Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on our world and it feels like parents are feeling it the most, having to juggle being at home without childcare, taking care of their kids round the clock because schools are closed while also working from home. And on top of this, parents are being expected to keep their children educated and entertained while at home. Not to mention that there is a lot of anxiety going around. Thank goodness there are people talking about these challenges…
The ladies at The Great Equalizer podcast are all about sharing those authentic motherhood stories and being real about the challenges all moms face. So I was overjoyed to be asked to be part of their podcast about dealing with one’s mental health during this time. I chatted to Sam about the mental health challenges and also gave some advice on how to navigate these difficult times with your sanity intact. My interview starts around the 50 minute mark…
Here is a transcript of the interview:
Sam: Well, I caught up with Carly Abramovitz, who is known to us all as On the Couch with Carly. She’s got a practice called Carly’s Couch. And this is what she had to say.
Folks I have pulled in some reinforcements because I think we have all been needing to calm the tempest in our heads. So, I’ve managed to track down Clinical psychologist Carly Abramovitz who has agreed to impart much needed wisdom and the occasional truth bomb on us. Carly runs a practise called On the Couch with Carly, which also happens to be the name of her podcast. She’s the co-founder of the necessary series of perinatal discussions called “Oh Baby WTF.” She launched this one of our faves, Genevieve Putter from The New Normal. And while we’re on the subject of a type of new normal, Carly joins me on the line to walk us through “The Corona Crazy”. Carly, thanks for joining me on The Great Equalizer.
Carly: Thanks so much for having me. It’s great being on and having a chance to chat to you in this crazy time.
Sam: It’s madness. There’s been a lot of ups and downs for us moms, which we will get into. But firstly, I wanna ask how are you doing? I don’t think anyone ever asks a psychologist that, do they? They’re always asking you questions on how to cope but are you coping? How are you doing?
Carly: I think the question is not “are you coping”? I think we’re all coping. We’re all managing even if we having a freak out. But the important thing to focus on is, what aspects of this are in my control? What of what I can manage is going okay for now?
So my answer for that is, in terms of what I can manage, at this stage, I feel like I’m managing well. I’ve looked after the things I can look after to a degree that I’m satisfied with- let’s call it that. Lowering the expectations is what it’s all about. Not expecting to manage everything supremely well, or feel like it’s normal, feel like you’re swimming, feel like it’s all going smoothly. It’s not that at all. It’s an upside down vibe. Like your tagline, right?
Sam: Yeah, we’re completely in a different type of upside down. Funnily enough I was talking about that with one of our guests today, her name is Chloe ‘O Doherty. She is about to give birth, so that’s a double whammy of the upside down. We really wanted to extend an ”I see you salute” to moms who are in their third trimester right now, and due to give birth in a lockdown, around a lockdown. And we also spoke to another mom who had a panic attack before the lock down properly set in.
I just don’t think we’re all alone in our sheer anxiety and fear, and panic. We’ve spoken amongst ourselves about the rollercoaster of emotions we’ve been through during this time, from one minute to the next, you’re either up or down. It’s a bit crazy. We need help, I guess. What exactly is happening to us right now?
Carly: Ja, I think in a way, it’s kind of similar to when you have a baby. You are confronted with a lot of emotions.
I think you have chatted to Gen before about the Oh Baby WTF that we do. Am I allowed to swear on your podcast?
Sam: Yes, absolutely!
Carly: It’s all about preparing parents for that turning upside down of your world when you have a baby. We usually talk about that in so called “normal times” and now these are very abnormal times. It’s like a double whammy of craziness and of upside downnness. We are actually doing another COVID edition of our talk online via zoom. I’m not sure when this episode is going to air but I’m sure we’re going to do one after this episode. So, keep looking at our Instagram, we’ll keep posting updates.
But basically, I think the important thing to recognise is that there are a lot of feelings that we’re coming into contact with. Some people are either more or less aware of these feelings. Those of us who are classic “Go. Go. Go people” mostly in the modern world we are expected to “Go. Go Go.” I think these sort of events, like having a baby or having to deal with a global pandemic, is forcing you to be in touch with yourself. It’s forcing you to be in contact with your own internal experience, in a very immediate way.
That in itself can be hugely overwhelming, to suddenly be very aware that you’re experiencing all these really crazy emotions. It can feel very destabilizing because suddenly you’re aware of how influx your feelings and your mood is. I think the most important thing that you can do is to just normalise that for yourself. Maybe I’m more into a mental health Instagram account but there are lots of posts about accepting the idea that you might be feeling it all, that all the feelings are valid. You might be feeling every single one of them depending on what time of day you’re in.
What’s really important is to just stop, breathe and remember that whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay. There’s no expectation of what you should be feeling. We sometimes do think that, we’re like ”Oh, we’re moms. We’re supposed to be calm all the time.” Who said that? Who gave you that idea?
We’re supposed to always have our emotions in control- some people have that idea. If I’m feeling excessively anxious and can’t get out of bed today, or if I can’t go to the shops because I’m so afraid of what’s going out there- that I’m bad and that I’ve failed. I’ve let myself down, that I’m not always super strong and powerful because I’m not managing everything.
Well I’m saying “Whoa, why can’t you have a day when you’re just not coping with that particular emotion and you need to chill? Or you’re managing that emotion with some kind of behavior that you’re not used to identifying yourself with. The trick is to find a new version of ourselves in this experience, that is a little more up and down. A little bit more spilling out. We’re not all contained and holding it together all the time, and that’s something we have to be okay with.
Sam: I think we’ve joked on the podcast that we have peeked too soon. So like the first 10 days before lockdown had even started, I had done all the baking and all the crafts(I’m not a crafty mom at all). But I had taken the bull by the horns and gone, “This is a crappy situation. I’m not going to get crappy before my kid.” As you say, there this expectation coming from within, going: “You know what, the world is topsy, tipsy and I don’t want it to affect my family.
So, we put the pressure on ourselves. A part of the pressure that a lot of moms are feeling is around schoolwork, which so many moms are discussing right now. I get it, on the one hand I feel like school and extra mural service providers, they need to be doing something. A lot of people feel that way because they’re unable to waive fees, which is understandable. Some moms are angry because they are paying and schools are doing nothing or they might feel that way.
On the other hand, moms aren’t coping because additional to the emotional distress to this crazy illness that has taken charge of the whole world. A lot of us have full time jobs, and now we have to do house work, and cook, and entertain the kids and keep them happy, and love them. While trying to keep everyone calm and now school work on top of that. We all kind of teachers and it feels impossible.
But what it boils down to, we end up feeling like failures on all accounts and fronts.
Carly: Ja look, it’s too much. It’s actually too much. I think it’s really important for each individual person to work out what is manageable. Maybe today is going to be different from tomorrow, what you manage today you won’t manage tomorrow. Like you said, all the energy in the beginning, that can’t necessarily be sustained. I think it’s important to take it day by day.
Everybody’s different. Everybody’s going to respond to this differently. Everybody is going to require different tools in order to navigate this. Some people love their schedules, they feel very soothed by writing it out. It is a very soothing thing for a lot of people, having that visual representation of separate units in a day. I think that is calming and makes them feel like there’s a step by step way to get there. I can actually see this day getting managed and getting dealt with.
But other people aren’t like that. They need to be in the moment more, working from a place of whatever can be managed in this moment and onto the next. I do think that we cannot expect ourselves to do it all. We should never have expected ourselves to do it all even in normal times, and we always do. So now, we have extraordinary circumstances.
We need to be even kinder to ourselves. We need to be even more gentler on ourselves and our children, to just manage with the feelings. This will be a huge achievement, if you go to bed and look back at the day, and all you’ve said, “Okay, so there was this freak out. The kids were really difficult and we’ve managed to change it, and it was a bit easier after that.” Wow, you’ve done amazingly! You spent a whole day regulating your own emotions and the emotions of your children. Fuck, you’ve just won the race. You go girl! That is honestly enough.
So, other stuff which is obviously important because that’s how our world works, are schools, our jobs and cleaning- and all of that stuff that is the labour which we have to put in at this time. Don’t you have this fantasy of being childless? Imagine those single people just hanging out in their home all day. They’re all from work because they have these office jobs which makes them immobile during this time, sitting and watching Netflix all day- that is what I fantasize about all the time.
But for the rest of us who have jobs and children, this is actually much harder than an ordinary work situation. We actually have our routines and our systems, and our help (Thank God, we’re so privileged).
So I think we just have to be really mindful of that load which we put on top of the emotional load- which is the expectation to have all these things done, to do this and do that. I think if you manage to do anything on top of regulating your emotions and your children’s emotions, then you’re doing really really well.
It’s obviously very hard. I can’t speak for every school or employer, but I hope all of us use this opportunity to treat each other with kindness, compassion, understanding, and patience. If your kid didn’t get the science project done the way it should be, it’s going to be okay. It’s not the end of the world. It’s in your head that the end of the world is happening. Do you know what I mean?
That goes for everyone with regards to this. All of us, as we sit here right now are okay. It’s really important to check in whenever you having those panic moments. You just have to check in and be with yourself right now. “Okay, where am I now? Am I safe? Am I warm? Are my children safe? Are they okay? Is my health okay? Is my relationship okay?
If that is all okay in this moment right now, then I have to be aware that the anxiety that I might be feeling is being projected into the future which I have in mind. That end of the world feeling is something I am creating in my own head. Even though there is lots of fabulous fuel for that fire- all over the news, in the media and social media. I mean it’s very apocalyptic out there right now but actually it hasn’t happened yet. We have to try and remind ourselves of that all the time.
Be with this moment with all it’s demands, as much as we can.
Sam: You mentioned that uncertainty, and I think this is a biggy for a lot of us. At this point we sit, we don’t know if the lockdown in South Africa is going to be extended or if we will jump into normal life by next week. It feels a bit weird. One day we’re all in our homes and the next we go back to life as we know it. It doesn’t feel like it will happen at this point. I guess my question is two-fold. How do we cope with this uncertainty? And if the lockdown is extended, where to from here for us parents, I guess?
Carly: Look, I think that’s the biggest question you’re really asking, I don’t think there’s a quick answer to that. I think it’s about identifying and it’s really important to do that. Just identify that it is over and above everything, it’s the biggest cause of our anxiety, of all of our anxieties. We can’t even predict what the world will look like next week or the next few days, things are changing so rapidly.
I think we need to spell that out, that it is hugely frightening and upsetting for us. On the one hand, if you thinking philosophically about it, it is meaningful to come to terms with this illusion that we have been in control in the past. We did think that we knew what the future was going to hold for us. That we thought if we just did x, y and x, we would have a predictable future. We as human beings love predictability. We love to create the conditions that simulate control and predictability as much as possible. We tend to try and do things that will make us feel like we’re in charge and control.
This has completely taken the rug from underneath us. We are aware that we do not know what is ahead of us. We do not have a grasp on this experience and what life will be like because we don’t know, and we don’t know how to prepare. Because we don’t know how to prepare, we don’t know what to do, and that’s the big thing here. It is the question of feeling and doing. What am I going to do with these feelings?
I think that question is being posed to all of us. I don’t think there’s a simple answer here. There’s not a one size fits all “Oh, this is what you need to do.” I think it’s about tolerating these really complex, difficult emotions, and tolerating the discomfort of looking into the future and not seeing what it’s going to look like. Not having a shape of things and that’s really huge. I think for people that have faith and spirituality, this is when it comes into it. This is when the idea of what is beyond our human existence comes into play. What is beyond the material world? What can we rely on that is a source of life and meaning that is beyond what we do for our jobs and whether our kids go to school or what grades they get or whether I make the best cookie? All of that stuff.
And for those who don’t have a spiritual connection, then I think you’ve got to connect from within. You’ve got to go deep within- meditation, mindfulness. Any kind of practice where you are actually connecting with the internal world, that is actually a universal consciousness. If you still your mind and quieten then there is peace within us.
It’s a complex thing to talk about if you haven’t experienced it then you don’t know. Anyone who has practiced yoga or done meditation will understand what I’m talking about. There is something beyond the mind, and all the words and thoughts that we say to ourselves. There is something beyond that. If we can connect with that then we can find the peace within ourselves that will help us be with the feelings and this experience.
Sam: I think this time has certainly felt like a day of reckoning in terms of just taking stock of where we’re at in our lives. Carly, I can’t thank you enough for coming onto The Great Equalizer, and talking us through the chaos that’s happening in our heads. I hope it won’t be the last time that we have you on board.