This is a tale of three meltdowns. I’m sure there are many similar stories emerging around the world right now.
Meltdown #1: The overwhelmed five-year-old
A man I work with had to postpone a Zoom meeting because his almost-five-year-old daughter had reached the end of her ability to cope with all of the changes in her life. Since March sixteen she’s had no school and no playdates, and she won’t be having a birthday party. It all hit her at once, and just as he was meant to join us, she went into full nuclear meltdown.
Rather than trying to shush her or placate her with more screen time, my colleague let us know he would be late, and he just held his daughter while the sobs ripped through her. He cuddled her while she cried and eventually she fell exhaustedly asleep on the bed. Even then, he didn’t slip away. He stayed right beside her so that when she woke up she felt safe and secure. After another cuddle, she was finally ready to go back to the playroom and get back to the business of being almost five, at which point he sent another Zoom invitation and got back to the business of providing for his family.
Sometimes that’s all we need: a big cry and a cuddle, and the knowledge that even in this very unstable and unsafe situation, many of us can still find safety*.
Meltdown #2: The isolated extrovert
I have a 50-something-year-old extrovert friend who had her own meltdown when she discovered that she’ll be working from home indefinitely. For her, human interaction, face-to-face, is key to her happiness. Now she can’t see friends, family, coworkers, or love interests, and when it hit her that this is likely going to continue for months, she just lost it.
Bright and hilarious soul she is, she decided to take her meltdown public and share it with her numerous followers on social media. She has started a riotous series displaying the differing reactions of introverts and extroverts to working from home. She’s curating posts from all over around the different reactions people are having and putting them on her site. It’s keeping her busy and engaged with people, and it’s keeping me and many others laughing.
Meltdown #3: My turn!
As an introvert, I’m generally doing okay with my alone time, since I already work from home quite a bit. But it’s a very stressful time; I run a business that supports me and many others, and I do a lot of consulting work for the federal government, which is currently diverting most of its funds towards its hundred-billion-dollar relief package. I and many other consultants are having to try to focus on wrapping up contracts while dealing with the general anxiety around the virus as well as the very specific anxiety of our income streams drying up. I’m personally also worrying about my family in the States, many of whom are health care practitioners, and my son here at home providing essential services.
Late last week, I spent almost all day on the computer on Zoom calls, with colleagues, clients, my accountant. I was just about to hop on another call when I hit the wall in a major way. All my stress compounded and I lost it! There was no way I could take one more call. I just thought, that’s it. I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I called the next person I was supposed to Zoom with and said, “I have to get out of my house right now or I will have a tantrum right here on my floor.” She was so understanding, and we rescheduled for the following week.
It was a bit cool outside but it was a gorgeous, sunny day nonetheless. I began walking, and walking and walking and walking, and the more I walked the better I felt. I greeted everyone I passed (from at least six feet away), even those who avoided my gaze as though I could infect them with just a hello from across the street. Eventually I reached the cemetery and thought, well, I won’t catch anything there. It’s a beautiful old cemetery, with a marshy area on one side and all kinds of old gravestones and monuments. Other people were strolling peacefully too; it was an extraordinary atmosphere, and I finally felt fully calm.
When I reached home—hopefully with no ghosts attached—I felt like my usual self, not the stressed, worried creature I’ve been lately. And interestingly, I began getting some emails that indicate at least one of my contracts, one that is all about enhancing the mental health of essential government workers, will continue despite (or because of) the crisis. Maybe things weren’t quite as dire as they felt before my walk.
Calling on our coping skills
We’re all finding ways of coping with this crisis, some old ways and some new. Cuddles, humour, long walks through cemeteries—what’s helping you? However you’re coping, be gentle with yourself. When the meltdowns come—and they almost certainly will come—do whatever makes you feel better, take care of yourself, and know that from kids through to seniors, we’re all with you. (Even though we’re not actually with you.)
*One final note: Right now my heart breaks for all the children and adults whose homes aren’t safe. If this is you, please call a local shelter; they can help you make a plan to get you and your children, if you have any, to safety. If you have a safe home and any extra money, this is a good time to donate to a shelter near you. Everyone deserves a safe place to live.