“How are you?” It’s a question so ubiquitous in our everyday interactions that it has become more of a greeting than a genuine inquiry. In “normal times,” we begin nearly every meeting with “how are you?” but we rarely expect a response.
In the era of COVID, though, this question feels different. “How are you?” now reeks of insensitivity and artificiality—because we all know that the acceptable reply should be “fine,” but “fine” isn’t a descriptor that can honestly be applied to any of us these days.
I’ve been asking “how are you?” of myself in recent weeks, and I don’t like the answer I’m getting. On the surface, I actually AM fine. Good, even. My family is healthy and safe, my kids are amazing, Luke and I are in a really stable place, and for the most part our household has been unaffected by the big issues facing our country right now. I honestly can’t complain.
When I dig a little deeper, though, I see that I am not quite as “fine” as appearances would indicate. I’m able to think my way into being fine because there’s really no reason not to be. But when I excavate my feelings from the layers of acceptance and denial I’ve heaped upon them, they are telling me a different story.
I’m tired. Emotionally, physically, spiritually . . . I am utterly exhausted. I entered 2020 massively sleep deprived (understandable for a mom of two newborns), and even now that the twins are mostly sleeping through the night, I simply can’t get caught up on sleep. From the second I wake up in the morning until the minute my last child drifts off to sleep at night, I’m meeting needs all day long, and while there’s truly nothing else I would rather be doing, there’s no denying the toll this takes on my physical and mental reserves. At this stage in my life, I don’t know if there’s any amount of sleep or self care that could compensate for the output required of me each day.
To add to the fatigue elicited by the perpetual need-meeting of my family, the world outside the walls of my home is in utter chaos. Back in March (AKA The Beginning of COVID Times), my spirits remained relatively high because I anticipated this (whatever THIS is) would be short-lived. Life might be different for a while, I reasoned, but soon things will return to normal; anyone can tolerate a little discomfort for a few weeks. Oh, the naiveté.
The start of quarantine was odd and uncomfortable, but it was straightforward: we were told not to leave our house, so we didn’t. Now, things are much more complicated: places are open, but is it safe to go? If it is safe, is it worth dealing with the hassle of restrictions just to get out of the house? Social gatherings are also a landmine: it’s difficult to gauge each family’s level of comfort, and broaching the topic feels too stressful to make it worthwhile. Add to all of this the fact that I’m still learning how to navigate life with three children, and the mere thought of emerging from my comfortable little bubble feels entirely foreign and frightening.
As a flaming, upper-case INTROVERT, it’s not hard for me to retreat from social settings, even virtual ones (which I’ve discovered can be even more exhausting than in-person gatherings), but I know this isn’t what’s best for my soul. I might feel most comfortable in the presence of my own company, but spending time with others—though temporarily draining—is essential for enabling me to be my best self.
I know, too, that social time is in the best interest of my children. After many months without seeing other kids, my once-outgoing five-year-old has developed severe social anxiety that is perplexing and heartbreaking and has made me more mindful than ever that COVID is no respecter of persons when it comes to its victims: even the healthy must endure the trauma of its destruction.
My concerns about the if/when/how of socialization are minuscule compared with the unrest I’ve experienced related to the current political landscape in our country. Racial turbulence, the pandemic, the election, the economy—these issues have become more polarized and divisive than ever before, and with so many voices badgering us with their opinions and “facts,” I have a hard time knowing what to believe or who to trust.
I worry about long-term implications of supposed short-term decisions that are being made, and the cultural upheaval we are all experiencing has me feeling all shades of disheartened about what lies ahead for me and especially for our children. As a homeschooling, suburban-dwelling, able-bodied, two-parent, middle-class family still earning a steady paycheck, my own family has been impacted far less than most, but my heart aches for those in more precarious situations.
With all that’s going on in our world, it’s no wonder that I’ve been feeling emotionally stuck. We are ALL experiencing a limbo of sorts, our calendars holding nothing but questions marks, so it would probably be more concerning if I wasn’t feeling some level of anticipatory unease. But the craziness that is our world right now makes for a convenient scapegoat, and I don’t know that these global issues are entirely to blame for my current low-grade levels of malaise. There are definitely other factors at play, and while I can’t name them just yet, I have a feeling that their source is more personal than global in nature. Working through them will require me to stop trying to solve the world’s problems of tomorrow, and start focusing on what’s happening inside of ME right now.
So in answer to the question of “how am I doing?”: I may not be thriving, but I am surviving. My days contain many more bright spots than dark ones, and though large-scale hope feels elusive, small-scale joy is abundant. I’m leaning into the Lord with my questions and concerns, trusting Him for the future and embracing His provision, care and kindness for today.
And how about you? Really and truly: how are you doing right now? It’s a question I think we all need to be asking of ourselves and of our loved ones. You might not like the answers you receive, but I can assure you they will be enlightening. Only once we are honest with the current state of our emotional wellbeing will we able to push forward into an individual and collective place of being honest-to-goodness FINE.