Not Built for What Comes Next

Content warning: This post briefly mentions attempted suicide from years ago.

Recently I wrote that I was built for times like these. And I clarified that I meant quarantine itself, not the reasons for quarantine. For dwelling, literally, at home with my people.

I’m not built for what comes next. In my life, thus far, what came next was my husband’s job layoff. A punch to the gut one brief week into our collective crisis. Executed on a Saturday.

Not being particularly built for a wage-free life in a wage-dependent world, I now must course correct. Quickly. The path I’ve been traveling is through a field of creative work. Through querying books and offering short stories on Patreon. Through piecing together a picture book. Through long hours with little pay but tremendous reward.

My course must change swiftly. My husband’s job provided our family’s needs while I explored my creative side. However, his chronic illness makes job hunting at this time…fraught. Meanwhile I have other interests, other skill sets, and other prospects. The opportunities range from basic to exciting, and I’m discovering them all.

As I set aside one path and pick up another, I worry about what comes next next. I worry for my sister and brother in their people-facing roles. I worry for my parents. I worry for my children. For my husband. For the family members and friends and neighbors whose health or finances, or both, leaves them on the razor’s edge of crisis.

Sadly, I was built for the worry. Just not for living the reality. But I will if I must.

Because of a promise I made to my dying nephew nearly ten years ago. That was several months after my foiled suicide attempt. I promised my nephew that I would stay for the hard stuff. For the pain and heartache. For the struggle and strife. Though I couldn’t have known then, even for this moment in time.

My constant prayer is that the suffering of Covid-19 ends quickly. That health rebounds. That people find economic relief. That every person has every need met.

Because none of us is built for what comes next if the next thing is further down the rabbit hole. If contagion, sickness, and economic free fall come next, we’ll have to build ourselves anew.

But we can promise to be here now. Stand in the gap between now and next.


Of Zebras and Workhorses

The most excellent thing about having flu A last week: I had very few worries about Covid-19. I knew about it and vaguely considered the ways it impacted my family, but my nervous nervous system was subdued by flu.

This morning was the first day I awoke feeling truly like I had overcome the flu. Yay! And cue the nervous nervous system.

My stomach clenched. My chest ached. I could not breathe or function. What was happening? Was the flu back? No. Just plain old stress as usual.

Only it’s not plain, old, or usual. It’s fancy and new and, dare I say, novel. These are strange times with zebra worries. But that doesn’t mean I get to ignore the plain, old, usual workhorses of worry. The things I’ve always worried about remain. Notable exceptions: I don’t worry about school shootings currently, which is amazing; I don’t worry about my husband’s commute, as he doesn’t have one; I don’t worry about the ordinary school worries, as my kids are home. But my low-level anxiety over my kids, husband, extended family, community, and self continue for the most part.

Additionally, the zebra worries. What if Covid-19…No, but really, what if Covid-19…What if the vulnerable people I love contract it? What if we all contract it? What if people lose their jobs in droves? What if we have a New Great Depression? What if?

Zebra worries are a sort of bread and butter for writers. The propensity to generate those what-ifs grants a writer a powerful tool to explore ideas. Left unchecked, zebra worries become an ever-growing stampede of anxiety that can and will kill.

So it’s time to get back to checking the zebras. And back to work and managing the workhorse worries.

Last night we sat down with our boys and explained that this is our new normal: We are all at home for the foreseeable future. We each have jobs to do. We each have work stations and schedules and responsibility to keep to them. I said, “Do not make this a possibility in your minds. Make it an absolute. This is happening right now. Absolutely.”

We will have bumps, like any group of people working in close quarters. The kids will need sufficient guidance to follow any sort of home education program three-quarters into the school year. Among us we have a mom, dad, preteen, and two teens. We will need to build in breathing room.

What’s my point? Those are workhorses. Not zebras. Consuming myself with zebras I can do little about [but seriously, follow the CDC guidelines], carries me further from situating my workhorses of time management, household management, mothering, education, and creative work.

If you’re feeling a little zebra-focused, bring your eyes back home. Where your workhorses are. Make a plan and work the plan. And we will, inasmuch as is possible for each of us, all get through this together.

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