In March we were scared. In April we were stressed. In May we were tired. By June, we were exhausted. And now, in July, we are numb. That’s the point Catherine Pearson, a Senior Reporter at HuffPost, made in her trending piece, “Why So Many Parents Feel Absolutely Numb Right Now.” You may have seen it go by while scrolling through your social media feeds, and if you were too numb to read it then, you should try now. It may not make you feel less anesthetized to the state of the world, but it will surely make you feel less alone.
With two boys—one school-age and a preschooler—and no idea what’s to come next in 2020, Pearson recently found herself feeling, well, nothing. After months of working without childcare while living in a COVID-19 hotspot, she’s moved from a state of constant stress to a state of disconnection. She’s numb.
Pearson tells Motherly: “This piece came out of a conversation with my editor—who is also a mom of two young boys—about how neither of us have any idea what this fall will hold (like, none!) and how we both feel totally numb about it. We’re obviously not the only ones, and I’ve definitely been hearing from parents who feel similarly dead inside.”
“Dead inside” is hardly what any of us aspire to be, and not really a feeling we would want our kids to pick up on, but if you are feeling that way right now, know that it is natural and normal.
Parents right now are stuck. We are grieving the months we’ve lost, the relationships we miss, the summer our children didn’t get, and, in some cases, our careers. In the worst of cases, parents are grieving the loss of loved ones killed by COVID-19. We’re also feeling a lot of anticipatory grief, that knowledge that the upcoming school year is going to be unlike any we’ve known and certainly unlike what we’d planned for our children.
When the grief and anxiety become too much, we succumb to numbness, as Pearson found. This is what everyone, or at least many of us, are feeling. It’s not you, mama. It’s this world.
As Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, chair of psychiatry at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, tells WTOP News, this is natural. “I’ve seen waves of anxiety and grief: anxiety when it was first hitting us, grief as we began to realize everything that was lost to us, from graduations to birthdays and funerals,” Cameron Ritchie explains. “And in between these waves, some numbness, feeling battered.”
If you’re numb and battered, don’t beat yourself up further by blaming yourself for your numbness. It’s okay to sit in it today. We are beyond burned out.
When you feel like talking, reach out to someone. But if all you can do today is go through the motions and survive, consider that an achievement. Because right now, getting through each day is something worth celebrating (if you can).
Pearson talked to a licensed clinical social worker, Perri Shaw Borish, who reassured her that numbness is a normal coping skill right now, but also urged her to be mindful of how long the feeling lasts and noted that using substances (including alcohol) to numb out further is a red flag. If you find yourself doing that, consider getting professional help.
The bottom line is: This is hard. It’s okay to admit it. And it’s okay if you feel “dead inside” today. That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to feel alive soon, mama.
“We all have different circumstances,” Pearson tells Motherly, adding that “this moment is basically universally hard for parents.”
It sure is. And that’s why we appreciate her being so honest about it.