I have a picture from high school that’s still hard to look at.
In the photo, everyone is in a blue graduation gown, except me. I’m in a red dress. It was supposed to be my high school graduation, but I didn’t graduate that day. I stayed in school another year because I’d missed so much class while I struggled with Crohn’s disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.
Today, as a parliamentary reporter at The Globe and Mail elbow-deep in pandemic news, I’m constantly reminded of that scary, uncertain time in my life, when my disease was active and I didn’t feel in control of my future.
Thanks to COVID-19, that’s a feeling currently sweeping the world. In some ways, I feel my illness prepared me for this storm.
When I first became ill as a teenager, taking a shower felt like a big achievement. Eventually, taking a walk around the block became the goal. I felt trapped. My mom, who was (and is) my greatest advocate and ally, had one rule: I had to shower and move every day.
After years of different treatments, I got on the right medication. Having my health back means I can raise my daughter and do my job as a journalist. This would have been unbelievable to that sick teen, and I do not take for granted a single day I feel well.
Now, there’s a flip side. The medication that helps enable me to live my life also suppresses my immune system. And so I’m on heightened alert against the coronavirus.
As are other immunocompromised individuals, of course. My heart broke when I read Danna Lorch’s recent piece in The New York Times, recounting how difficult the pandemic has been on her four-year-old son. She and her husband both face health conditions that force them to be extra careful not to be exposed to COVID-19. “Now, before we so much as go to the park for a masked play date, we have to disclose these health issues so that other parents know how serious it is that we all keep safe when we see one another. As a result, everyone has become too afraid to see us or let their kids play with our kid,” she writes.
I certainly understand that need to be cautious. I spent the first months of the pandemic at home, leaving only, once again, for walks around the block. When Father’s Day rolled around, I was too worried to pick up my husband’s gift, which I had pre-ordered from a local store. I asked him to go with me, and in that moment, I realized how much agency I had lost.
I also felt powerless when daycares were allowed to reopen and I had to decide if we should send our daughter. This was an emotional process for me, and I know parents everywhere grappled with the same hard questions. I eventually concluded that I couldn’t let my worry get in the way of my daughter having a childhood. And so now, when she comes home talking about chameleons and butterflies, I know I’ve done the right thing.
In the grand scheme of things, I’m at a loss just as much as everyone else over this pandemic. How do we stay safe and help keep others safe? When will it end? Will life ever go back to normal? But my illness has taught me that sometimes you have to embrace uncertainty and that we all have to keep moving (even if we’re not going any farther than around the block).
Today, I will shower. I will take my kid to school to see her friends. I will leave the house for a stroll around the block. And for now, that’s about all that is certain.
What else we’re thinking about:
Through the pandemic, I’ve also been seeking out resources to help encourage me to get up and move more, right at home. I recently came across the 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins. Her tip: When you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or “your brain will kill it.” According to Robbins, you should count backwards from five when you feel yourself pausing before acting. And so every morning when I hear an alarm clock waking me up to work out before my toddler gets up, I count backwards from five and usually get myself out of bed. This simple routine has helped to anchor my day.
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