This New Pandemic Phase Is More Stressful Than Lockdown

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
This New Pandemic Phase Is More Stressful Than Lockdown
Stephen Maturen/Getty

So, it’s pandemic phase… 2? 3? 103? Who knows. Whatever “phase” we’re in, for me, that old familiar exhaustion is back. You know the one. It’s not like “yawn-tired” — rather, it’s tired-to-the-bone exhaustion. I felt it in March as the world crashed. As my kids’ schools locked up their doors indefinitely and I abruptly became a 1st, 3rd, and 5th grade teacher and we frantically tried to find masks and toilet paper and learn how to navigate grocery delivery (our family eats A LOT of cereal, we quickly learned)… It was all scary and new and each day brought another challenge to figure out.

RELATED: Can Stress Make You Sick? The Dozens Of Silent Ways Your Body Is Affected By Stress

I remember that during those first few weeks, I felt mentally and physically depleted by the end of the day. After navigating each child’s “Google Hangout” and “Zoom chat” schedules, figuring out what TF a “comparison bar” is and how to submit my 1st grader’s math worksheet on Seesaw, helping my 5th grader choose a memoir topic, learning “Google slides” for the first time so my 3rd grader could make a presentation about manatees… while also, you know, doing my own actual job for which I am paid, and also making sure everyone ate a vegetable, washed their bodies and brushed their teeth on occasion, kept them quiet when my husband had work calls, kept them quiet when I had work calls, swept the floor so we don’t get ants, checked on my children’s mental health as weeks ticked by without in-person contact to the outside world, exercised and drank water (self-care!), called my parents and sister and ensured everyone was healthy…

Yeah. Tired.

But over time, we settled in to our new normal. The kids knew the general schedule of the day and got used to making their own breakfast and most days, lunch as well. I figured out Seesaw and Google classroom and Zoom (I still don’t get the wonky way they do math now, but whatever) and my energy slowly came back. We all made peace with our reality — that we weren’t able to see friends. That horseback riding was canceled. So was baseball. And tennis. There were no play dates or going to restaurants or visiting grandparents. Over time, my kids stopped asking. We all kind of stopped thinking about it. And life went on. The fog of depression lifted a bit as we didn’t really feel like we were missing out on a whole lot because everyone we knew was hunkered down like we were. We found bits of joy in learning to grill our own pizzas, play family board games, make campfires, let the kids sleep in their basement forts, and stay up late watching movies.

April went by, then May. But now, June seems different. June means actual warm summer weather (for the northern Midwest where I live), and, it seems, the re-opening of the world.

I’m realizing that the emergence of people from their homes, into society, has brought back that old tired feeling I battled at the onset of this pandemic. Again, I’m wandering around in a zombie-like trance, trying to adapt to the new way of things — similar to how I did in March. I’m finding myself barely able to make it through dinner, skipping my daily workouts, and handing bedtime over to my husband while I pass out in a drooling heap on the couch.

Tired isn’t even the right word. Exhaustion doesn’t seem to do it justice. What, then, do I call this? And why has it returned?

Honestly, I think it’s a new type of fatigue brought on by the world seeming to be “all done” with COVID-19, when COVID-19 is nowhere near being “all done” with us.

I think it’s due to the fact that over the past few days, we’ve been invited to pools, BBQs, play dates, and happy hours with friends. We were notified that the horse barn was open again for lessons, and tennis is back up and running too. Restaurants and bars and movie theaters are dusting off their counters and opening their doors. Town festivals have been given the green light to move forward.

And I’m finding myself saying, “Wait. What? We’re already doing this? So quickly? How?” as I watch the COVID-19 numbers continue to climb.

It seems like I’m stuck in a maze, gripping the hands of my children, as door after door after door opens, beckoning me to enter—doors to the park, the pool, the library, a friend’s house, festivals, concerts… and we keep saying no, but another door immediately opens in response.

I’ve felt extremely fortunate throughout this entire process that my kids are young enough to be easily distracted by an online movie or ice cream sundae or backyard campout. We’ve missed no major milestones like high school graduation or prom. Sure, we had to cancel some vacations and miss seeing our relatives, but we’ve had it far better than so many.

And I’m also eternally grateful that our friends are reaching out and miss us and want to get together. There is no better feeling and I hope they continue to think of us.

But we aren’t ready to say yes, and it’s getting harder and harder to say no. My kids, despite being young enough to pass these quarantine months with riding bikes in our cul-de-sac and stealing popsicles and Oreos when Mom’s not looking, are also old enough to know that the world is starting to re-open. They are old enough to hear that their friends are getting together, playing sports, going to camp, and taking summer vacations.

And we’re not.

Because, what seems like five minutes ago, we were all on lockdown. Because people in every nook and cranny of the U.S. are still getting sick. Because even though it feels like we’ve aged 10 years since February, the coronavirus is still very new and we don’t know a lot about it. Because my number one job is to protect my family.

But it’s this “decision fatigue” that’s the new tired. Before, it was the holy-crap-what-is-happening-is-it-safe-to-get-the-mail daily fears that made us crash by 9 p.m. every night. Now, it’s the everyone-else-is-going-out-and-living-again-but-what-if-its-not-safe-and-there-is-a-new-spike-next-week fear that’s bringing me down.

It’s the sadness in my kids’ eyes when they get wind of me declining another invite to see friends.

It’s the overwhelming burden of how to pass these summer days with no camps or really anything planned as I work from home and three sets of eyes stare at me every morning wondering what we might do that day.

It’s the constant second-guessing—is it more detrimental to my kids’ health if I expose them to the outside world or keep them at home in isolation from their peers? One expert says it’s safe as long as we social distance and wear masks. Will kids even social distance and wear masks? Another expert says no way. Stay home. All I know is that my kid are desperate for interaction with the world outside the walls of our home. But I’m scared AF of bringing COVID-19 into our home. Of them getting it. Of my husband getting it. Of me getting it.

It’s the back and forth of one chart saying “We’ve flattened the curve!” while another says “Numbers are still climbing!” and morbid stories of kids getting MIS-C and healthy adults like me in their 40s hooked up to ventilators or never coming home.

It’s the rollercoaster of being at peace with your decision to decline invites and stay home but then having FOMO (or FOMO for your kids) as you see social media footage of friends and family out there, living life, and having a kick-ass summer while you binge Netflix and eat chips on the couch for the nine bajillionth day in a row.

It’s barely having a hot minute to catch your breath after the unexpected forced homeschooling ends before everyone already starts talking about whether they’ll send their kids back in the fall.

It’s the not knowing if you’re doing the right thing, but doing the best you can with the information you have and praying it’s right.

It’s saying “I’m sorry” as your kids run from your arms and scream how unfair you are, when all you’re trying to do is keep everyone in your family alive.

So yeah. I’m fucking tired.

And it’s only June.

This article was originally published on