By Aimee Pierce, Sigma Chi Eta Chapter VP of Communication
In the beginning of COVID, I was a mix of emotions. I was anxious and fearful. I was also extremely angry. I was angry not only with the situation of the pandemic but also because I had naively thought I had my own personal baggage together as an unassuming, responsible single parent. On one hand I really hated the cards I had been dealt. So many unknowns. So much doubt to fill an unsettled anxious mind. On the other hand, I viewed this strange situation as a gift. Crazy right?! A gift?! However, I did see it as that. Despite it being a bittersweet one that presented many struggles and emotions.
The world had seemed to change overnight. Literally! I left my job at my elementary school, where I am the Assistant Manager of the cafeteria, on a Friday evening. My gut told me to stop by my local Walmart and stock up. I figured with all the media coverage and the messages flooding my Facebook feed about insanity at the grocery stores that it couldn’t hurt. It was just as fantastical as everyone described. It was almost comical in my mind. As I entered the store it was mass chaos. Worse than any Black Friday event or sale I’ve ever seen. I knew I had to get in and out quickly. I went up and down the aisles like I was in some game like Grocery Store Sweep. My mind was racing. What if the power went out? What would be shelf stable? Will we eat this? Let’s not even discuss the toilet paper, Lysol wipe, and hand sanitizer situation. I tried to think outside the box and found small victories with wet bum wipes, bleach, and pocket sanitizers found in the store. By Monday morning we all woke to the world being completely shut down. The feel was eerie. The news reports I watched offered the subtle hints of concern that was alarming to me. The world changed overnight, and no one had an answer.
The days to follow offered little change of events. I must admit that fear began to settle in a bit. I had plenty of time to think and overthink. I imagined every scenario that could be imagined. Some more impossible than others but all that was most definitely inspired by the creators of The Walking Dead. It's funny to say it out loud now but everything was on the table in the beginning. Limitless possibilities in my mind. This situation presented a unique opportunity. I had time again. I had time with my son and that was a priceless commodity! I was able to feel whole as a mother and revisit a time, once again, when I had a confident sense of my own ability to protect my son. This is where I view COVID as a gift to me. I had been a stay at home parent for all my son’s life up until my divorce. I think afterwards I really felt lost. Being a mother was the most important and fulfilling thing I had ever done in my life and I did it well. It also totally encompassed my life. Divorce changed that. I no longer had extra time. I no longer had full access to my son and the opportunity to watch him grow, laugh, and learn. I had been robbed in a sense by the circumstances of a failed marriage. Nonetheless, COVID gave me a part of that back, if only for a short time. I settled into my new normal with my son. We worked on homework. We created art. We played. We did most all the things we normally do just with a bit more mindfulness. Probably more me than he. We had a great time enjoying each other. One day, though it all changed. I received a call from my manager. I had to return to work. I unknowingly was considered an essential worker. I didn’t even know what that meant. I had never felt a wave with different flavored emotions prior to this phone call. I was in shock. Now what? What do I do now? The tables quickly turned from priceless gift to nightmare. You see, I have no immediate family in Alabama. Neither does my son’s father. This presented stressful and frightening questions. What is going to happen to my son? How do I keep him safe? I didn’t have an answer. I need my job. I also needed to protect my son and his family. His only family. I made the choice to bring my son with me to work. I drilled him with the no touch and wash your hands rules. It wasn’t perfect. It was not what I wanted, but I had no other choice. I had no one safe to leave him with. No family. No other choices. This became our new reality. We hadn’t even gotten comfortable with the virus now the game changed again. In the weeks that followed my fear grew. A shift happened. An awareness of the lack of control over my life and the life of my child consumed me. The pain of the fear, anxiety, and the unknowns were difficult to bear. I thought I had all the answers. I was always prepared. I had a plan, and this outbreak was not part of it. How could anyone have the forethought to put this in the equation of their ten-year plan? Only here it is. A virus that spread to worldwide proportions. A virus without a cure. A virus that is out of control. This gift giving virus poised a challenge for me, conquering my fear of not being in control. In the days to come, we came out of quarantine. I wrapped my child in an imaginary seal of protection of prayers, rules, and masks. He followed me every day to my job and quietly sat playing on his iPad and patiently waiting for me to complete my day. I kept thinking how this choice could be the best for my son. My fear turned to anger and back to fear again. The endless cycle of anxiety hurt. I began to have panic attacks daily. Sometimes one and sometimes many came over me like a wave of emotion. The early morning hours and the times I was home alone were the most difficult. The isolation felt painfully cruel. I had momentary relief on the days I worked but it was always short lived. What I came to realize is that my situation was not so unique. The more I reached outside my circle the more I understood my problems were shared by many. Maybe not all the exact same but similar. I found solutions to my situation. I discovered I was not alone. I also had to come to terms with letting go. I had to let go of my plans and ride the wave of faith in order to move forward past the fear. I believe that was the hardest part. To have faith that you will survive during times of crisis or extreme hardship. I survived. I am just one of many other COVID stories. Even though I would like to move back to normal this will always be a time I will never forget and that I will carry with me forever.