A Pandemic & PTSD: Lessons Learned During 2020
Wow, so 2020 was a rough one.
Just to start, my son Griffin was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma in his eye orbit at the age of 22 months waaaay back in 2011. He is now 10 years old and continues to be cancer-free.
When the lockdown first began, in March of 2020, I was excited to have a week or two off over March break with my son. I figured we would get some downtime together, watch a couple of movies, maybe do some light renos around the house. But as the lockdown continued, my world started to shrink and the flashbacks of cancer isolation started to fill my thoughts. Back in 2011, we had to put ourselves in isolation in order to keep Griffin safe. We didn’t go to stores or the spa, we didn’t visit or chill. If we did go anywhere, we wore a mask. I remember being in a pharmacy once and people looking at us like we had three heads. I just wanted to wear a sign on my back that explained all of this so the staring would stop.
So as the lockdown came upon us in 2020, the PTSD of Griffin’s cancer fight came creeping back. First, it affected my dreams, I would dream that his cancer is back or covid gave him cancer or the like. Then I started feeling very isolated in my own home, just like when Griffin was sick. I wasn’t alone but I felt very alone.
I had been working at my job for the past 16 years. I had to take time off when Griffin was sick and we were laid off during the pandemic as the government shut our workplace down as nonessential. I valued my work highly and without working, I felt very useless. I’m not one to enjoy being reliant on government assistance. I like earning my own money and enjoying what I earned. It was very hard for me to wrap my head around my sudden unemployment. I now had to start job searching…are resumes still a thing? How does one look for jobs? Who is going to hire an old lady like me??? My depression took hold at this point. It was very hard to apply for job after job with zero response, or go to interviews and hear nothing back. I felt like a failure who was past her prime but at the same time, I refused to take a job for minimum wage or work in a field I was not excited about. I knew this was going to be an uphill battle, I just wasn’t sure if I was ready for the fight. At this point, I just wanted to curl up in a ball on my bed and never come out.
Once summer hit and some of the restrictions were lifted, my parents joined our bubble. It gave us somewhere to go every day, a reason to get out of bed and get dressed. It got me out of my depressive funk and back into being a functioning adult. My mother is quite good at amusing us and there was always something to do. From swimming in the neighbor's pool to making garden gazing balls or tea on the back patio, to raising butterflies and releasing them back into the wild. We started making masks which we gave out to our local community and cancer networks for free. It was something small but it gave me back a fighting spirit. It gave me a job. It didn’t pay but it made my mind busy and kept me above water! (To date we have given away over 1500 masks!)
I was amazed at the change and growth that 2020 brought to us! People learned how to garden again, they took the time and love to foster animals and complete new DIY projects that they never had time for before. It brought back intimate home-cooked dinners and family game nights. It brought back campfires in the back yard and hikes in the woods. It brought a rise of homeschooling and reading to your kids. It sold out of bikes and home gym equipment. It inspired us to learn new hobbies, skills, crafts. We helped our neighbors, our communities, and reached out to family and friends virtually. We found new ways to communicate, celebrate, and remember. It gave us time to slow down…literally smell the roses and enjoy what we actually have. Yes, we had to sacrifice some things like international travel and cruises but look at all we gained! LOOK AT IT! It is up to us to find that silver lining in this whole situation.
I learned that you can make the best out of your current circumstances. You can look at your quarantine time as a punishment or you can make it a blessing. Our time fighting cancer has shown that our family is strong and that I am strong. I am not defined by my profession but I am defined by what I choose to do. I feel blessed that I have had this year at home with my healthy son and my loving husband and we are able to have the time to slow down and appreciate what we actually have and not focus on what we are missing.
Stay healthy, stay safe, stay positive! Happy New Year! Welcome 2021!
Photo courtesy of the author.
Emily Hammond is the cancer mama of an 11-year-old Rhabdomyosarcoma survivor. She is very active in her community, spreading the word and raising cancer awareness, and reminding everyone she meets that they are not alone - and to hug your babies tight! You can find her on IHC under the username Mama_Emma.