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Go easy on yourself
These are difficult times, and you are doing an amazing job!
Welcome to Not a Doctor, the only (free!) newsletter about health and science that warns you about the dangers of CROCODILES.
I’m Melody Schreiber, a journalist and the editor of What We Didn’t Expect (Nov. 2020). I’m not a doctor, or a scientist, or really an expert of any kind. I just like to ask questions and try to find the answers to them.
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From the mouths of babes
Yesterday, I was interviewing a source for a story. Near the end of the call, my toddler wandered into the room and quietly climbed into my lap.
As so often happens these days, I didn’t want to end the call without acknowledging everything happening out in the world. I said, “Stay safe, and stay healthy!”
My toddler leaned forward and shouted, “Stay away from crocodiles!!!!”
The interviewee and I both burst into laughter. “That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said, and we were both still chuckling as we signed off.
Image: Ravi Jandhyala
A guest appearance from a toddler is not, of course, how I’d prefer every professional call to go — and I’ve got a collection of way less adorable stories about interrupted calls, deleted documents, and, recently, my laptop thrown to the floor.
My husband and I are both lucky enough to be able to work full-time from home right now. But like most parents, we’re doing so without any childcare at all. That means lots of vague instructions to go do some coloring, buddy, Mama’s got a call and why don’t you read your book while I write mine?
Some days, it works much better than others. But without fail, we’re exhausted every night after trying to juggle work and childcare and relationships and, you know, trying to be actually be good at any of it. Almost all of the time, it feels like we’re failing at all of it.
What helps the most is knowing that we’re not doing this alone. Everyone is struggling to find balance right now, to do the best they can in a very difficult situation. And we’re doing it all during the worst pandemic of the century.
Sometimes, when even these thoughts fail to make me feel better, I do the math. In order for us to work 8 hours a day and take care of the kid 8 hours a day… that’s 16 hours a day. It’s just not possible to have a normal schedule and cook dinner and get a little exercise and put the kid to bed and get some sleep.
So we make compromises. We set the kid up at the table and tell him to go nuts with that washable paint. We call family instead of slogging away on that work project. We find bits of time to sneak away for work, and other bits of time to sneak away and relax.
Honestly, it’s a miracle to get anything done right now. Everything you’re able to accomplish is a wonder — even if it’s not half of your to-do list, and even if it takes you twice as long because you keep anxiety-checking the news or taking breaks to read Pete the Cat.
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Family in the foreground
And then there are the moments when my cat makes a guest appearance on a video call, or my son gives (excellent) advice on avoiding crocodiles, and it lightens everything up.
I have been reminded so many times over the past few weeks how everyone I’m speaking with — researchers and doctors and everyday people — are going through the exact same thing. I hear their kids and pets and partners and roommates in the background, too.
And here’s the thing — I love it. I love the glimpses of these personal lives. They remind me that everyone I’m speaking to is giving me the gift of their limited time, and they show me where each person is coming from.
As a journalist, these reminders are crucial for continuing to do thoughtful, empathetic work. As a person, they reassure me that we’re all in this together and we are all doing the best we can.
Sometimes I wonder: why did we create this fiction in the first place? This idea that our forward-facing lives must be sterile and strictly professional, that we don’t have kids and pets and personal lives and interruptions?
It seems an ancient relic, as so many things from before this pandemic, this idea that we don’t have families in the background — or really the foreground — of our lives.
Above all, I want everyone to try to feel a little less guilty. You are doing the best you can to help you and your family survive these incredibly stressful and dangerous times. You are a rock star for even getting out of bed — and hey, sometimes even lingering in bed is the right thing to do right now. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
And please remember you are not alone. Everyone on the planet is going through this with you.
I also highly recommend reaching out to a professional for mental health support and, possibly, medication, if that would help. We’re all going to need all the support we can find, and it’s always better to make those connections now.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and try to find anything you can to make yourself a little happier today.
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Questions, concerns, feedback, or ideas for avoiding crocodiles? Please leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, if you know someone who might appreciate this newsletter, please feel free to forward it to them.