In late March, when the realities of potential shelter-in-place orders started setting in, I thought to myself, well, if I’m stuck inside, I might as well get on that eating plan I’ve been too busy to establish. I could probably continue learning Italian too. And now is the perfect time to pitch all of the story ideas I have in my backlog.

Not long after, stay-at-home orders in my city of St. Petersburg, FL came down, and when they did, I readied myself to find my own version of peak productivity. I mean why not? I was home anyway. 

But what actually happened was vastly different than what I had planned. The weight of COVID-19 — it’s rapid spread, it’s unpredictability — came crashing down over me, and my anxiety took over. 

I succumbed to an intensity of emotions that I’d not experienced since those early days in recovery. I felt edgy from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep like I was waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” Waves of panic gripped me as I sat in the car, contemplating whether or not to go into the grocery store. I felt like a raw nerve, recoiling at every little thing that brushed up against me.

I succumbed to an intensity of emotions that I’d not experienced since those early days in recovery.

Then came the exhaustion and brain fog, which felt much like what accompanied the bout of postpartum depression that rolled in about two months after the birth of my second child. This uncomfortable undercurrent made it impossible to concentrate on any one task. The swells of fear that came and went took my expendable energy with them. 

It took all I had just to function in those first few weeks. Productivity was laughable. 

As of this writing, my family and I are on day 68 of stay-at-home/quarantine. We’ve now settled into a bit of a routine. I still have bouts of anxiety and depression and fear. And I’ve come to realize that the illusion of productivity in this time is just that: deceptive and unrealistic. Here’s what I have to say about the productivity memes, the to-do lists, and the ideas about what you “should be doing,” with all this “extra time” you have right now.

This is a crisis, not a vacation

What we are currently in the middle of — a literal, global health crisis touching nearly every soul in every corner of the planet — is uncharted territory for the generations living today. The world event that matches closest to the size and nature of this one happened over 100 years ago. A tiny percentage of our population was alive at that time, and most would have been too young to remember the invasive, deadly Spanish Flu.

I was listening to The Daily about a month ago, and Donald G. McNeil Jr., science and health journalist at The New York Times said he had hope for what the world would look like after the pandemic ends. After all, he said, the world was able to rebound and come together after massive, catastrophic world events like World War I and World War II. He likened the effect of the coronavirus pandemic to World War I and World War II.

And he’s not the first to do it, either. The comparison of the pandemic to world wars might seem like hyperbole, but the truth is the world is and has been affected. Individual citizens, businesses small and large, and entire economies have been affected. People are losing their loved ones. 

This isn’t a vacation. This isn’t some scheduled time off to get that bathroom remodel done. We are in the middle of a crisis.

What we’ve been tasked with is impossible

Not too long ago, I sat down at my computer to write an article. My preschooler was settled in front of a short YouTube sing along. My teenager was working on his geometry assignment. I’d typed out three lines before my youngest child decided he was done watching his show and wanted to see pictures of blue crabs on my computer. Right after I pulled him onto my lap, my oldest came out of his room, trudging, lamenting about interior angle theorem and asking for my help.

Meanwhile, my husband was at work. An essential healthcare employee, he is tasked daily with reporting to a hospital where COVID-19 patients are in abundance and the number of those patients grows, even as our state phases into reopening. 

For those of us who are alone, or childless, or jobless during this time, the burden of this pandemic is no less, just different. Those of us worrying about whether or not the rent or mortgage will be paid at the beginning of the month, or if there’s money left over for groceries are mentally deflated. Those of us who are alone are feeling the acute mental and emotional pains of extreme isolation, which isn’t only lonely, but can be extremely scary. 

For those of us who are alone, or childless, or jobless during this time, the burden of this pandemic is no less, just different.

What we’re being asked to do, whether it’s work a normal schedule while rearing our children or face a world where our jobs are disappearing or stay home, alone, without any real human interaction, it’s all unnatural and downright impossible. 

Our mental health is at stake

Even though we’re still in the middle of this crisis, the collective, rapid decline of our mental health is already being documented. A staggering 45% of those recently polled stated that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their mental health.  

Right now more and more people are trying to figure out how to shed some of the stress and anxiety and heaviness of mind that this pandemic created. But mental health was a back-burner issue before the pandemic, and now that resources are needed more than ever, it’s become blatantly clear that we don’t have the means to help people come to terms with and manage their complex emotions and heavy hearts. This precarious situation has made it harder than ever to find healthy ways to deal, which gives unhealthy means of coping — like a reliance on alcohol —a dangerous, potentially deadly shoo-in. 

For those of us in recovery who largely rely on the proper care of our mental health to maintain a healthy lifestyle, this crisis has proven especially dangerous. 

The world has literally come to a standstill, so why are we expecting so much of ourselves?

So many of the resources we as a society use to care for our mental health — the gyms, yoga studios, therapists’ offices, nail salons, massage parlors, dinners out with family, lunch dates with friends, time alone — have been stripped from us. 

And yet, we are supposed to be productive. 

The world has literally come to a standstill, so why are we expecting so much of ourselves?

Now is not the time to focus on how much we can create. How many miles we can run. How much work we can produce. Now isn’t the time to fill our calendars with everything we’ve been putting off because we were too busy before. In fact, that sounds a little counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

Right now, we need to focus on what matters, the first of which, is ensuring our basic needs are met. Right now, we need to feel our feelings. To let the enormity of what we’re going through sink in and process so we can find healthy and positive ways to move forward into this new paradigm. 

Right now, we need to do whatever it is that allows us to get through each day. Maybe that’s binging a show on Netflix. Maybe it’s deep-cleaning the cabinets in the kitchen to keep our anxiety at bay. It could look like doing the best we can at our now work-from-home-job and then shutting the computer down. It might just be sitting outside in the sun or laying in bed. 

For those of us in recovery, it’s finding new ways (or circling back to tried and true methods) to maintain that recovery. We must do what we can to preserve our sobriety and our sanity.

Now is the time to survive, and survival looks different for everyone. For some, doing things is what needs to be done to get through this time, and there’s not a single thing wrong with that. It’s when we focus on how much, how many, how long, how fast, etc., that danger ensues.

Again, right now, we just need to survive.