108 days into quarantine, I completely broke down.
I was already taking Zoloft to manage my lifelong anxiety, OCD, and the stress of chronic illness, but suddenly, three months into quarantine, it wasn’t enough anymore. I hadn’t left the house in months because I have a high-risk child whose Infectious Disease specialist advised that my family stay home until we’re all vaccinated. My husband had started working full-time from our bedroom. I was working part-time from every other room in the house. I felt like I should just keep reminding myself that I was lucky to still have a job. That I shouldn’t complain about how hard it was to get my work done while watching Paw Patrol, monitoring virtual speech and physical therapy lessons, and listening to my older kid talk about Fortnite nonstop for literal fortnights.
The days were too long, I was barely sleeping, and I certainly wasn’t getting any time to myself. No trips to Target to buy a coffee and browse alone. No option to go to the bookstore and work on my novel in a quiet corner. No one who could come over to babysit so my husband and I could get some time to reconnect and just breathe.
By the end of June, my chronically fatigued body was reaching a new level of exhaustion.
We’re all in this together, I kept reading online. But I felt very alone.
It took until that 108th day, a day I could barely walk around my own house because I was so weary, for me to finally realize the only thing left to do was contact my old therapist. Almost as if she’d been waiting around to hear from me, she replied immediately and we set up a virtual appointment.
A week later, I sat in my bedroom sobbing while I tried to explain to her exactly how hopeless I’d been feeling. How I knew I was supposed to be thankful that we were able to stay safe at home. How, before lockdown started, I was sick of running around all the time, and now that I had nowhere to go, I felt like I should be less stressed.
“I’m an introvert, I should be fine staying home all the time, right? Why in the world am I not okay?” I asked her.
After listening to me vent, her first question was what kind of self-care measures I was taking daily. My eyes got wide and I stared blankly into the little camera on my laptop. I nearly laughed at the absurdity of her question.
Did you not listen to a word I just said? I wanted to ask.
“I don’t have time for self-care. I can barely take care of everyone else at this point,” I told her.
Holding back a knowing smile, she explained to me that the reason I felt like I couldn’t take care of anyone else was because I wasn’t taking care of myself. The solution? I needed at least 30 minutes per day alone. She made it clear that daily needs like showering and sleeping, chores like folding laundry, and work-related responsibilities don’t count as self-care. I needed to find thirty uninterrupted, guilt-free minutes per day to read, write, journal, take a walk, or watch tv. All by myself. I couldn’t believe she was trying to talk me into this. She’s known me for almost twenty years. Even before the pandemic, I wasn’t making time for that kind of self-care.
“It’s going to take practice,” she told me.
“You know I can’t do this,” I responded.
And you know what she said?
“I know you can.”
Guess what? She was right. It did take practice, but we’re now approaching a year since my family started quarantine. It’s been 226 days since I started weekly virtual therapy and (almost) daily self-care. Am I still burned out? All the time. We all are right now, aren’t we? And do I still have really anxious days? Absolutely. But do I have the resources I need to get through it now? Yes. I do.
My hope for others out there who are like me is that you’ll realize that you can do this too. Self-care doesn’t have to happen outside your home. Self-care does not have to cost money. Self-care is not selfish. At its core, it’s about admitting that you’re worth the effort of caring about yourself. And that takes practice. Even if you think you can’t, you can do this for yourself and ultimately, for your family too.
I know you can.
Miranda L. Scotti is a mother, wife, and Library Assistant. She also writes stories for teens and young adults at heart. She has been published by Voyage YA and you can follow her on Instagram @mirandaleigh_writes.