When I was a child in the 80s, a family I babysat had a Gameboy with Tetris on it. I’m not very video game inclined, however I loved that game. There was something so satisfying about fitting each piece in the perfect spot and watching lines disappear that made me feel like I could overcome anything. I felt like I was was maximizing my potential of fitting things in to the perfect spot.
Now as a parent, one of which is in the sandwich generation, caring for children at home while caring for a parent, I recognize that playing Tetris in the 80s was actually honing a life skill. My dad recently and very suddenly passed away, then my mom fell and broke her leg less than a month later. She required around the clock care, all the while my kids still needed a mom, and my job still needed an employee. Thanks to an incredibly understanding family and job, I was able to constantly shift blocks that were falling faster and faster from the sky to make them fit in to the perfect spot.
While this “skill” might allow survival for short periods of time, it is not sustainable. Not even a little.
So, what is a “sandwich mama” to do when you just want to go take a nap and wake up and find that the chaos that 2020 and 2021 have been, was all a very detailed bad dream? The reality that 2021 is not the rainbows and unicorns that we hoped for is hitting me like a brick wall. In an effort not to be buried by the Tetris shapes, I’ve acquired some survival skills.
Take some deep breaths. Like, a lot of deep breaths. My kids have started asking me if I am ok every time they hear me breathing deep. It’s easy to just tell them, “I’m fine,” but I’ve started telling them “I am feeling anxious about everything that is going on and I just need to calm myself down a bit.” This sends the message that stress is a part of life and when we don’t quite know what to do, we can calm our bodies down so we can think a little more clearly.
Get therapy. I’ve talked for years about the need to get therapy because of my son’s traumatic birth, but just never prioritized my mental health. When I experienced my father’s death first hand, I knew that I could not wait any longer. I’m pursuing therapy virtually, but there are so many options locally or online for support in a group or individually to help see a little light at the end of the tunnel.
Do the next right thing. Anna from Frozen helped bring the idea that just doing the next thing that feels right is the only way to find your way out from an overwhelming situation. I’ve been using this concept for several years now.
Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. We’ve all heard the analogy that in a plane crash, you have to make sure you have oxygen before you can help those around you. Some days my oxygen mask looks like an early morning walk while listening to a podcast, and other days it looks like a secret stash of chocolate. Either way, taking a moment to do something only for myself and it can give me life.
Reach out to a friend. Checking in with others can provide a great opportunity to look beyond your current situation. Realizing that you are not the only one on the struggle bus can really help keep things in perspective.
Tetris probably didn’t teach me valuable life skills, but it did help me see that most situations have a way out, and the hope that brings is priceless.