second Lock Down

We made it through to the summer when restrictions loosened up and they went back to their activities with face masks on and small numbers and social distancing and then that second lockdown hit.

Wheels Fell off the Cart

I feel like it was then that the wheels started to come off of the cart here at home. At least one of the kids here has regressed and grown more obviously anxious than ever before. That anxiety needs to be managed and treated and we are working on that. But, not fast enough. Currently, we are skating as fast as we can and yet, all the bumps and cracks in the ice mean it is anything but smooth.

And, there have been other moments where I questioned what the hell is going on and where to find support. Bottom line is that when I can’t motivate myself, or focus or move forward and I am struggling then I can’t help them. If I don’t have my oxygen mask on then I can’t help you or my kids, friends or anyone else for that matter.

Caregiver Burnout Meets Pandemic Burnout

These days, Covid is taking a toll on all of us. Of course, I am tired, worn out. My husband is worn out and so is my oldest daughter. My youngest teen with FASD is yet again going through something else that’s new and I can’t get my oxygen mask on fast enough to help anyone right now.

This past weekend I have been reading about self care a bit again. I’m squeezing that in between URGENT appointments to see a doctor in person so that I can clearly advise them we NEED a referral to someone to follow up both kids. A specialist retired in December and kind of left us high and dry. And a therapist is wrapping up with my youngest just as she is pretty much careening into a full blown mental health crisis again. (Such are the limitations of OHIP and public health care in Ontario.)

Here’s What That Looks Like

Cut to one teenager screaming on the weekend – “A friend of mine has had a consistent therapist for over two years!! WHY does everyone quit or retire or leave?”

Small Signs of Spring on the Horizon

Second lockdown is starting to ease up and some small signs of positive outcomes are peeking through. Phase two of the vaccination program in Ontario should start soon and that’s a welcome announcement.

However, as health officials continue to state – it is important that we don’t move forward too fast. I’d settle for moving confidently forward even in small steps. Mostly I’d be happy right now if I could get a specialist plugged in for my kids.

Self Care

A professional I know once called out self care and what that looks like. Kale and tea and walking won’t cure burnout, she said. I liked that so much that I vowed to hand stitch it one a pillow. You know what helps burnout? Support and proper care for mental health and physical health. It’s so much more than kale and tea.

No, Self Care is Not Selfish.. but it is first to go.

Harvard Health Blog says self compassion is crucial to self care.

Other notable parts in the recipe are – movement, good nutrition, breath awareness, mind body practice such as yoga (which I am maintaining) and staying connected. It’s that staying connected part that I need to work on again soon, just as soon as I can find my oxygen mask and get my footing again.

In fact, self care is not selfish, but it is not even a thought on the horizon when you are gasping for air.

So, how are you doing?

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.