My oh my, it has been a year. Who would have thought we’d experience a global pandemic – as if we didn’t already have enough to worry about! Yet, here we are. We’ve hunkered down, stocked up, and took stock of what really matters. We’re getting through it, despite the profound loss so many of us have faced. Loss of normalcy. Loss of jobs. Loss of loved ones. Yes – it has been a real bummer of a year. However, I learned that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offers mental health support for those of us who have a health plan with them. As an employee of Blue Cross, and a member, I haven’t been shy about tapping into those resources. And I hope you won’t be, either.
Here’s my story: When the pandemic hit, I had just had my first child. She was only a few months old, and I was still both physically recovering and mentally adjusting. I had gone back to work – and because my husband also works full-time – we had lined up childcare for our daughter. But soon everything changed. The pandemic meant that we would both need to work from home and figure out a way to care for our infant. We could have placed her in childcare or had a nanny come each day, but we simply weren’t comfortable with those options. Thankfully, both Blue Cross and my husband’s employer were willing to offer us flexibility, so we could continue working and watching our daughter full-time. We knew a lot of people didn’t have that option or were involuntarily losing their jobs. So, we felt incredibly blessed. However, juggling both a parent and employee role was difficult. The days seemed to roll into the nights and again into more days, without any kind of a break. I was barely sleeping, barely leaving the house, and still trying to be the best mother and employee I could be. There were many days that I had no idea how long I had been in a pair of clothes. The house was feeling cramped and disorganized from us constantly being there. I knew that with the pandemic, I didn’t have the former luxury of being able to get help from a family member without risk. And the “me time” I once tapped into when I needed to refuel was becoming a distant memory. I started to feel like I was drowning. One night, around 11 p.m., I handed the baby monitor to my husband and said, “I’ll be back in a bit.” I went out to my car, sat in the driveway and called the 24/7 hotline Blue Cross made available during COVID-19. I wasn’t sure what to say when I heard a caring voice on the other end of the line. I simply wasn’t used to talking about my feelings. I had become really good at stuffing them down to stay focused on my child’s needs and the needs of my job. After a few minutes, though, everything surged to the surface. I was crying, venting and letting it all go. The woman on the other end comforted me and affirmed that what I was feeling was normal for this very abnormal situation. She also reminded me that I needed to go easier on myself. She told me it seemed like I was doing a great job, even though I often felt like I was failing. Talking to her brought me so much relief. When I hung up, the weight of the year was off my shoulders. This one experience, in my driveway, at 11 p.m. on a random weekday, changed the way I now manage my mental health. I no longer ignore how I’m feeling, or subtly tell myself that it could never be as important as the million other things I have to do. I’m better at communicating to my husband when I need to step away and take a break. And I’ve learned to stop holding myself accountable to unrealistic expectations. This journey has also encouraged my husband to be more vocal about when he needs time for himself. In fact, we now both separately check in with a therapist over the phone when we need to. Like I said – this is a journey. We’re still not out of the woods with COVID-19. And I’m still learning how to be the best mom and manager I can be in these ever-changing times. But at least now, I know, I’m not on this journey alone. -Mary Abraham is manager of strategy for digital experience at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more information on Blue Cross behavioral and mental health options, visit bcbsm.com/mentalhealth. You can also check out our video serieswhere Mary and other women share their stories. More from MIBluesPerspectives:
Photo credit: Courtesy of Mary Abraham