02 April 2020

Not just the prison guard...but also, the prisoner

Everything hit me all at once last Friday.  Feelings of depression and fears of panic.  "What's the point in getting up today?" I thought as I pulled my covers off and tried to start my day. 

I was on week 2 of full isolation, having seen no one and having gone no where.  "I can't keep doing this with no end in sight," I said to myself. 

My days were bleeding into one another.  Every day felt like the one before it.  The color was draining from them. 

COVID19 had obliterated my calendar, manipulated my routines, and separated me from many of the things that motivate me each morning.  Left behind in the rubble was only the promise of a quarantined life inside my home with children at my feet all day and an unknown future in a world that will never be the same.

There are a lot of things I've had to give up since choosing to self-isolate on behalf of Bennett during this pandemic.  But, being a big supporter of mental health, one thing I haven't given up is meeting with my therapist. 

Thankfully, on the same day I woke up feeling the weight of how my life has forever changed, I climbed in to my SUV in the garage (currently the only place I can cry without my children hearing me) and fired up my laptop in time to see my therapists face through her online video portal. 

I cried throughout my session as I explained to my therapist how trapped I felt.  Not only was I grieving the stress I had recently undertaken by self-isolating but I was grieving the fact that I had come to accept that our situation won't end for a really long time.  However long it takes for the world to feel safe enough to venture back out again, it will take even longer for those of us with family members with health conditions.

My therapist asked how I was caring for myself in the midst of being quarantined.  I shared how I hadn't been very focused on myself.  Instead, I was focused on taking care of everyone else: making sure we had stored up enough food, protecting the children from accidental interactions with neighbors while outside, making sure the children were not traumatized in this process, making sure I could work, making sure I could do school with them each day, making sure the bills were paid.

I admitted that I had not thought about my own needs during this time.  I had not thought about how to fill up my own bucket.  I had not thought about relaxing.  I had not thought about how to center myself and calm my own heart.

My therapist asked me what I do to relax and I told her how creativity is often how I find myself.  "But," I explained, "it's really hard to be creative when you're stressed."  My therapist nodded and then wondered aloud: maybe the reason I wasn't giving myself time to do art right now is because it is precisely in those quiet moments that I might start to feel overwhelming feelings.  If I can stay busy, I can keep scary feelings at bay.

Then my therapist said, "I think you should remember.  You are not just the prison guard - monitoring who and what comes in and who and what goes out, taking care of the prisoners by preparing food and cleaning up.  It's important to remember that you too are a prisoner in this."

"What do prisoners do all day to get through their sentence?" she asked rhetorically. "They read.  They take classes.  They pick up a new hobby."

The image of a lone prisoner inside their jail cell crocheting popped in to my head.  It was a terrible and beautiful image.  There's tension there: a prisoner doing art.

A prisoner doing art is someone who has accepted their reality and decided to make the most of it. 

I felt a sense of peace at the thought of focusing on the beauty and gifts that can be found inside a prison cell, rather than focusing on the prison cell walls themselves that keep me away from beauty and the gifts on the outside.  It's a small change of perspective.  But it was the very one I needed as I was beginning week 3 of self-isolation, knowing I very well have months more before my family will likely return to life as normal.

In that moment I resolved that I can't just focus on surviving.  I have to focus on thriving.

Everything has changed.  It's scary and I'm afraid just like everyone else.  But there is a lot of opportunity for beauty in this moment in my life.  I've been given a gift of time.  I've been given a gift of discovering more about myself.  I've been given a gift of trusting God.  I've been given a gift of getting to know my children on a deeper level.  I've been given a gift to connect to friends I don't usually have time to connect to.  There are so many tissue flowers I can stick up on my prison cell bars, if I decide to do so.

Instead of feeling trapped, I want to feel secure.  Instead of feeling loss, I want to feel gain.  The world isn't going on without me.  My world is where I am.

Tomorrow starts 4 weeks on self-isolation for my family.  I am still having moments of waking up at 4am for no reason and not being able to go to sleep.  I'm still having feelings of overwhelm and helplessness.  But I now feel more capable of what to do in those moments. 

Instead of focusing on what I've lost, I'm focusing on what I have.

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