by HMN Founder Nancy Peplinsky
I was born a “not enough” person. I’m not sure where it all began but my parents would recount stories of my utter distress in kindergarten when I didn’t earn a gold star from the teacher. In high school, they repeatedly told me to fail something so that I could learn that my world would not end when I did. I was a born Type A – highly motivated, always striving, and never getting to enough.
When COVID rocked our world in early 2020, I took the lockdown as a new opportunity. I would do a daily workout, learn a new language, read the books collecting on my shelves, start a yoga practice, and teach my returned college student how to whip up a healthy and delicious meal in no time. Lockdown was not going to be a problem. I reorganized my laundry room to make my home workspace and ran into the office periodically to bring home need paperwork and file. I was driven to create balance while juggling the kids’ at-home schooling schedules. I was driven to do enough, be enough, in spite of the pandemic.
And then I got COVID. A quick meeting with my boss in early April and within a few days I learned he had tested positive and I was pummeled by my own symptoms. Amidst a climate of massive fear and panic, I put on a brave face for my boys and managed the everyday tasks of being a single parent. In early April, just outside of the COVID center of New York City, there were no tests to be found particularly if you were low risk and lacked the trifecta of original COVID symptoms – fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Hospitals were overflowing, healthcare unavailable and everything turned upside down. I tried to convince myself I had something else, but my body knew otherwise.
In one fell swoop, all of my lockdown ambitions were thrown out the window and every single day was about getting up and being there for my kids. Were they safe, fed, clothed? Yes. That became my enough. I was alive and they were well. Week after week my body was pummeled with symptoms: raging sore throat, mind-splitting headaches, burning in my nasal passages, partial loss of smell, general achiness. Nothing on my “more than enough” pandemic plan mattered.
For months to come I was to deal with waves of recurring symptoms and many new ones along the way. The shortness of breath and chest tightness set in about 4-5 weeks after infection. Shortly thereafter, my antibody test confirmed COVID and the symptoms kept coming. Random nosebleeds, low blood pressure, non-stop tinnitus, body aches, exercise intolerance, and more. I spent my days between work tasks and parenting researching COVID and chatting through online support groups. Getting through each day and each new symptom was my primary goal. COVID simplified my “enough” self-talk for me and gratitude gave me the answer. I focused on being grateful to be alive. Grateful that my kids remained healthy (they likely had it back in January, but that’s another story); grateful to be able to work from home; and grateful to have the means to feed my family. The pandemic had finally reframed my “not enough” perspective. Even though I have become what doctors are calling a “long-hauler” – someone with symptoms and long-term unexplained health issues from COVID extending months beyond infection – I have been able to see the small silver linings and find a comfortable space in where I am, without comparisons. I have heard the same from so many others, with and without COVID illness: the pandemic gave us some golden nuggets. Working from home has its perks. Families are reconnecting (even when driving each other crazy). Employers seem more humanized – understanding that we all have home challenges. Holidays are less stressful without the travel, parties, and entertaining. Pandemic life is complicated and yet more simple. We can rewrite our “enough” dilemma with simplicity, mindfulness, and gratitude. With limited choices and opportunities, we have to make “enough” enough.
Embracing simplicity and practicing gratitude is my giant COVID silver lining. This my new pandemic “workout” routine. “Keep it simple, be grateful” is my daily mantra. It’s easy to slip back onto the not enough hamster wheel, but now I have the tools to slow it down and step back. It’s time to let go of “enough” and redefine our lives with new language. We are enough. Every single day.