My Kids & I Have Hit a Wall. How Do We Keep Going?
With the one year anniversary of the pandemic approaching there are reasons to be hopeful. The infection rates are dropping and more vaccines are being distributed. So why do so many people still feel down? Reena asks about what parents can do when they feel the ground is shifting and things are out of their control. How do we help kids manage the anxiety of starting in-person school and the persistent stress of this pandemic? Lisa talks through strategies for finding a way out of feeling anxious and depressed.
March 9, 2021 | 27 min
Transcript | My Kids & I Have Hit a Wall. How Do We Keep Going?
Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 30: My Kids and I Have Hit a Wall. How do we Keep Going?
The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional
mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,
consult a physician or mental health professional.
REENA: So, the weather seems to be getting a little better. People are getting vaccinated. Why do I still feel like crap?
LISA: I’m hearing this. I’m hearing this, and I’m feeling this.
REENA: It’s just, what is it? I feel like we know more vaccines are entering the market, which was not the case six months ago it feels like. There should be so much more hope and promise but like why can’t we just sort of feel better? Do you feel? Is it just me? Am I stuck in a rut?
LISA: No I don’t think it’s just you. I think this is a very strange time in the pandemic. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this before where we’re getting good news, but it’s very hard to know how that actually translates to our day-to-day lives, either right this minute or even in several months.
REENA: My daughter had to bring me a cup of coffee in bed today. It’s pretty bad for me here at this point.
LISA: Okay but that’s a good kid. That’s a good kid. well done.
REENA: Well she got to watch TV after so there we go. So we got this letter in our inbox, which makes me feel better that it’s not just me. It says: ‘Dear Lisa, my kids finally got to see their grandparents after more than a year apart. I still get so emotional about how this lockdown has affected us all. I knew I should be excited about the promise of their school opening in April and also the number of people getting vaccinated, but I feel so lonely, paralyzed, and depressed. How do we keep going? A year ago we thought this would be just a few weeks. I’ve hit a wall, my kids have hit a wall. I’ve never suffered from depression but why can’t I get excited about anything? What will it take to regain the joy I once had? I am tired of running this marathon. I know I need help. How can I change my mind set when I don’t know how long this feeling and situation will last?’
LISA: Wow. That really sums it up, doesn’t it?
REENA: Yeah. It totally sums it up. Amen to that letter for so many people.
LISA: Yeah. I think that really captures how a lot of people are feeling right now.
REENA: Why do you think it is we feel like we’re supposed to be feeling better, right?
LISA: Right I mean that’s part of the problem. Like there’s a sense of like, yay the vaccines are out. There’s three. They’re coming fast and furious. So, I think there’s that, right? that sense that like we should be happy, terrific, but not a lot of people actually are still able to get the vaccines they want when they want it. Like, I mean it’s really still pretty hard to do for the general population, so I think that’s tough. I think the one-year anniversary coming up is a pretty mixed bag emotionally for a lot of people. I think there’s the sense of, we’ve done it, we’ve borne a year in the pandemic, and we’re still upright, and our kids have learned a lot and we’ve gotten closer as a family in some ways, and stuff has happened and here we are surviving a year in the pandemic, and then we’re like, which means we’re entering the second year of the pandemic, and that feels awful, really awful. So, I think that feels really ambivalent at best. I’m excited about the weather changing and I do actually in some ways I hang my hat on that the most. Like that I know will happen, and I know what makes a material difference in terms of our ability to socialize and our kids to see their friends. I still have a lot of questions and I imagine you do too about what the summer is going to look like. My husband and I, the other day he was like do you think the public pool will open? And I was like, I don’t know. I don’t know. What do you think, Reena?
REENA: I think I have to believe in hope, but I’m sick of sort of not being able to fully get there, right? Like being disappointed in what you think that the change is around the corner and then being utterly disappointed, but I also find that it’s not like I feel worse and worse and worse, it’s like you have a rough day, then you kind of get better the next day. It feels like a roller coaster, that’s what it feels like to me.
LISA: I think that’s right and I think what you said about the uncertainty and not wanting to be disappointed again. This moment of like, so why does this feel bad if things are theoretically getting better and actually in some very real way is getting better? You know the fact that they are vaccinating mass numbers of people on a daily basis is a big deal, but I think the part where there’s that hesitation, that sense of like why can I really get behind this? It is that quality of, I don’t know what this is, right? I knew what locked down looked like, I knew the drill, I did not like the drill, I did not enjoy having kids doing school in the basement, like that wasn’t fun, but in this letter this this mom mentions like, yay my kids going back to school in April, but I think a lot of us feel like, so what is the new deal on school? And how should we feel about school? Or how should we feel about summer? I kind of feel like this letter-writer talks about hitting a wall, I think it’s almost like we’re pinched between deeply uncomfortable and highly uncertain, you know like we don’t we don’t really know, you know we’re moving from one to the other. Neither are all that great.
REENA: It does feel like the ground is shifting and the rules are changing, like to hear her say, my kids are finally going back to school in April, that is so huge after probably, I’m guessing a year of being home learning, which is hard, right? But she or, this parent just can’t seem to get excited. When the ground is shifting and things are changing and you feel that anxiety what can you do in that moment to make yourself feel better?
LISA: Yeah. Well it’s funny one of the rules, we have rules in psychology and one of them is change equals stress. Doesn’t matter what kind of change it is, right? Good change, bad change, change equals stress. And so it is good it is good for kids to be able to go back, you know especially kids where there’s not a worry or significant concern about you know like an underlying health problem for the child of the family, it’s really good for kids to be able to go back and and I am seeing, my fellow colleagues are seeing, such a dramatic improvement in child and adolescent mental health for kids who can go to school. So, that piece is huge and important and essential, but part of what I think the challenge is, it’s actually something we’ve talked about a little bit before is that avoidance feeds anxiety premis, you know that idea, which is a true thing, avoidance feeds anxiety. So we’ve pulled in, we’ve narrowed our lives, we’ve come to these sort of very compact ways of living, and now we’re getting to feel our way back out. I think that’s kind of scary. I think we’ve been avoiding for so long, which is the right thing to do, that reentering the world is uneasy for us and for our kids, and so then it causes stress and it makes us nervous, and so in terms of what to do it’s a wade-in, right? I think that that’s, whenever you’re unsure then wade in, don’t jump in the deep end, don’t feel like well we’re going to go to the mall, we’re going to take off our masks, we’re going to eat a lot of food. I mean you don’t have to go there. Then you might say, let’s go take a walk, you know down to the school and see how things are looking. Let’s go do take out from a place we haven’t been before and maybe we’ll eat outside. You know I mean I think we don’t have to do it all at once. We can re enter slowly, and everything we know about anxiety management after a long period of avoidance basically says, if you can’t rip off the bandaid or it doesn’t make sense to rip off the bandaid then enter slowly.
REENA: I remember our podcast we did at the beginning of September and I was talking to you about what, in Connecticut, the teacher, my son’s teacher did, she sent a video so kids would know how very different the classroom locked and shields and what she would be wearing, and I remember in that podcast I broke down got emotional, and as we’re entering this new phase and we came back from winter break my son kept saying, I just really hate this new Joe Biden rule? And I’m like, what’s the new Joe Biden rule? He goes, you’ve got to wear two masks. we didn’t have to do this, and so I explained to him, we had discussion about the new variant and why this was implemented, but then I realized, we came back and I’m googling on Amazon like five-ply masks, like 10-ply masks. First off there’s no 10-ply or 20-ply masks, save yourself the effort, and I’ve told my kids, you’ve got to put on these KN95 masks with this under, and my kids are like, Mom I can’t breathe. I’m like, it’s okay you don’t need to breathe. It’s okay like you start going crazy. That anxiety, I realized, was rubbing off on them on some level, right? Like they just were pushing back.
LISA: It totally does, but okay, so here’s what’s really interesting. There’s also less and less agreement about what we should be doing right now, and I think that’s really anxiety provoking. So, there’s some, and I’m not going to say anyone in this is unreasonable, I mean I think there’s so much data out there and what you look at is what you’re working with. There are some who are like, look, the levels are down in our community, the weather’s great, things are moving in the right direction, more people are vaccinated, I’m going to relax at great long last. And then there are others who are like, these variants have me super weirded out and I can’t make sense of the headlines and so we’ve come this far, I don’t want to get sick now, we’re going to wear triple masks. So, talk about going from uncomfortable to uncertain, right? So, lockdown stinks and even when everybody’s abiding by it and agrees to it, you know it stinks, but at least everyone’s in agreement to some degree. This new phase where we can’t tell what the end of March is going to look like. It’s very unclear, you’re hearing very competing things, and there is the sense of we’re just waiting and watching for the next shoe to drop. And we’re all like, how many shoes could drop in this pandemic. Like we’ve got to run out of issues eventually.
REENA: I think the other hard part of all this is what happens in Texas or Florida has implications throughout the country. I am not just signaling the states, just in any community the actions of what some people do can affect everybody else, and that is hard when things are out of your control how can you not go crazy because you’re seeing people do things that you might not agree with or governors of states doing things you might not agree with?
LISA: It’s hard, right? And it’s frustrating because you think like, we’re trying so much to come through this and here I am in Ohio, you are in Connecticut, you know, living our lives trying to keep things on track, and the headlines, really, the headlines make you feel like you’re being whipped around direction to direction, right? That on the one hand, yay Merk’s collaborating with Johnson and Johnson they’re going to get more vaccines out faster, great news. Woah they’re taking away all restrictions in Texas, woah that seems really fast, and so that experience, right? After a year of trying to navigate, right? To come to a year and then have the headlines be actually as dizzying as they have ever been, I think we’re tired. I think we’re just tired, and so how do we navigate it? I think we talk about it. I think we say the words. I think the way we size stuff up in psychology is sometimes there’s a straight up solution and if there’s a solution you grab it and you do it, and sometimes there’s not a solution so you express it. You put it in the language. You described the experience, which does help to actually make it more bearable. So, maybe what we say right now is, the headlines are dizzying, the future still feels murky to me, this stinks, this is painful and uncomfortable, and I’m tired, and maybe we can just give it to ourselves that just to have a little fit, to just say, gieves some relief.
REENA: But what does saying it do mentally?
LISA: I think it puts it in the light. We have another saying in psychology that sometimes things are so much worse on the inside than the outside, and it was funny the other morning, Reena, so I get up very early and I use the early morning to clear my email, and I have a whole routine where I get my coffee, and I sit down and I read the headlines, and then I just start on my email. And two days ago my husband joined me around, you know I was up by 5, he was up by 5:30, and it was time for me to turn to my email and I said to him, I don’t want to do this. I don’t do any of this. Everything on my to do list, I don’t want to do any of it, and I like I really did have like a little mini meltdown, and he was kind of like both sweet and cracking up at me, and then the meltdown ended and I was like, okay here we go. So, I think there’s that sense of like expressing it as a way to put it outside of oneself, observe it, and then turn in a new direction. I think if we’re carrying it around, we’re still carrying it around. I think if we say it we can say, there it is. I’ve put it out there. I put it down. My load is a little lighter, which way do I want to go now? I think it works like that.
REENA: So you’re saying naming it can make you feel better?
LISA: I think it can. I think it can. Okay but then there’s another thing we’re not naming that I think we have to name that’s like a bummer to name but I also think it will feel better if we name it. So have you seen the Dolly Parton video of her getting her vaccine?
REENA: Yes. I love it.
LISA: Okay, you know she is like the end all be all on this.
*Dolly Parton Video Plays*: Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead then that’s a bit too late.
REENA: Oh she’s so good. She’s so talented. It’s so funny.
LISA: She is. She is one of those people where you’re like, what would Dolly do? Shee is really one of my heroes. I just adore her.
REENA: And I love that she’s 75, decided to wait even past her age group so people didn’t think was jumping the line.
LISA: She is amazing, right? She is amazing. But there was a little line in there that she threw in that I was like, oh there it is, and we need to rest on this line. She said, as we return to normal, and I think the line was like, whatever that looks like, right? That was all she said, like whatever that looks like, and I was like, yeah I think that’s a big problem for people right now. That even when the pandemic is over, right? Reena, let’s say like we can pick the date, let’s say like we pick magically the date is October 10th, like I just made that up, the pandemic ends on October 10th, I think a lot of people are like, yeah what’s October 1th looking like at my job, in my community, in terms of where my kid stands academically, how I exercise, where we socialize, who we hang out with. I think this is because this has gone on so long it’s not, everybody knows, it does not snap back to what we had before. So, I think we are going from uncomfortable to uncertain to unknown.
REENA: And it’s always the unknown that I find is the hardest, and when you’re looking down that road you want some certainty.
LISA: Absolutely. Absolutely, and think of all the people whose careers have changed permanently as a result of this. I was talking to someone yesterday who was saying that her husband’s company basically said they will no longer be in office.
REENA: Wow. That is hard to hear for some people.
LISA: Right, and so then you think, okay so now they know that but that doesn’t mean they know what work looks like now, and so I think there’s a huge amount of new things that get stirred up in the sense of like, hey there’s the exit strategy, hey there’s the finish line. It’s great and it’s really complicated because we don’t know what’s on the other side of that finish line yet.
REENA: So, if we don’t know and there’s still so much uncertainty, we don’t even know what? summer’s going to really look like. Can my kids go to camp? Can they see their grandparents? Can they spend time? We know kids won’t be vaccinated. Dr. Fauci said it probably won’t be until the first quarter of 2022 at this point. So, how can you navigate these waters when you don’t feel it? When you feel yucky and you don’t know what’s coming around the bend?
LISA: So, that, what you just said about like camp and summer, right? We’re having that here too, where I want to look forward to that for my kids. I want to look forward to that for myself because my younger daughter is still old enough to go to camp, my older daughter missed her last year of camp last summer, which a lot of kids did and it just is the worst, not the worst worst, but you know what I mean.
REENA: Yeah. Yeah.
LISA: And so we’re now in communication with the camp and waiting to hear about quarantine protocols for out of state campers, things like that, and there is this really difficult quality of having something that you might be able to look forward to but it’s dangling out there in this teasing way, and that, I think, is also part of the challenge, right? That maybe we can look forward to camp but we don’t really know how that’s gonna look. So okay, so that’s that sense of maybe, maybe, yes the summer could be quite wonderful but we don’t really know, is hard to bear. So how do we get through it? So, one of the things I’ve been thinking about actually was having Malika Chopra last week on our show.
REENA: She was so good.
LISA: So good. And I’ve been thinking about what she taught us about meditation and mindfulness and that idea of trying to be present, and so one challenge that we have as parents and as you know people who are planners is it we want to know what’s coming, we want to know what’s ahead, and even, I think for a lot of us, two to three weeks ahead still feels a little unsure how that’s going to look in family life, and so when I am getting anxious about like, I don’t know how this is going. I don’t know where this is going, I try to just come back to, am I okay today? Am I okay for the rest of the day? Are my kids okay for the rest of the day? That has been useful to me in this.
REENA: But what if you are not okay? Like when you ask yourself that question, you’re like I know I am so off. How do I reset? Like what really works? I can’t eat more chocolate, Lisa. I just can’t. I told you. I can’t have any more cocktails. I’ve done it. I don’t feel good. So, what do you do?
LISA: Well, in this letter the writer says she feels depressed. She feels depressed, right? So let’s think about the scale of not feeling good. So there’s a bad day, there’s a bad week. I think we all are pretty accustomed to the idea right now that we have bad days, and we have bad days that seem often quite out of the blue bad days, and what I hope everyone’s gotten used to in naming what we can get comfortable with it is, you ou can have a day where you feel crummy, and the day after that you feel really crummy, and then often it’s followed by a day where you actually took quite a bit better, like just you don’t know why, and this is true for kids also, right? Where they have a rough Monday and a rough Tuesday and they’re complaining and they’re really unhappy and then we as parents can start to think, oh no, are we on this terrible trajectory and then for some reason on Wednesday they wake up and they’re funny and they’re their old selves and you’re like okay. So, that is what this is. This is actually normal conditions and certainly normal pandemic conditions, just to have some really down days. So, what we worry about is if the bad mood doesn’t visit but it actually moves in, right? Takes up space, becomes a yucky roommate that won’t go away for a kid or for ourselves, and so if it goes on for more than a week in a parent or child I would start to pay very close attention. If their good coping, which we talk about constantly, isn’t helping I would start to pay really close attention. I would say by the eighth or ninth day I would be placing a call to your family health care provider, checking in with the school if you’re worried about your kiddo. We do have to be vigilant for the wear and tear of this to tip some of us, some adults, some kids, over into mood disorders, which are hard to come out of but highly treatable, and that’s the important part. So maybe just letting a little time pass will fix it, maybe a little more chocolate will fix it, maybe the sun coming out will fix it, but if that doesn’t fix it we have other ways to address concerns like this.
REENA: And that’s a good indication of a good sort of yardstick on when you need to really check in and get help?
LISA: Absolutely. Absolutely.
REENA: What would you say your takeaway? How do you have to reset? Like what really works when you’re in a bad funk mentally?
LISA: I think to not be scared of it, actually. I think the pinch we’re in right now is the sense of I’m supposed to feel good, the days are getting longer, it’s getting warmer, vaccines are everywhere. I don’t feel good, oh no. What does that mean? Does it mean I’m broken? Or does it mean my kid’s broken? Does it mean we’re in a scary place now because we feel bad when we think we’re supposed to feel better, and so my advice in this moment is do not be frightened of your ongoing grumpiness, your kid’s ongoing grumpiness. It’s better and it’s not right now. What’s ahead is unclear, and that is really uncomfortable, and just to say it and to name it and to lay it out and articulate it, and then think, can I get through today? Can I get my kiddo through today? And the other thing I will say in trying to just find some steadiness in such a really, like you said ground shifting time, the one thing that will snap back to where they were before is schools. We’ve really learned if you want to do school you do it the way you’ve always on school. Like kids need to be there all day every day, you know, with teachers in person, and so I think of all of the industries that have been actually adapted pretty well to the pandemic like easily done remotely, you don’t have to come into the office so much. I think that’s been easier in the pandemic. I think it’s probably going to be a little bit more stressful as the pandemic ends because it leaves a lot of uncertainty about what’s ahead. Schools aren’t that kind of industry. When the pandemic ends, as soon as it is really doable, schools will go back to the way they were. So, if people need a point they can look at that is certain and is known and is predictable school will look like what it used to. I think that we can be quite sure of.
REENA: Ah I love when you help me rethink things, all of us rethink things that we just don’t know how to navigate.
LISA: It is new to all of us. I mean it is so strange, and that’s the other thing that feels weird. It’s both old and tedious and totally new all the time.
REENA: Old and tedious but totally new. I like that. That’s really good. So, on an uplifting note we’re doing a book giveaway. I’m so excited. This is a book, fiction, that you can actually read along with your kids. It’s called “A Place to Hang the Moon.” It’s by Kate Albus, and it’sa about these orphaned kids during World War II. They were living with their grandmother, who dies, and they’re orphaned and evacuated from London to live in the countryside in their secret, secret hope is that they find a permanent family. I think it’s just a fun read for kids of all ages, but definitely elementary and up.
LISA: Fantastic and so this is the the evacuations that happened when world when London was being bombed, right?
REENA: Yeah, it’s looking at World War II in London and does evacuating these kids in London to the countryside, is that the answer? So I just feel like there’s almost some parallels, not that we’ve evacuated. .
LISA: Massive disruption, right? Massive destruction to kids lives you know that that did happen. I love that. I love that. And I love that we’re actually doing some kids books. I some kids books I’d love to give away.
REENA: Yeah. Kate’s a fun author.
LISA: Oh, fantastic.
REENA: So, Lisa, what’s your parenting to go?
LISA: You know, I think our job as parents is to try to help kids maintain perspective on what’s happening around them, and sometimes that means focusing on the big picture. That when they’re having a meltdown we can think, okay you’re having a rough day today, but you’ll probably be okay tomorrow. So, we have to sort of know that for ourselves, and I think sometimes that means helping them focus on the little picture like we’ve talked about today, where a child might be saying, am I going to camp? What’s summer going to look like? And we truly don’t know the answer and so the little pictures to say, well we really don’t know but what do you want for dinner tonight? Or what movie do you want to watch this weekend? Let’s focus on what’s right in front of us. Let’s get through that, and wait for the rest to make itself clear.
REENA: The uncertainty is always so hard, isn’t it?
LISA: It is so hard, and our kids will take our cues from us. So, if we can remember, let’s focus on the moment that can make it easier for everybody.
REENA: This is great. I’ll see you next week.
LISA: See you next week.