I've spent the last few months scrolling and clicking. Scrolling through news sites to see the latest information on the COVID‐19 pandemic. Scrolling endlessly through social media to learn how to wash my hands properly and to make my own face mask out of a bandana and hair bands. Clicking through graphs to see the growing number of cases globally. Clicking through interactive charts that predict how the virus will continue to spread if we do nothing, if we adhere to social distancing and if we shelter in place.
I've spent the last few months scrolling and clicking, highly anxious and despairing about a pandemic and the Trump administration's utter failure to prioritize American lives over their own selfish interests. I lay awake at night worried about what will happen next to all of us—folks close to me; folks working in hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, food services, parcel deliveries, food banks and all those other essential services that keep our world running; and folks without homes or safe places or resources.
I scroll, click and worry while trying to balance work—writing assignments, editing two magazines, giving lectures in webinars, answering endless emails and finishing book projects—and life—homeschooling a kindergartner and a fifth grader, being a partner and mother, checking in on friends and family, convincing my parents to take COVID‐19 seriously and attempting to manage my mental disorders in all of the current chaos.
Disruptions, Disruptions, Disruptions
My life, our lives, are disrupted. Workflow disrupted. Home life disrupted. I move from role to role, back and forth each day, exhausted and weary.
I coach my kids through the work their teachers have sent home: thick paper packets, online assessments and educational apps. Home is now also school for kids who likely won't go back to school this year. My partner and I take shifts each day, with someone in charge in the morning or afternoon. And yet, my kids want me to help and to be near them as they also figure out how to live during a crisis. They keep rooting me out no matter where I hide to work—in my office, in my bedroom or on the front porch.
Now, I work at a creeping pace, never feeling like I've accomplished one‐third of my to‐do list, because I haven't. Each day, I pare down the list even more than the day before, and I feel I will remain perpetually behind far into the future, a future that is fraught and uncertain. Each day feels undecipherable from the last. It's hard to keep track of time when each day feels like an hour or a week.
Flailing and Failing
I know that all of us are dealing with a lot right now. I know that I'm in a relatively privileged position because my partner's job is secure and mine is too. I can shift my schedule to home school. I can shelter in place, unlike so many other people who work with the public each day or lack shelter entirely. I know, intellectually, that there's no way for anyone to do anything well right now. I know this. I do. But, emotionally, I feel like I'm flailing and failing as I'm barely able to do the things I must do.
Flailing and failing feels like all I can do. Nothing is ever enough, and no amount of working each day makes a dent in my ever‐growing to‐do list. I'm frustrated, angry and defeated because everything feels like too much and never enough. I'm struggling to juggle life and work.
Juggling obligations was the topic of my last column. I noted, “We juggle the best we can. We have to realize that sometimes we are going to drop a ball or two.… But we also have to learn that we just have to juggle and sometimes we are going to be bad at it.” I wanted readers to know that we can't always do everything well; it's simply not possible. We can only do good enough. We can only keep so many balls in the air at one time.
But, right now, I'm not even close to good enough. Good enough has left the building. I'm a juggler who can't keep a single ball in the air. The balls are falling all around me and smacking me in the face on the way down.
I come back to the line from Nora Roberts about how some balls are glass and others are plastic. All the balls—those plastic ones that it's OK to drop and those precious glass ones we want to always keep in the air—can't stay up when we are in the middle of a crisis. They can't. We drop them. So, we must make hard decisions about which balls we can toss back up and which ones we'll never pick up again.
Crisis can offer us clarity. Crisis shows us the difference between our values, ideals and expectations. Crisis makes us evaluate what we do because other people expect us to and whether we live up to our values. Crisis shows us what matters or doesn't.
During my first week of sheltering in place, I realized that what mattered most to me was family and friends. Caring for them during a pandemic was my priority, so I did. I dropped other expectations. You can too. Learn which balls are truly glass and which plastic ones don't matter at all. Remember what matters most to you. Recalibrate your priorities. Figure out what you must juggle and discard the rest. And move forward knowing that you'll juggle the best you can during this struggle. That's all I'm trying to do, even if I end up dropping some balls to keep those glass ones afloat.