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I define myself by my roles in life. Special needs mom, caregiver to my veteran husband and elementary school teacher. But one year ago, my roles were put to the test the day COVID-19 struck. When my kid’s school closed, I learned how to be a homeschool teacher and tutor. When my students went virtual, I learned how to become a tech wizard (well, sort of!). When our doctor’s office closed, I learned how to do telehealth to support my husband’s medical needs. All of it required a steep learning curve, but I made it happen. And I know there are parents everywhere who found themselves just making it work. Together, we expanded our capacity to the max. Over the last year, every parent has had a breaking point that hit them in the gut. That moment where the isolation and stress met and came bearing down. Where they realized, “I may not have this together like I thought.” I can tell you firsthand, I thought I had a handle on things … until I didn’t. I woke up one morning and my coffee smelled and tasted great. But when I reached for my second cup that afternoon … I couldn’t taste a thing. All sense of smell and taste vanished. Following my positive COVID-19 test were 10 days of severe stomach and breathing problems. These days were some of the hardest in my life — but not because of my COVID-19 symptoms. I was so worried about my family and I felt an unbelievable level of guilt. As moms and caretakers, we already feel guilty so often because we’re always striving to improve our family’s quality of life. But COVID-19 flipped that role for me, and it sent me into a deep state of depression. I kept dwelling on our isolation in quarantine, my sickness and being unable to properly care for my family. I didn’t know what to do. And every night when my kids would come to my closed door to ask for a goodnight kiss, I had to respond, “I’m so sorry. Mommy can’t kiss you good night.” As my family’s now compromised cornerstone, my mind kept replaying, “You are not enough to help your family.” I knew I needed support and I couldn’t get through this alone. So, I reached out to the American Red Cross because I knew they had an online community for military moms and caregivers with virtual classes for mental wellness. Once I connected, the people on the other end of the line told me they had a “come as you are” approach. And that was good, because frankly, there wasn’t much I could give at that time. I found a network of friends, who were going through exactly what I was. One night, while sick with COVID-19, a new friend from this network talked to me for four hours. She had just gotten over the virus, she had four little ones and cared for her injured veteran husband too. I was able to feel at peace drawing from her experience. I also was thankful for free access to the mental health professionals to learn how to reduce stress and communicate with my family. People from all over the country in this network reached out sharing, “We can help, we can get you information, support — whatever you need.” Over the last year, as I stayed connected, I saw this network double in size. People were in greater search for relationships and resources. After my breaking point, I did some serious reflecting. I’m fortunate to have recovered from COVID-19 and to have sustained my family’s needs throughout it all. In a world where COVID-19 has robbed so many people of connection, I somehow found a way to grow my support network even larger. And it makes me think about all of the parents who are isolated due to myriad circumstances. I know so many young caregiver moms who are regularly homebound. I know single moms, who don’t have the mobility to make friends. For groups like these, we’ve needed technology and culture to catch up. If there is any good that has come of this pandemic, it is this: We have expanded ways for isolated people in need to connect at a greater rate. Whether that be through telehealth, remote jobs or stronger social networks, we now have options. I will not forget the lessons learned over the last year. I will still push for greater online connection and will continue to be a valuable member of my virtual network. As a country, let’s not erase what we have all been through over the last year. Let’s learn from it. Let’s keep the good things — like granting ourselves grace when our kids get extra screen time. Let’s keep pushing our family outside to discover nature. And let’s keep finding ways to circumvent isolation through connection. We need this for the caregiver mom, for the single parent and all others susceptible to isolation. I said in the beginning, I defined myself by my roles. Today, I’m happy to be able to add one more to that list. Mom, caregiver, teacher and survivor. Melissa Allen is a mother of two and the primary caregiver for her injured veteran husband.

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