The new normal

I can’t speak for my colleagues, much less thousands of Advertiser readers, but after eight weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am spent.

Our editorial team, reduced by two reporters due to layoffs, is in the office two days per week to ensure the newspaper gets to press.  But those are typically very long days. And then we work from home the rest of the week.

Some days are busier than others of course, but for me, working every day for eight weeks straight during this pandemic has been physically, emotionally and mentally draining. Personally, I struggle most with not being able to properly care for my two daughters during busy days working from home. There’s far too much screen time for them and far too little school work and quality time with Dad.

Aged six and seven, they’re likely too young to remember most of this, and I’m sure they love the excessive YouTube and Netflix sessions, but it breaks my heart all the same. Will this temporary lack of balance affect their long-term development? Probably not, but that doesn’t ease my mind at all.

One particularly busy day a couple weeks ago, my daughter, with tears in her eyes, innocently asked, “Why are you ignoring us, Dad? Don’t you care about us anymore?” That was a tough day for all of us.

My constant worry as a parent is compounded by interrupted sleep, irregular meal times and an unhealthy combination of too much junk food and alcohol and too little exercise.

Then, of course, there’s the impact of the mundane nature of this new normal (I feel like 90% of my “free time” is occupied by making meals, cleaning up, and loading and unloading the damn dishwasher), plus the loneliness all of us are feeling as physical distancing requirements drag on into a second month.

Some days aren’t bad, but others it feels like I’m drowning in an unfamiliar tidal wave of work, guilt and anxiety. Ask me how I’m doing and like countless others I will reply, “I’m okay” or “I’m fine.” But I shouldn’t. For the first time in my life, I may not be fine at all. Yet others are struggling far more than me.

I still have a job, and so does my wife, who works as an ER nurse in Mississauga on the frontline of this crisis. Without fail, she’s up and out the door before dawn and doesn’t return home until well past nightfall, about the time we  put our girls to bed. I try to set aside a few moments to discuss her day, but it’s not enough. And before I know it, she’s off to get some sleep before she has to do it all over again the next day. Sometimes weeks go by without us having a full conversation or a full day together as a family.

My worry about my daughters is equalled only by my concern for my wife. I’ve seen photos of her in full PPE and it can’t be comfortable for one minute, never mind several hours. But that’s far from the hardest part of her shift.

With each passing week, her patients are getting more sick, yet like countless other health care workers, she’s there day in and day out, putting her own physical and mental health on the line to fight for strangers against an invisible virus. She’s told she’s a hero, but she sure doesn’t feel like one.

And what’s her reward for four backbreaking shifts per week? On her few days off she gets to take care of our daughters while I go to work. There’s no down time, no time for herself – something that’s vital to those in her profession at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. So no, she’s not okay either. But we’re carrying on as best we can. It’s all we can do.

I thought it was important to share these thoughts during Mental Health Week, but honestly, I debated for weeks whether or not I would/could share them at all.

I don’t like others knowing my business. I despise people who make everything about themselves. I shudder at the thought this editorial will lead to questions about my wellbeing. I can’t stand anyone looking at me with pity (I don’t want it or deserve it). And I loathe the thought of anyone feeling bad for my family (we’re too blessed for that). But what I would hate most, is for others going through something similar to think they are alone.

I know a lot of our readers aren’t okay right now. Trust me, it’s to be expected given these unprecedented times. If you need help, please reach out to a friend and/or a mental health professional in the area.

We are all worth it.