When the coronavirus first hit, it actually didn’t affect my day-to-day life that much.
As an introverted workaholic who was mostly staying home in order to take care of a baby, not that much changed for me.
In fact, I was good at this. I thought, “I got this.” I could sit inside and work all day, no problem.
I stayed up until 1 in the morning working on freelance writing and editing assignments. I took on more jobs than I should have — mostly to distract myself from the insanity of the outside world. When my babysitter had to quit because she lives with an immunocompromised person, I worked even harder and later because when my baby was awake, it was too difficult to be productive for long stretches of time.
But then, a few weeks into the shutdown, I lost three writing gigs in a row. The first one was a daily job I’d done for seven months. The second was a full-time editing gig. The third was a freelance marketing position. Suddenly, I didn’t have enough assignments to fill the 10 hours a day I usually worked. I went from having multiple income streams to not knowing where my next paycheck was going to come from.
As the pandemic worsened, I was obsessively checking the news. I kept reading and hearing that the economy was crashing, and that I needed to brace myself for an even worse fallout. I had no steady work — and therefore I had hours every day to conjure up a negative future in my head. I kept thinking, “Who is going to lay me off next?”
I panicked — and not only about possibly getting sick, or a family member or friend getting sick. I panicked about about being stuck inside all day without much to do. I worried about how I was going to pay my bills. I cried often. I stayed up until 5 in the morning worrying. I began eating junk food for comfort and quickly put on some weight. I gave up working out because I didn’t have any energy. I’d quit therapy two weeks before the pandemic hit because I was in a good place mentally — and then I ruminated on the unfortunate timing of my decision.
And yet, I soldiered on. I did what a good little workaholic does: I found even more clients. It didn’t matter that I was working for a lot less money than I was used to earning. I had to stay busy and occupy my brain from the catastrophe it seemed the world had become. As long as I was working, I reasoned, I wouldn’t have to think about the rising coronavirus death rate, the crumbling economy, and the pain and sadness everywhere.
But then, that didn’t work either. Though my income was steady-ish, I still continued to worry. I didn’t know how we’d be able to afford to stay in Los Angeles if a rolling economic fallout occurred, or what I’d do if someone I loved got sick. I just couldn’t focus on much else other than my work and the trauma happening all around me. It didn’t help that I was only leaving the house once a week, and even then, I’d just get in my car and drive around for an hour and come back home. I wasn’t able to connect with other people or nature.
Finally, once June rolled around, my husband and I decided it was safe to go outside again, so long as we kept a safe distance from others. We drove far away to a lake with our baby and sat by the water for a few hours, watching the geese go by. During that time, I didn’t look at my phone and we didn’t talk about the news. We just focused on the lovely scenery.
Those few hours were the best I’d felt in months. It was so calming and serene and I felt rejuvenated afterwards. Being away from my phone for a few hours, spending time with the people I love the most, and seeing that the world wasn’t the scary place I was imagining the entire time I was hunkering down were incredibly calming.
I couldn’t wait to do it again.
I saw that by spending my days and nights feeling anxious, I wasn’t living at all. Just because it seemed like the world was out of control it didn’t mean my life had to be as well.
So, I made the decision to stop working all the time — even if that meant my income would take a hit. I even left my desk in the middle of the week to get my time in with nature. I took more walks at sunset around my neighborhood. I would have never done that in regular times, but Covid-19 helped me realize what was important to me: my family, self-care, and recognizing God’s magnificent creations, which includes everything from the jacaranda trees lining our street to the ocean just a few minutes away. Work, I realized, was far down on that list.
Over the next few weeks, my family and I went to the beaches and parks. We went on a nice hike. We got suntans and ate falafels by the water and showed our baby the Pacific Ocean as I dug my feet into the sand and felt the cold, salty water on my toes. We ran away from squawking geese and played fetch with our dog in the grass and took the roof off our Jeep Wrangler in order to see the beautiful palm trees over our heads while we drifted down the highway.
Yes, the world feels like it’s been turned on its head. We don’t know what the future will be. Some of it is scary — like just how and when the pandemic will end — while some of it, like positive social change, is exciting.
I thought a good response to the chaos would be to become a workaholic. Working nonstop, I falsely believed, would comfort me. But what I discovered is it only made things worse — working more and harder didn’t relieve my anxiety, it simply exacerbated it.
Instead, I am trying to see the bigger picture. The world may be in a tough place right now, but there is still so much beauty and so much good all around us. I don’t have to fixate on the bad. I could focus on the good. I have a loving husband and wonderful daughter. I have family and friends and pets. I have a home with a backyard. I live in California and can go to the ocean and take walks and enjoy the sunshine. Once I start to count the blessings in my life, I see they greatly outweigh the hardships.
No matter what the future holds, I now know what I need to do to stay centered and healthy going forward: I can enjoy nature, be with my husband and daughter, pray, and reassure myself that everything will be OK. I will get through this, just like I’ve gotten through tough times before. In fact, with just a little more practice, I think I’ll even be good at it. I got this.
Original image by Polar_lights/Getty Images