During our former, regular lives (remember them?) before global pandemics, climate change anxiety and extra-nasty political discourse, most caregivers were already just hanging on. We're the last person on our own list, and, if it's possible, we just slid lower. Is there a “less than zero” position or does it just feel like that some days?
And then came COVID-19, shutting down the outside world and forcing us inside. For some, the thought of working from home or an enforced staycation felt like a welcome interlude. Cutting the commute, bingeing streaming shows, baking bread, sorting closets and being closer to family sounded kind of OK. Until it wasn't. For caregivers, a job already defined by isolation now felt like being a lighthouse keeper in the North Sea.
Human beings aren't good with uncertainty. Give us something to shoot for — a date, a goal, a destination, or even a percentage — and we'll gladly set our navigation. But as I concluded yet another day of tasks undone, piles of laundry, work deadlines missed and doctor's appointments skipped, I felt the familiar sense of caregiver failure. Oh, and did I mention the dog with anxiety attacks who needed to be walked and fed?
With three of four children home, one adult child's significant other and a husband who makes his living on the road (translation: caged animal), life went upside down pretty quickly. The family room, which had always been my office, now became the town square. People felt entitled to use their outdoor voices inside, especially when I was on a video call. And let's talk about that for a moment. What was wrong with a simple phone call? Why did we all have to look at one another when we spoke and suffer the additional torture of seeing ourselves on screen? Did I need hourly reminders of my sallow complexion, furrowed brow and extra chin?
The sheer volume of food required for the home, the laundry mounds, multiple showers and shoes strategically piled for maximum bone breakage astounded me. I marveled at my younger self. How had I once juggled all of these things with a full-time job? How had I done this while nursing my husband back to health after a life-threatening injury? Was I out of practice or simply out of gas?
And then came a final straw. Due to a COVID-19 case, my mother's senior living facility was confining residents to their apartments. My mom was not allowed to even take her little bag of trash to the hall chute.