‘That could be us,’ I whisper. This time it was a young family guy. I look at him and see my husband, the father of my kids staring back at me.’: Woman with anxiety during pandemic says ‘today I’m making the choice to focus on what I can control’

“Scrolling through my feed. There’s another story. A paralyzingly scary one, riddled with sickness and sorrow. Phrases like ‘young’ and ‘picture of health’ are preceded by a date of death.

This time it was a man. A young family guy. In the photos he looks so happy and adored. I look at him and I see my husband, and the father of my children staring back at me.

But my husband is safely next to me on the couch. He is playing the Nintendo Switch he bought partly for our son… and partly for himself. He is a big, goofy kid. I can reach out and touch him. I know he is here, and feeling fine, but still my throat tightens, my mouth dries out, my heartbeat quickens. A feeling of dread overwhelms me like an ocean wave.

I try to savor the fleeting moment we are having together, but later that night; the tears just fall.

All this heavy emotion and grief is triggered by an article about a someone I never had the privilege to meet. Someone whose name I shamefully didn’t remember when the tears started to fall, and whose name I honestly can’t recall now because each day new, and much scarier articles with the same painful endings are shared onto my timeline and seared onto my heart. I may not know that man, but the pain transferred from the words on the screen about him to my own breaking heart is palpable.

Maybe it’s selfish, but the bitter truth is that while I’ve been honestly so horrified for all these families, I’ve also been so overwhelmed with panic that I just haven’t seen any of them in their own stories yet. When I click an article, my own fears overwhelm me and, in a stranger’s, happy photos I always see my own family staring back at me.

I see our adventures…our laughs… our love… our lives together…

‘That could be us,’ I whisper.

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

I feel the joy from their pictures with the happy, unknowing laughs as the article makes my stomach drop to remind me that this photo was taken ‘just days before’. It’s a bittersweet reminder of the uncertainty in this life that tugs on my heart with the weight of the entire world.

The next day, my eyes glance away from my screen where I’m either watching funny videos or reading another dose of hard news. As I look across the room, I see my toddler, blissfully unaware. She drops her snack on the floor, picks it up and continues eating it like it’s no big deal. ‘But is it?’ I wonder.

A week ago, this kind of thing was fine. A week ago, I was a ten second rule parent… yeah even in our hotel ‘home.’ Okay, let’s cut the crap. I was more like ‘a few days rule’ parent, if what she found was a lone fruit loop from a treat three days ago. Friend, if it was 90% preservatives already, I probably wasn’t sprinting across the room to do an off-brand Heimlich Maneuver to try to get it back. I saw it all more as building immunity, and not possible demise. #secondchildproblems.

Today, however, I’m unsure WHAT to feel. When I look at empty shelves in stores. When I finally find some wipes! When I see nickel size bottles of sanitizer posted for sale online for more than an iPad. When I scroll my feed reading these tragic stories. I just don’t know what to feel toward the parts of my own life and motherhood that I was so sure of a month ago. Do you?

I think back to that phrase ‘picture of health’ and it makes me want to fly out of my body in a panic. It makes me want to get really rigid with my husband, my kids and our lives. My anxiousness wants me to try to force unyielding control over every single thing within my grasp.

I want to copy every ‘stay safe covid-19 hack’ the internet is giving me and paste it over our entire life.

Fear tells me ‘it’s okay to let this situation push me to panic buy things we won’t need. WE COULD NEED IT. It’s okay to be reactive and get angry when the kids don’t wash their hands long enough. THEY HAVE TO LEARN. It’s okay to put my children in bubbles. THEY CAN’T GET THIS SICK. It’s okay to just lock us all in this room and throw away the key. YOU’RE KEEPING THEM SAFE. No matter how you react, it’s ALL for their own good.’

But then I realize…
Even if I bought everything off the shelves of stores….
Even if I become the Drill Sergeant of our home, acting fearful, bitter, and demanding to get everything clean and kept separate…
Even if I make my kids little copies of stress and bad reactions, while they seemingly reduce every germ on their hands to nothing….
Even if I wipe, and scrub my cart, while staring meanly at the person with the decency to stand ONLY five and a half feet from me in a store instead of SIX (the AUDACITY) …

NONE of this will still ever be in my control.

I personally believe God is in control, but maybe you’re different. Regardless, you and I can both meet in the middle with the knowledge that we could spend our time worrying away years from our life over this, but we will still NEVER be able to ‘worry’ ourselves into control. We will also never be able to ‘worry’ ourselves and our kids to safety. All we can do is control our own behavior and reactions in these hard times and be mindful of the example we set for those watching us.

Of course, an acceptance of not being in control isn’t a pass to ignore thoughtful recommendations by the government or say, ‘screw it’ and put others in danger. We all have to be cautious.

But in this situation, I also see the truth that this is a defining parenting moment for us. You and I have the power to lead our kids well, and the opportunity to help them form the lens they will view this entire scary situation, and their own future uncertainties through.

Moms and Dads, right now you and I get to set the tone for our kids. So much is out of our control, but not this. While we are healthy and the only thing making us sick is the news, the tone of our home is our choice to make…

After absorbing the news, we can let it be a hectic, fear-based tone with alarming talks of conspiracies, politics, and WW3, taking place under a cloud of lung burning chemicals to be extra ‘safe’.

Or maybe a ‘laid back’ approach that manifests in letting the kids consume way, way, way too much screen time because we are too crippled by our own fears and anxieties (brought to us via the same glowing devices) to have the energy and patience to engage with them. Honestly, fear has pushed me to be guilty of both of these lately…

But I’m realizing that a lot of us, myself included, are still fortunate enough to wake up and let neither of these examples be the tone we allow into our home.

In fact, we still graciously have the choice to make our tone calm, even— one that’s engaging, slow, and intentional. One that is always looking for the good, and not consumed by the scary things beyond our control. Sally Clarkson says, ‘The attitude I adopt every day can affect the whole demeanor of my home.’ As I’ve felt my whole demeanor change each day just by reading article after article lately, I truly believe it.

That’s why in the face of the unknown, I’m personally choosing to turn my attention away from ‘what if’ and focusing on right now. No matter what the future holds, there is still so much beauty to appreciate in this small room with me that I just don’t want to miss because I’m distracted trying to control everyone and be ‘prepared.’

It’s not going to be perfect. Not one bit, but I don’t want to let this time that I AM healthy be overshadowed by any fear-based reactions.

In an unprecedented time like this, I know it’s a privilege if an internal struggle with ‘what if’ is one of our only issues, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t profound negative impacts to an unchecked spiral for ourselves and our families.

My hope is that those of you who have also felt fearful and overwhelmed by what you read, can feel empowered to make the choice to put down the articles and press conferences for as long as you can, and give yourself space for a mental break from it all. I hope that space helps you accept that reading those articles won’t change what really matters in front of you, and that you are able to lean into using the seemingly ‘never-ending’ or very limited time that you have with your family each day intentionally.

Yeah it kind of stinks, but as adults, you and I are probably not going to see the ‘fruit’ of our labor to set an intentional and positive tone for our homes anytime soon. We will still struggle with the scary and the unknown in the backs of our mind. It will pop up on our feed. It will make us cry. It may shake us to our core…

Meanwhile, our kids will likely be oblivious of the exhausting effort we have to put into making this perspective shift every single day but… that’s kind of the point.

Lord willing, one day our kids will grow old, look back, and be filled with gratitude when they realize the imperfect, yet intentional positive attitudes we had to choose to adopt for their sake in the face of uncertainty. They will say, ‘I don’t know how you did it.’ and we can honestly reply, ‘Me either.’

Today, I’m making the choice to focus on what I can control.
Today, I am doing my personal best.
Today, I will exert most of my energy just to set a ‘normal’ tone for my home.
Today, I’m also standing in solidarity with you in the midst of the unknown.
What attitudes are you adopting today?”

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Abernathy. Follow her journey on Instagram hereDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories from Courtney here: 

‘We sold our home and belongings. We were given orders to stay at home, except unlike many, home for us is a hotel room.’: Traveling family thanks hospitality workers, ‘No matter what, they take it in stride’

‘I’d just turned 18 when this strange man I met minutes before gave me life-altering news: ‘You’re pregnant.’: Teen mom says ‘things from your past don’t define who you will grow to be’

‘She’s very vocal….’ A woman in Walmart made me cry over a comment she made about my toddler. The shame crashed down all over me.’: Mom feels guilt for misjudging stranger after noticing her comment about her daughter

‘I was pro-life, I was in church, and I hated abortion. Yet here I was, mind racing and silently ‘considering my options.’: Woman urges other pro-lifers ‘don’t demonize women for being scared

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