Pandemic Love Story

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The pandemic saved my life. I don’t mean in the literal way where someone grabs you out of the street before you’re run down by a speeding bus. It was more like, the pandemic ripped me out of mainstream life, threw me inside my house and locked the door from the outside. No, that’s too normal. Here’s what happened—the wheel I’d been running on for 40 years suddenly jarred to a stop and I went flying out the side, landing ungracefully in the fetal position. Out of breath, and out of sorts. I found myself laying in a pool of my overachieving, anxiety ridden life all by myself (well, almost by myself).

We place a significant burden on women when we say, “Women can have it all!” Women can raise children, pursue academic dreams, hold down a professional career, volunteer on the school PAC and still have time to tame their curls and wax unruly upper lips. We CAN do it all, but do we need to do it all? Women like me, overachievers, we hear, “You can do it all!” and our brains say, “You must to do it all!”

We’re breaking down walls, smashing glass ceilings and ripping apart stereotypes. Can we get some recognition, no, can we take a break now? Nope! There are no breaks when you climb into the wheel. We’re too busy trying to outrun each other. Sigh.

Before 2020

Leading up to 2020 I had been running on the wheel for two decades.

Undergrad completed while holding down full-time employment. Married and babies before 32, including two first-trimester miscarriages with little time to process them (needed to focus on the wheel!). Made investments, bought things, moved onto new jobs and more responsibility. Team parent, team manager, PAC executive and that mom the other moms can’t stand (you know who I mean). Completed graduate school in 2020 while raising kids, caring for aging parents, working full time and baking gluten-free cookies to fuel my wheel-running.

Everywhere I turned was another opportunity to do more as a mother. I was being taunted with new ways to earn my stripes. In January 2020, my husband and I joined two other couples in Las Vegas to celebrate my 40th birthday. It was supposed to be a relaxing trip, but who can relax while they’re running on a bloody wheel? My legs were wobbly, my brain was groggy and all I wanted to do was sleep. As I stood on the Cosmopolitan balcony watching the Bellagio fountains dance, I wondered what it would feel like to just stop moving for a day.

In March 2020, the universe delivered. The world screeched to a halt as the pandemic took over.

That month, the kids came home for Spring Break and would remain home until June 2020. My home office became my new workspace, and I realized—this is it! I’ve dreamt of this! I’m home with my kids and still a contributing member of my workplace—win/win! As a working mother, I longed to spend more time with these little people and less time commuting, sitting through mundane meetings and being restricted to when I could take vacation and when I needed to be present for another priority project. I had arrived.

Week 1: We were off to a great start: I made hot breakfasts, cuddled with the kids between my meetings and everything was novel.

Week 2: The house started to get messy, my carefully organized pantry started to look cluttered. It was okay (but, no, it wasn’t).

Week 3: Homelife and work life became a giant, blended mess. Kids appeared in the background (or on my lap) for work calls, I had more candy wrappers on my desk than pens, and no one wanted to do homework. I was frazzled, tired and realizing that I still wasn’t enough. The pandemic had shut down schools, governments and the NHL! I mean, sports were cancelled, but I still had to attend 9 a.m. meetings, do math with my kids and clean this house?

Week 4: I woke up with a single thought: “I’ve fallen out of the wheel.”

The world stopped long enough for me to realize that punching down walls, ripping down glass ceilings and tearing apart stereotypes is not the only way to live my life.

Life on the Wheel

Life on the wheel was organized, planned and predictable, albeit uninspiring, restricting and suffocating. I stood now on wobbly knees, looking in directions I hadn’t looked before. You face forward when you run, not backwards, or upwards or side to side.

I had been running on this wheel for my immigrant parents who instilled perfection as the foundation to seeking acceptance in a world where I didn’t look like others.

I ran on that wheel to keep up with other women, pitted against each other; who would achieve more?

I’d fallen out of that wheel, and here I lay in the fetal position soaked in the stink of my anxiety, insecurity and paralyzed by fear.

What happens outside the wheel? Is this where you go when you stop colouring your hair and shaving your legs?

Discovering Life Outside the Wheel

Here’s what I found.

Outside the wheel are opportunities to live your life with intention. As I began to move on my wobbly legs, I found things buried under degrees and promotions.

I found a spade and some seeds that formed the luscious garden outside my back door.

Buried deep beneath the cloak of whiteness was a deep-seated inferiority complex and wounds from my childhood experiences of racism. Laying in the open, high on the pile of my exhaustion was a pillow and blanket calling me to slumber.

So, I gardened, slept, explored my traumas and I allowed myself to unravel.

No one was more irrelevant in 2020’s pandemic than fathers.

We read about mothers bearing the weight of home-schooling, working and holding up the household, but what about the homes like mine, where the mother fell apart and the father gently held the family together? My husband not only continued to work outside the home, but he was the one risking his life to grocery shop, slap together dinners and hold me while I sobbed. He’d drop chocolate bars through the crack of my office door. I was shedding some heavy stuff, and chocolate was keeping me alive.

At one point, I looked down at my hands and realized I had left a chocolate bar to melt on my keyboard and it was now smeared all over me. I rubbed it into my hands, feeling euphoric.

I was done fueling with chocolate—it was time to let go. I packed up my graduate work and threw it in a box. I wrote a resignation letter. I was making changes.

Back on My Feet

2021 launched. We were riding another wave of the pandemic, and I was finally strong on my feet again.

I replaced hot breakfasts with cold cereal that my kids ate with pleasure. I started taking the extra time each morning to read in bed, drink coffee in my garden and to take deep breaths that filled my heart.

My home became a reflection of my soul — art, books, messy little tables and pieces of our story scattered on every surface. Life outside the wheel was whole.

By 2022, the pandemic was shifting, and things were opening up, slowly. Our lives had changed, and we were trying to navigate this new post-pandemic world. My mornings were still full of gratitude for the learnings over these past two years. The pandemic was the system disruptor I needed.

Here’s the thing: I’m still an overachiever. But now my goals are self-fueled.

I’m not running on a wheel anymore. I used that wheel as a garden bed to grow my future on, and as a memory of where I was pre-pandemic.

The pandemic saved my life and brought me back to myself, and for that I am grateful. The world stopped long enough for me to realize that punching down walls, ripping down glass ceilings and tearing apart stereotypes is not the only way to live my life.

Here outside the wheel, I approach those walls, ceilings and stereotypes strategically, with intention and solid on my feet.

 


 

Mina Sahota, MA, BBA, CPHR is a diversity, inclusion and belonging consultant from Vancouver, British Columbia. Mina is passionate about engaging with organizations to help educate and support teams with their DEI work. Mina is honoured to live on the unceded territory of the Katzie people and is striving to move Truth and Reconciliation forward through her work.

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