Maintaining optimism

8 months ago, the Corona Virus vastly changed my American way of life. One day, everything felt normal. I was dropping the kids off at school every day, working from my therapy office, planning trips and vacations a few months in advance, and enjoying weekends with my little family. My partner and I had a robust social life, going out with friends, double-dating, hosting movie nights, seeing movies and plays and live music. I went to the gym five times per week. I spent 6 to 10 hours per week in coffee shops, writing about my life or researching passion projects, like the one that became the documentary Dog Valley.

And then one day, everything was cancelled. School was out, and restaurants were closed, and gyms were closed, and coffee shops were closed, and suddenly it felt unsafe to go into the office. I had three trips planned that had to t cancelled as well: a family vacation to Cancun that the kids had looked forward to for months, a trip to show my partner New York City for the first time, and a week in Winnipeg with my best friend, one we had just booked after weeks of talking about it. The kids couldn’t see their friends at recess and had a hard time understanding why. I reassured them that it would all be over soon.

And then Salt Lake City was struck by a few earthquakes. And then school got out for the summer. And I closed my therapy office and began working from home, which meant seeing clients over a computer instead of in person and also keeping small children entertained all day. I couldn’t travel, and without the space to travel or even go to coffee shops, my writing inspiration went silent. I suddenly had nothing to write about. I needed to reassess, to stay happy if I was going to keep happiness in my home, and that meant changing the way I cope with everything. I’d have to change me first, then set the new trend for my family. And then there were the crazy hurricane winds that blew over ancient trees all across the city and knocked out power for days. We just went numb after a while.

Now normally, my kids had very robust social lives themselves. Play dates, painting classes, trips to the zoo and aquarium, weekly visits to the swimming pool. With everything closed, we had to change it all up. I began planning little ‘event nights’ for most nights during the week. A solo dad day for each son during the week, where we could focus on doing something they loved one on one. A Disney movie night. A board game night. A night where we ordered take out. A craft night. A coloring night. A Smash Bros tournament night. Nights of home-cooking meals together. I signed both boys up for some monthly ‘subscription’ boxes, where crafts and projects would be mailed to them. We started doing yoga at home, going to the park more, and taking one night once per month to go stay in a hotel nearby somewhere just for fun, a safe change of scenery that would allow us to continue creating memories.

And my own self-care began to shift as well. I started taking long bike rides, long baths, reading comic books more, thinking about new things to research down the line when it was safe again. I got mediocre equipment to start working out from home. I chose some shows to watch that I’d wanted to see for years and began powering through them a few episodes per day. I started taking long baths, and cooking from home more, and getting high more often, which meant my sleep was steadily improving. I saw clients over my computer from my own home, and found myself busier than ever, which meant more work but also more money coming in. Instead of spending time with lots of friends, we started hanging out with just two, another couple we had known for years. And then that couple broke up and we were spending time with only one person, my best friend Kole.

And then summer changed to fall, and the balance was disrupted again when we made the decision to not send the kids back to school. So suddenly it wasn’t just entertaining kids during the day while working impossible hours from home, it was now keeping them on task with school work while their anxiety soared and I was unavailable for hours at a time. Every moment I wasn’t doing therapy, I was suddenly helping with homework, playing the roles of teacher and tutor and parent all at once, while trying to get dishes and laundry done and bills paid. My bike rides slipped, the event nights stopped happening, and stress climbed slowly and steadily. Coping became much more difficult.

And so the conversation shifted. Again. If this was going to last a while, how do we make this better for my little family, keep optimism high and routine consistent? And so plans that were probably five years down the line suddenly became present-tense. My partner and I had talked about buying a house together somewhere in the future, having a garden in the back, maybe some chickens, and even getting a puppy. But with us both working from home and schooling the kids, the space and the change suddenly became a need instead of a want, and we opened ourselves up to the house hunt. And after all the searching, the appraisals, the financial and background paperwork, we found a cute little home that seemed perfect for our family. And then there was all the packing and sorting and storing, the cleaning and moving, the unloading and unpacking.

We spent three days in our new home, painting the kids walls and setting up furniture, getting used to where the new light switches and water mains were, learning about the water pressure in the shower and the length of the stairs in the dark. And then we got a new six-week old puppy, perhaps the cutest thing on the planet, and accepted all of the sleepless nights and responsibility that came with that. Covid numbers were going up, and here we were, ready for a new beginning, with space and solace to expand in.

And then the next day, the first one after the new puppy, I came down with Covid symptoms. And then Mike did. And the kids had to stay elsewhere for weeks, unable to enjoy the new home and bedrooms and puppy. And I was on the couch with fever, headaches, body aches, and extreme lethargy as a small puppy needed a tremendous amount of attention and to get up multiple nights per week.

Well, it’s been a few weeks since then. The Covid is gone, but the residual fatigue remains, making me so tired every evening that I want to go to bed at 7 pm–I understand this can last for a few months yet. I have an understanding of how this disease impacts human lives heavily and swiftly, and it has made me more afraid of it, because it could so easily strike my mother or another loved one. 300,000 American lives and millions worldwide. And I’m flummoxed at how callous most people are being about this. The virus continues to rage and claim lives.

It’s a few weeks later and we are in the throws of a Presidential election with consequences so vast on either side. I gladly call myself a liberal, and to me, Trump winning signals the end of democracy as we know it, as I see him as much more of a Hitler than a Roosevelt. But for many of my sane loved ones who voted for Trump, they have a similar fear of socialism, and they feel that voting in Biden may mean the end of their own version of democracy. The stakes are high and the battle lines are drawn and the whole world watches with eager anticipation. Me, I have an undercurrent of anxiety that won’t seem to go away.

It’s a few weeks later and the puppy is a slightly bigger puppy, who is playful and tired, sweet and aggressive in equal measure. We are absolutely enamored of him. The house needs a lot of attention and set-up and it has come to feel like a refuge for all of us in many ways. The kids are falling into a consistent routine. We made a happy little Halloween for us right there in our home, and we plan to do the same for the upcoming holidays.

And so six plus months have passed, and we have grown into new people. And we will continue to do so. But I find the best tool to combat all of this, the best thing to make it all okay, remains that routine, that daily focus on making life okay for all of us one day at a time. With that, we can use the optimism and consistency to recognize the people we are becoming. And, with all things, trials do their best to tear us down, and it is our skills in climbing back up that teach us new things about ourselves.

I hope when all this madness emerges that me and my family emerge from the ashes stronger and more hopeful than when we went into the fire.

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