I was nine months pregnant with David in May of 2009 when Jackson tested positive for swine flu (H1N1 – the pandemic at the time).
Morgan came down with it a couple of days later.
The rest of the world was on alert, but most were still able to go on with their lives. Our family, though, was quarantined for the better part of two weeks. Then, when I (FINALLY) went into labor with David, the kids weren’t allowed to come see us – to meet their new baby brother. Our doctors kept us in the hospital for a few extra days to try to protect Baby David from exposure to H1N1 since that particular pandemic was especially hard on youngsters. It didn’t help that the little guy had some initial challenges managing his blood sugars and so was admitted into the NICU for a time.
It’s still kind of a sensitive subject for the kids that they have friends and cousins who met their new brother DAYS before they did. I guess we didn’t think that one through very well. Oops. The truth is I was pretty much white knuckling my way through #allthethings at that time. I kept at a distance all the anxiety, fear, and pain that were very reasonable responses to the situation. It was too much for me to embrace, so I pushed it away and did what I had to do to get through.
It’s my tendency to tackle life this way and, even though it’s not really effective for the long haul, this approach has often bought me time when I needed it.
The swine flu incident wasn’t our first family quaratine.
When Charlie was five, he was swimming at a local water park, got kicked in the eye by a fellow swimmer…and contracted herpes.
In his eyes.
I’ve not even kidding.
It turns out chorine doesn’t kill #allthethings.
And it turns out that herpes in the eyes is serious…and seriously contagious.
No one wanted to be anywhere near us – especially when they heard little Charlie had tiny blisters all around the rims of his eyes, on his eyes, and inside them – on the retinae. We understood the need to stay away from all the people because we were experiencing the impact of the disease firsthand. But it was still hard. And lonely.
It was kind of scary, too. Doctors were concerned he would lose his sight, so we hit this particular virus with everything available to us. He took oral anti-viral meds for weeks, and three times a day we had to treat his already owie eyes with burning, stinging eye drops. Two different kinds. It was all-consuming, very scary and isolating for all of us, and extremely painful for Charlie.
Except for the daily visits to the ophthalmologist (seven days a week for two weeks), the kids and I spent a solid month stuck at home, and I spent most of my time cleaning every surface of our house while keeping Charlie completely secluded from everyone else. We had friends bring us groceries and sanitizer, leave them on our front porch, and wave to us from a safe distance.
Again – like I do – I put my head down and charged through the crisis.
These are crazy days we are living in. I read somewhere today that the human race averages about three pandemics per every one hundred years. That seems like a lot, doesn’t it? I guess it’s hard for the collective consciousness to hold on to that historical statistic when the last pandemic was over a decade ago and really didn’t do more than inconvenience some of us a bit. It did, however, impact the lives of the 60 million+ that contracted the illness in that year – and that was just in the United States. And even more so, it impacted the families of the near half a million people worldwide the CDC estimates died from H1N1 that year.
Thankfully, my kids weathered swine flu well, and we were able to keep it contained between the two of them. Charlie recovered from the herpes-in-the-eyes incident without any lingering issues and without spreading it to anyone else.
And both experiences just mixed in with all of the crazy and fairly regular catastrophic-ish events that happen to our family on a frighteningly frequent basis.
Like the time Charlie was hospitalized during a serious battle with pneumonia, then shut away for a few weeks to protect his still-compromised immune system. And like Morgan’s similar battle with pneumonia (and later, with mono) that kept us shut in for what seemed like forever. And Charlie’s broken leg. And my countless surgeries. And the prolonged illnesses of both my parents before they passed away.
And the ongoing limits of my journey with chronic pain.
This is my ride, and I’m kind of used to it. But the posture I’ve held to get through it all over the years doesn’t work for me anymore. I can’t just put my head down and charge through like I could even ten years ago.
I have been doing a LOT of work in recent years learning how to relax into my journey a bit more – how to release my hands from that white-knuckled death grip I like to hold on life – how to remember that God’s got me when I’m on the smooth and straight path as well as when I’m on the twisting and turning roundabouts that make us all crazy – and, just as important, how to be okay with the very natural responses I have to those really scary parts of my journey.
This last week, as we began to try to adjust to the ways COVID-19 is impacting our lives, I noticed my knuckles turning white once again. I felt the all-too-familiar urge to dig in and push through this season wrap itself around me and begin to take me down. And I felt sure I would go under from the weight of it.
But I noticed.
I saw the familiar patterns, and I named them.
Fear. Anxiety. Grief. Selfishness. Loneliness.
And then I realized that I actually know how to do this.
I know how to see these parts of me that rise up in times of crisis, and I know how to take care of them. I’m not great at it (yet – this is for my therapist), but I know what to do.
I have learned how important it is to make space for the loneliness, the grief and the disappointments that come when life shuts down because of things like illness, chronic pain, or a worldwide pandemic.
Because life doesn’t really shut down, does it? And if I don’t loosen my hold and allow myself the space to move through those feelings, then the living that continues around me will be inaccessible to me…and worse, I will be inaccessible to others.
Despite COVID-10, a lot of living is currently happening within these four walls that we call home. Both of my college boys – like college students everywhere – had to move home mid-semester with little warning. They even brought a bonus boy or two home with them.
David, who thrives within the structure of school, is now about to experience (very light) homeschooling for the first time. #Godhelpme
I’m no stranger to homeschooling after 15 years of doing it with the older kiddos, but homeschooling David will be a whole ‘nother level…especially when he’s dealing with the anxiety and dysregulation caused by the disruption and upheaval of his day-to-day expectations. Navigating the coronavirus while supporting a child on the autism spectrum is bound to take us on an interesting ride, don’t you think?
I have a lot of daily practices going on at all times to help me manage #allthethings.
Solitude. Embroidery. Prayer. Writing. FaceTime with my people. Crochet. Reading. Group chats with other mamas in the trenches. Naps. More solitude. And then more naps.
And maybe a bit of Netflix binging on the side.
But, you see, this is my normal. This social distancing thing was already pretty much my jam. And I’m feeling pretty grateful for that right now. That’s an interesting place for me to be. It’s not often that I am able to reflect on this part of my life – the limits, the aloneness, the boundaries – with an attitude of thankfulness. I’ve become accustomed to it, but that’s not at all the same thing as being at peace with it. The work that I’ve done in therapy has been largely about coming to terms with this narrow space I live in.
The Psalmist, David, in a song of gratitude to God, expressed wonder and amazement at how good God was to “hem (me) in behind and before” (Psalm 139:5). I’ve tried to use this image to frame my journey so that instead of seeing my life as full of limitations and can’ts, I can see it more like a safe place God has created just for me.
So the narrow space my body lives and struggles in becomes a wide-open space for my spirit and my soul.
The current situation with COVID-19 is far-reaching in its impact around the world and unprecedented in our time…and its impact on myself and those I care about is very real.
Just as it is for most everyone on the planet.
I think we have to give ourselves the space to feel #allthethings as they rise up within us.
When I do this I see that #allthethings are really useful to me if my goal is to know God.
Now, honestly, that’s not always my goal. And when it’s not, #allthethings really cramp my style. I don’t want to stay home. I don’t want to be chronically ill and in pain. I don’t want my children to be sick and shut away. I don’t want to be left out of an event or gathering because my body isn’t able to manage the activity. I don’t want to struggle with anxiety and depression. I don’t want the discomforts of isolation and quarantine. I don’t want to live in a narrow space.
I don’t want #allthethings.
But when I want to know Him – really know Him – then I have to come to terms with the reality that this kind of knowing only happens when we’re living in the narrow places.