Thursday, April 23, 2020

Quarantine Stress Is Exhausting

I missed Microblog Mondays. I am having a really difficult time concentrating lately, and when the day is over for school, I am just a pile of goo on the floor.

Okay, that's a little dramatic.

But it is difficult to take a day of screens and then end it with more screens, even if this use is restorative and not stressful. I think one of the problems is that my office at home, which has been this glorious book-filled, light-filled cozy space for blogging and occasional school work, has become an OFFICE. And so when I'm in there, I'm in school mode. I'm in work mode. I'm trying to get shit done.

Which kind of sucks, because now it's less of a respite than it was in the Before.

The teaching is going okay, wayyy better than the last time where I was like "EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND I CAN'T GET TO EVERYONE AND I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS." Now it's better, because I have days like the caps statement maybe once a week, not every day. Ha.

I have successfully reached all 9 of my caseload students and have time with all them every week. Last week I set up times to meet with my primary class group (my Reading/English/Work Lab/Cotaught Social Studies/Cotaught Science group) one-to-one in addition to the twice per week full group Google Meets. That has been a game-changer, because sometimes those Meets are the full 45 minutes, and sometimes they are 20 minutes or so, but I can get SO MUCH DONE during that time. And then the full group check ins are more for organizational needs, questions for the good of the order, and discussion of the book we're reading. For my small group Social Studies, which is a different group of students and another teacher has them the rest of the day, I see them for a 10 minute check-in on Tuesday or Wednesday, and then we get a full 45 minute class period on Thursdays. Which so far is the highlight of my week. For some reason, my students with the highest degree of support are adapting to this new online learning thing really, REALLY well.

Does that sound like a lot of time? It is, but now I feel like at least I am providing a service and DOING something. The kids are appreciative. The parents are appreciative. I love having that time, because sometimes it's 15 minutes of telling me about a cat or a video game, and sometimes it's 15 minutes of reteaching Math and seeing that AHA moment happen (albeit through a screen).

But then, there's the Meets for Social Studies (cotaught) and for Science (also cotaught). And creating the support materials for those classes. And then the meetings. Holy moses, the meetings. Every week I have a team meeting, an 8th grade meeting with guidance, a faculty meeting, and a special ed meeting (although this week that one didn't happen). And somewhere in there I have to a) create all the things so that they can be uploaded in a weekly format by Monday morning, b) grade (give feedback) all the things, c) contact parents, d) put together all the organizational tools for my students who are being expected to be tiny adults who are used to running a calendar of meetings.


It is a huge weight off of me that I know where all my kids are and that I have figured out something that seems to work for them, and although it looks totally different for each, that's sort of why they all have Individual Education Plans. In some ways, this is actually allowing for far more individualized support. But there are only so many hours in a day. And for some students, it's more about the contact than the work. Because they are stressed, their families are stressed, and some of them are in situations that are less than ideal for learning, or dealing with the stress and trauma of foster care at the same time. So  I'm learning that sometimes, just having a student show up or text me or chat me or send in a random assignment is a win.

The Monday morning thing is a district thing -- they want families to be able to receive all work for the week on Monday and then plan out how they can do stuff so that everything is due by Friday. I just haven't figured out how not to have to do a boatload of work on Sunday to get it ready for that, because I'm still assessing all the stuff that came in by Friday and how my lessons went on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The good news is that I'm learning all kinds of cool things you can do with Google Forms to make quizzes that automatically provide feedback for correct and incorrect answers (you have to type it all up ahead of time, but then you don't have to grade all the quizzes separately). You can make a Google Slides presentation for a Social Studies lesson and then record it on an iPad with screen recording, so it's like a "lecture" but with all the pictures and text, and then you can upload the actual slides so students have text to refer back to. You can pose a question for everyone to answer. You can do a Google Meet with students, have them all mute themselves, and then watch a video clip on your screen that they can see and hear and you can even over-narrate it if you want.

The technology part of this is very, very cool.


I am fortunate. I am fortunate to have a job, to have meaningful work right now. But it is just so much more exhausting than regular teaching, and as my grandmother said, "Teaching is a jealous mistress." She takes all your time.

I have found myself uttering the words, "It feels wrong, but I'm so glad we don't have kids right now." Please note, this does not in any way take out any grief or loss or feelings of inadequacy from all the fucking "Mommy Photo Challenges" and the ominous looming specter of Mother's Day. But it does make it so that I can do all the things for school all day without interruption (except for the cat, who likes to march across my keyboard during meets and gently claw my backside), and I can collapse in a puddle at the end of the day without small humans needing me. I don't have to worry about my children. It does make this quarantine thing simpler, but it does NOT mean that I'm lounging on the couch watching marathons of Schitt's Creek drinking vats of wine. My busy is just different than children-busy. I am grateful for the downtime I do have, which I know those with young children don't. My best friend has three kids, 12, 11, and 9, and she is basically hiding in the bathroom to have 5 minutes where no one is touching or needing her. It's relentless, and they're older.

Another piece of stress is Bryce's PhD. He is now almost 5 years in, and he is on deadline for his Candidacy Exam, which is next Friday. So his proposal is in for review and he has to do a presentation and answer any questions and then he's off to dissertation and wrapping up. But, he's also working full time and has zero downtime and is super stressed. And while it's really awesome that he was asked to present at a major conference that is now going virtual on a paper he published with his adviser recently, his presentation is ALSO due...May 1st. Next Friday. So he is a big old ball of stress. It's really pressing our "only one person can be crazy at a time" policy. (Which we had before I listened to the 5th episode of Brene Brown's Unlocking Us podcast, which talked about the 50/50 myth, which is basically the same concept.) I am taking up slack on housework, and dishes, and keeping the house sane, guessed it...I AM FUCKING EXHAUSTED.

But it's good. I'm grateful for our home and our relationship and our food and our cat and our laundry. Maybe not the laundry, but the clothes and the fact that I have to do laundry so often because I am getting good and sweaty during the Pilates/Barre classes I fit in a few times per week on zoom. I missed a class this week, but that is so key to my sanity. Moving and stretching and taking the time to do something for my body is super important. It also makes me feel less bad about the wine or margaritas or Manhattans that we have in the evening. Not all at once of course!

The stress, my stress, from all these factors, not including family worries, is exhausting. It leaves me feeling all brain fogged. It has me spending Saturday as a No Talking Day, where I do not make phone calls if I can avoid it and I sit somewhere and read or do a puzzle, because I just cannot stand to look at one more screen. I cannot WAIT for it to get warm out. This cold, snowy, rainy, windy weather is just insult to injury. I can't garden on the weekends, because Spring just plain stalled out. Everything seems to be in a pause. It's creepy, honestly. I want warm weather, I want to sit on the deck, I want to prep soil and plant things. And right now the ground is just so cold. The air is cold. The snow that refuses to stop falling is cold. It's depressing. It sort of matches everything else.

Another thing that I am letting go of (also in Brene Brown's podcast in the link above) is Comparative Suffering. I thought that was going to be like a Pain Olympics, but it's not quite. It's basically feeling like empathy is a pie and I can't feel exhausted for myself while there are healthcare workers out there who are working endless 12 hour shifts, so my frustration and exhaustion isn't as bad as theirs. She said you have to have empathy for yourself and realize that everyone has the right to their suffering without comparing to others, and you can feel for others and feel for yourself without taking anything away from anyone else. This part really stuck with me: that when you do the "well, but these other people are dealing with ____" you could actually be worried about what others think about you complaining about your life, and you worry about the perception people have of you, so you're really just making it about you. Just accept the suffering. Accept that everyone is suffering differently, and you can feel for them but not have it take from your reality, either. That was strangely empowering and a good thing to attempt to let go of. It's a process, a habit to break.

The upshot of all this is that I AM FUCKING EXHAUSTED, and this quarantine situation has all new stresses that compound together and make things feel super overwhelming. That make me feel like a puddle at the end of the day. That have me fairly silent and sequestered on Saturdays to heal for the week before I take some of Sunday to prep for the next one. It feels like a marathon. But now that we're 6 weeks in, I guess it's what I have to work with. After May 1st it will be better, when Bryce is back among the land of the living. We will survive this. One person on the ledge at a time, letting go of things that don't fit the new reality, and giving ourselves permission to be puddles when it's called for.


  1. I’m taking solace in all the articles telling me that it’s impossible to be productive under lockdown, and that everyone is depressed and exhausted and we shouldn’t try to get everything done …. But seriously, yes: I am whacked, and friends are saying the same. Also, time is really flying – things are so strange right now.

    I love the idea of accepting that everyone is suffering differently and you can feel for them without taking anything away from your reality. On this note, but maybe not the same, I have a friend (a stay-at-home mother) who constantly comes back to me, if I express the tiniest bit of negativity or talk about what someone is going through (even when I recently told her someone had died..) with responses on the theme of “At least they have/had XYZ… “ or “Try having my kids…” or “Try having my marriage…” etc. I feel like saying to her: putting that aside for a minute won't diminish it, don't worry... I think empathy has to be learned to a certain extent, sometimes by listening to unempathetic people like her, sometimes by reading about it. I’ll look up the pie concept, sounds really interesting.
    Also … "Lounging on the couch watching marathons of Schitt's Creek drinking vats of wine." – OMG, can people see into my house??

  2. Oh yes, the exhaustion. The endless exhaustion. This online school is pretty amazing with the technology, but yes, the teachers have SO.MUCH.MORE to do. But wow, reading about how your incorporating technology and all the different avenues to teach, that's pretty fascinating. And it brings up a good point, if this is going to prepare kids different for the "real world" of meetings and tech. I don't know. It'll be interesting. And funny about the Schitt's Creek because that's exactly how I've been spending my evenings lately. ;)

  3. You sound like such an amazing, dedicated teacher. But to continue to be the amazing dedicated teacher you are, I'm really glad you're taking time out on Saturdays, not making phone calls, and giving yourself some time to breathe. Brava, Jess.

    Yes, it's easy to take on comparative pain personally this way. Don't deny your own exhaustion and stress. You sound stressed and exhausted, and you're allowed to feel that way. All those meetings would make me stressed and exhausted without everything else! (I'm going to listen to that podcast - I love Brene Brown.)

    I hope spring will help, and it WILL arrive. There's nothing more certain.

    Good luck to Bryce. I hope after 1 May he and you will have a bit more time to relax and recover from this time.

    And finally, yes, you're allowed to say you're glad you don't have kids right now. We're allowed to recognise that there are real benefits to our lives without kids, even though we wanted them. I'm glad you have time to collapse (although I'm struggling to get over the visual I have of Jess-as-a-pile-of-goo) in the evenings.

    Sending hugs.

  4. The technology is cool, isn’t it? I’ve turned my car into a recording booth for all the lectures, which is a ton of upfront work between making the slides/writing the script, recording and then editing, but all those videos are being saved for future courses, so this work is paying off on the back-end. Yes to the auto grading (my learners benefit a lot from it too) and utilizing as many tools to take out the mundane. And know that as someone who was adopting these technologies prior to the pandemic, I’ve been insanely impressed with what I’ve been seeing from the preK-12 sector. All of you are doing amazing things with no transition time at all.

    All that said, I get why you’re insanely exhausted. It’s hard not to be with life turned upside down. Tell Bryce I remember my qualifying exam very well (was a horrible and hard experience), but they wouldn’t let him get to this point if they didn’t think he was ready and I’m sure he’ll get through (warning, there will be some scars, but it’s part of the experience many of us can attest to).

    Yes to suffering. We’re in this together. And though the world will never be the same, I know too well the beauty that comes from tragedy.

  5. I can relate to much of this. The possibilities of the technology are exciting, but it is a lot of work. I have been trying to come up with reusable activities like book reports, recipes, journal etc because creating original content every week is a ton of work. It’s not like i can show up for class with half a plan and improvise (which I did perhaps more than I should brag about But I am learning new tips and hacks all the time. (I still have to figure out quizzes though. Heh).

    Another teacher showed me something today I would have never guessed. You can create a worksheet in google slides by changing the size of the page, snipping a photo of a PDF, then setting the image as a BACKGROUND the students can type over. Crazy. I’ll send you the video if I remember.

    My situation is a bit complicated by the fact I am essentially the technical leader of my team now, as I am most comfortable with this learning curve it seems. So I’m really teaching students and teachers/Ed assistants and MYSELF at once. I can only dream of achieving your level of productivity as far as actual course design....our kids get at most one or two new assignments a week....but for many, that’s all they can really do anyway, and we have things like IXL and Raz kids. So far no one is breathing down my neck lol. I’m trying not to feel too guilty about it. I keep parents busy by telling them to teach their kids google read and write hahaha. I get to sound smart and intimidating anyway.

    Oh yeah’s a gong show. Thank god I have independent kids. I just try to focus on what I can do well every day. Like today was so stressful but there were some real achievements. And I just realized I can comment on blogs from my phone if I use google chrome.

    Anyway sorry I just blabbed on about myself in your blog. I guess, just a reminder again you are not alone. I think the key is to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t.

  6. "Letting go of things that don't fit the new reality." There's another gem we all learned from surviving infertility.

    I had a big triennial IEP meeting via conference call this week and was quite proud of the data and plan we put together for the student.

    But we can't carry on as if this is all normal. It is anything but.

    I'll be thinking of you and Bryce this week! You both got this. <3

  7. That all sounds absolutely overwhelming. Teaching is a really demanding profession in the best of times (and obviously, these are not the best of times) and every teacher I know is incredibly stressed right now. You do such incredibly important work and I cannot commend you enough for what you're persevering through. It's rough.

    Ooof, that PhD stuff for Bryce - that also sounds truly difficult and stressful.

    Thinking of both of you and wishing you the best in this really tough, exhausting time.

  8. You are a rock star! I am just amazed at how you managed to pull this all together and get it all working in such a short period of time. And I am glad you're giving yourself some down time on the weekend. You've earned it!

    I'll be thinking of Bryce tomorrow & cheering him on from across the lake. :)