As the wife of a NJ State Trooper, I’m quite familiar with those two words. When Jesse graduated from the academy, I made a silent, solemn promise to myself to never miss a chance to remind him, implore him, text him, nag him and insist that he return home to us safely.
The world has changed twice for us in less than a year, but the words have not.
In the early days after Jesse’s stroke, I was uneasy even letting him transfer from bed to chair or go to the bathroom by himself. The tone of BE SAFE took on a little more urgency and a lot more panic. It probably sounded more like OMG BE CAREFUL, or WAIT LET ME HELP YOU, and most often, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING? Jesse wasn’t always safe or careful. He didn’t let me help him—and many days he even forgot what he was doing mid task.
But somehow, by the grace of God, he’s recovered and of his own admission is a stronger man today than he was before he suffered a massive stroke.
I won’t compare the COVID-19 crisis to what we went through last year, because we are healthy and fortunate enough to have food on our table. But there’s no denying that the world has changed yet again, and life as we know it must change with it.
And somehow, by the grace of God, the world will recover and by our own admission, I want us to be stronger people than we were before the pandemic.
“Get your mask Ma.”
I went to Rite Aid this morning. Before I left, Cruz casually reminded me to get my mask. His four little syllables sent a jolt through my soul. Cruz has not been to a store, has not seen us wearing masks and doesn’t watch the news. And somehow, he knows about the latest protocol. I felt a flood of maternal emotion, overcome with sadness that the pandemic has temporarily robbed my child of his family, schooling, peers, sports, social life and now it has taken his innocence.
In that very same moment, I made a conscious decision to change the conversation with the voice in between my ears. After all, she is a part of me, I should be able to tell her what to say.
- Today, we are fine. This crisis is temporary.
- In the future, Cruz will understand hygiene protocols to keep him safe.
- Always, we will face what may be together and our love will prevail.
These deep conversations with myself are merely thoughts, but those thoughts shape my feels and eventually drive my actions. I must literally think better, which makes me feel better, which will make me do better.
And by no means am I the expert. The last quarter of 2019 was a living nightmare for me of my own creation. I was solid as a rock when Jesse was sick and was relentlessly committed to his full recovery. When the dust settled and the cause of Jesse’s strokes could not be determined, I let a fear of reoccurrence take full control. I fed and nurtured my negative thoughts as they turned into deep feelings that drove my action—or in action in my case. Had it not been for the love and devotion of my amazing husband, my best friends and my angel mother, I might still be drinking at pity party of ONE.
I’m not sure if I was depressed, or confused, or simply still in shock that I almost lost the love of my life—but it was a very dark time. I’ve done a lot of work recognizing and defining the beginning of that spiral, and I’m equipped with the skills to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Even though I don’t remember the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve, 2020 was a new start.
Food for Thought(s)
Experts say most people have about 60,000 thoughts a day. I have a hyper-focused mind that only works in overdrive, so that seems like a light day for me. I’ve learned how to squash thoughts that race through my head, and I force myself not to act on them or share with others. When I’m over stressed—I lose control over what runs through my head and out of my mouth—so I need to stay out of that space. To destress, I draw on the skill of making new thought choices.
I was fortunate to be in a good mind space when the pandemic hit. I had adopted a new fitness routine with my bad ass 4:45am crew 4-5 days a week, my nutrition was on track and the family was good. Jesse and I were rock solid, and his health was awesome.
Enter stage right COVID-19. Overnight, we transformed our business, I started telecommuting almost around the clock and we took up homeschooling. And perhaps most stressful of all, we had to explain to our children the unexplainable. With Cruz too young to fully understand, this is a battle we still face pretty much on the hour.
Enter stage left racing thoughts. They are like a mental pandemic of sorts, threatening to upend the balance I was committed to find in 2020. I had to make a strict GTFO policy on all things negative and tighten the reigns even harder on what I could control:
- My response to stress and uncertainty
- Where I let my children go (nowhere)
- Who is allowed in my house (no one)
- Who sits down to family dinner every night (everyone)
- What goes in my mouth
- How I creatively care for the people I love that don’t live here
- How much I rest, move and sweat
- My investment in self-care, including my work from home uniform
Knowing that this new way of life is temporary, I choose to hyper control what I can and only focus on the positive. The alarm doesn’t go off or even get set—I wake up naturally each day before Jesse leaves for work to see him off. I’m laughing with my family more than ever before—even the ones that don’t live in my home. I’m making 3 meals each day for my kids, a luxury I’ve never had. Cruz is clinging to me as the preferred parent, a title that I’ve always coveted. My skin care routine and flossing game are on point. I keep dumbbells next to my computer to hit multiple sets throughout the day. I find great joy in dropping off semi-homemade treats and meals to my family and friends.
Please know that I’m not making light of what’s happening in the world. It’s most likely the greatest crisis I will see in my lifetime. I’m simply exercising the skill of choosing how to think about what I can control. Some days I will fail and other days I will PR. But much like in the box, most days I will come in, simply do work and be better because of my effort.
I pray for the millions of people suffering at the hands of COVID-19, and to respect what they have endured, I won’t give a second thought to a much-needed manicure or an overdue haircut. While I’m concerned about the future of our box, I have to believe that our difficult decision to assume full-time careers five years ago was made in preparation for this day. And yes, like everyone else, I desperately miss being near my dear extended family, close friends and beloved members, but the best thing I can do for all of them is to social distance AF and count the days until we are reunited again.
Each Friday, I run the Zoom call at 7:30pm. This intimate hour of sharing and connection I have with new and old friends alike is my favorite way to de-stress. This week, we shared the WHY behind our self-motivation. We’ve also focused a lot on goal setting and resetting in this new normal. I’m not sure what next week’s topic will be, but I’ll be there, and I hope you will be too.
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
What are you thinking? I’d love to know. I like to write down my thoughts. It’s like a hybrid blend of learning, therapy and decision making that helps me make sense of the world. It often helps me learn what I didn’t know I knew.
If you are in need of a mental turn-around strategy, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can 1:1 Zoom about it, and we will find a way to the other side. Before we talk, make three lists. I have a feeling if you focus on living in the third list, you can move things off of the first and add to the second.
- Current challenging circumstances
- Positive things about your new normal
- Things in your life you can control
My strategy for continued mental health is to wholeheartedly support this community the way you all did for my family last year in our greatest time of need. I’ve seen this reciprocation of love, teamwork and accomplishment time and again over the last nine years, but it will always feel brand new each time I witness it. It’s what I like to call the 1F Circle of Life—strong, unbreakable and without end. Until we meet again.