It’s the end of the third week of school for my kids and I’m exhausted, depleted, and rattled.
Don’t get me wrong: my kids are doing great. After being out of school since March 2020, they are happy to be back. They don’t mind wearing masks all day, they are ecstatic to be around people other than their family, and they haven’t even complained that much about the schoolwork (at least not yet!).
They’re fine, but I’m not. Parenting during a pandemic is anxiety-producing as it is. And I’ve had an anxiety disorder for my whole life. I have panic disorder, and one of my triggers is illness, coupled with a deep fear of something terrible happening to the people I love.
So, yeah. I’m not okay. I’m having legit panic attacks several times a week.
My kids’ schools are doing everything “right” when it comes to keeping COVID at bay, and that should be reassuring. They have a mask mandate in place, they’ve upgraded their ventilation systems, windows are always open in the classroom, and the desks are spaced appropriately. The schools were open all last year, and there was little (if any) transmission within the school buildings. At least that’s what I’ve been told.
But there are just so many things that could go wrong—and that’s not just my anxiety talking. The delta variant is more transmissible than the virus that was circulated last school year, and while the district protocols are great in theory, they are not foolproof.
Each day is something else. Some other reason for my anxiety to spiral.
Just take this past Monday, for example. I got a phone call from the school psychologist that my unvaccinated fourth grader was going to the nurse’s office too frequently. I know that he does this when he wants to avoid school work or when school is feeling overwhelming.
The psychologist wanted to discuss how we could minimize this and teach my son healthier coping mechanisms. But he also mentioned that the nurse’s office isn’t the safest place for my son to be hanging out during the pandemic.
“Just today, there were two kids in there with fevers, while your son was hanging out, waiting to talk to the nurse about his stomach ache,” the school psychologist said.
CUE THE PANIC.
“Well,” I thought to myself. “I guess he caught COVID.” Yes, my mind immediately went there, because that’s who I am. I started to completely spiral. I began sweating, my heart was racing, and I started making multiple trips to the toilet.
I eventually got myself together and called the school for more information. I got the school nurse on the phone, and she told me that there was actually only one child with a fever in the nurse’s office when my son had been there, and that that child was already sent home and had gotten a negative COVID test. Later that day, my son reported that he’d only been in the nurse’s office for about 30 seconds before he was shooed out, because it was too crowded in there.
Crisis averted, I suppose.
But then later that day, my older son came home and told me that one of his classmates had been coughing for a full five minutes. So of course my panic and anxiety started again. (That was a full five days ago, I haven’t gotten any information about someone in his school testing positive for COVID, and my son has been fine so far, so I’m hoping we are in the clear.)
Sure, not every day has two major scares that that Monday did, but it feels like it’s always something.
Since school started, I’ve gotten multiple notifications of kids and teachers testing positive for COVID at my kids’ schools. My kids have reported multiple instances of teachers and kids removing masks or wearing masks incorrectly. Each day when I drop my son off on the bus, there is at least one kid pressed against the window with their mask below their nose.
And can we talk about the fact that my kids sneeze and cough for random reasons here and there? I mean, how can I relax? How?!
How can all of these things not give someone like me heart-racing, stomach churning anxiety?
I know that I clearly need to get myself together. These types of triggers are going to happen all school year—or at least until the pandemic gets under control, or my youngest can be vaccinated, whichever happens first.
I know how to cope with anxiety. I have a therapist, breathing techniques I’ve practiced over the years, self-talk that helps, and friends to vent to.
I know that sending my kids to school is the right thing to do at this time. My husband and I are vaccinated, and so is our teen. The rational part of my brain knows that the safety techniques the schools are employing will be largely successful and that it’s unlikely (though not impossible, of course) my children will contract COVID.
I also know that as much as I am tempted to pull my kids out of school and keep them in the safe bubble of my home, it’s not what’s best for them at this time. 18 months of isolation was manageable, but it was time for them to be around others again. Their mental health was suffering.
It feels like things have reversed now. My kids’ mental health is better, but mine is worse.
I’m hoping that this whole thing is just something I’ll get used to. Maybe I’ll learn to stop panicking every time I see a slipped mask on the school bus. Maybe I’ll try to remember that whatever happens, my children and my family will likely be fine.
But whatever happens, this is just really hard. I’m not cut out for pandemic school. I honestly don’t know how much more of this I can take. I just can’t wait for it all to be over.
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