My son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis on his one month birthday.
Of course, he’d had it all along. It was written in his genetic code the moment he was conceived. We just didn’t know it.
I could try to explain how I felt when we got the test results.
How exhausted I was after three days without sleep.
How hard I sat down when my legs gave out.
How I cried “I want my mom,” like a child frightened by a bad dream.
I could try to explain these things — but I won’t. These things are emotional, primal, and raw. They exist where words fail.
But I know you’ve been there, to that place beyond words. I don’t know how you got there, or why. Just that fear and grief are universal.
When I found out my son had cystic fibrosis, I already had a long history of anxiety and depression. I’d taken medication, talked to therapists, and been through several inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. I’d had ups, and I’d had downs.
Maybe you‘ve been there, too. So many of us have.
You might think that my son’s diagnosis would break someone like me, or like you. That such bad news would be too much to bear. That there would be no escape from the fear and grief. That life would be changed forever.
But it isn’t true.
Yes, my life has changed, but I’m not broken. No feeling is forever — and while fear and grief are universal, so are love and hope and determination.
Humans are resilient. Eventually, we pick up the pieces and start to move forward.
The road goes ever onward — complete with potholes, hills, and unexpected detours.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a roadblock, to say the very least. One that’s brought the whole world to a standstill.
I don’t like saying it, but it’s true.
I don’t like saying it because it scares me. It reminds me of the day we received his diagnosis.
It’s easy to feel alone in that fear — to ask “Why him? Why us?”
To keep him indoors because the yard doesn’t feel safe anymore.
To wonder if it’s okay to kiss him goodnight.
To cry out for my mom to make this nightmare go away.
You may not know anyone affected by cystic fibrosis. You’re far more likely to know someone — multiple someones — affected by mental illness. COVID-19 has the potential to affect all of us. Some of us more than others.
It may not be your child. It may be an elderly parent or grandparent. It may be someone with diabetes, high blood pressure, or a weak immune system. It may be a healthcare professional or an essential worker. It may be a friend. It may be you.
No matter who it is, it’s scary. And it’s hard to stand strong in the face of that fear. But we are all in this together. And I believe in the Free2Luv philosophy that together, we are stronger.
It’s not my road, or your road, it’s just the road. Our road — the road ahead.
In that spirit, I’d like to share with you these five coping mechanisms for loving someone at high risk for COVID-19.
Not because I know exactly what you’ve been through, or everything you’re up against. Because I hope we can pick up the pieces and move forward together.
I’m a control freak by nature. A bona fide creature of habit. I thrive on routines, rituals, and security.
But here’s the thing: total security is an illusion.
Of course, you can do things to maximize your security. During COVID-19, you can stay home as much as possible. You can follow state, federal, and WHO guidelines for social distancing and hand washing. You can wear a mask or face covering in public. You can — and should — do all these things. They protect you, and they protect those at high risk for COVID-19.
But there are always risks. Even without COVID-19, life is a risky business.
There are accidents. Flukes. Unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
I’m not a pessimist. I just want to relieve you of the burden of control.
Do what you can. Be responsible. Understand that your actions are meaningful and have a very real impact on your life and the lives of others.
Then accept that some things are beyond your control and understanding. Your job is to do the best you can with what you have. That is enough. It’s always been enough.
Remember the Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
— Reinhold Niebuhr
Whether you’re dealing with a serious medical diagnosis, coping with depression, or worrying about the risks of COVID-19, hearing that you should keep “an attitude of gratitude” can be infuriating. I get it — really, I do.
It sounds so dismissive, as if your problems aren’t real or don’t matter. And it seems like an impossible task — especially if you live with depression.
But surprisingly, gratitude works. Multiple studies in the field of positive psychology (yes, it’s a thing!) have found that people in the habit of giving thanks report higher levels of happiness.
The more you focus on the good things in your life — the more you allow yourself to feel and express gratitude for what you have instead of mourning what you don’t — the more good you’ll see.
The COVID-19 lockdowns have been unbelievably stressful. People have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and their hope for the future. And people are still getting sick and dying. These are great tragedies, and they cannot be ignored.
At the same time, there is much to be grateful for. This time of slowing down and staying home has opened our eyes to what really matters in life — and how much we depend on each other. It has shown us what we can do when we stand together as a society and act on behalf of our vulnerable friends and neighbors.
Your negative emotions are real and valid. They deserve space. Feel them, honor them, and move through them. Just don’t get trapped in them.
Bad things happen. But the good things are still there. Like stars during the day, they aren’t gone, just hard to see.
One way to express gratitude and honor your feelings is through a creative outlet. Join the Free2BeMe virtual art party and share what’s in your heart! Your Free2Luv family is here for you, whatever you’re feeling and however you’re coping. Get all the details here.
When my son was six weeks old, we sat in the lobby of our regional children’s hospital, waiting for our first appointment at the CF clinic. My stomach was tied in knots. I had hardly slept or eaten in several weeks, and the stress was taking a toll.
A woman walked by with a passing glance. Then she stopped and smiled. “What a beautiful baby,” she remarked. “Congratulations, mama!”
There was no sadness or pity in her voice. She didn’t ask why my son was at the hospital. She was just kind. I’ll never forget that.
For a moment, I no longer felt like a victim of circumstance. I felt like any other new mom. More than anything, I craved normalcy — and I believed it had been stolen from me.
Suddenly, I realized it hadn’t been stolen. It had been eclipsed by my fear of an uncertain future.
The Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu said, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Mindfulness is the practice of guiding your thoughts back to the present moment — the only moment that truly exists.
With COVID-19, there are plenty of “what-ifs,” especially for those at high risk. But when we focus all of our energy and attention on what might happen — on worst-case scenarios — we miss out on what is actually happening.
Don’t let the present moment pass you by. Your loved ones are with you here and now.
Some people think mindfulness is too hard for them — that they have failed in its pursuit. The truth is, it’s hard for everyone. It’s in our nature to worry about the future and relive the past. Mindfulness is a practice, not an achievement. The reward lies in the effort.
Planning for the future is helpful. Obsessively worrying about it isn’t. Sometimes, there’s a fine line between the two.
COVID-19 has upended even our best-laid plans. Now what?
Well, that’s a lot to think about all at once.
When you’re struggling — as most of us are — It’s okay to take life one day at a time. You may find you need to take it hour by hour, or even minute by minute.
We’re in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. No one knows exactly how it will play out. It’s natural to feel afraid, especially if someone you love is at high risk for COVID-19.
Even if you feel completely overwhelmed by fear, you’re not abnormal, weak, or broken. And you aren’t alone.
Remember that you don’t need to see the end of the road to keep moving forward. Ask yourself what you need to make it through one more day, one more hour, or one more minute.
To get through a rough day, immerse yourself in a new art project, a good book, or even a Netflix binge.
To get through an hour, take a bath, savor a meal, or call a friend.
Right this minute, take some deep, cleansing breaths. Center yourself in the present moment with this 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique:
Look around and name 5 things you can see,
4 things you can touch,
3 things you can hear,
2 things you can smell, and
1 thing you can taste.
So long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’re making progress.
You’ve probably heard this airplane safety rule: Put your own oxygen mask on first.
Don’t rush to help a fellow passenger — not even your own child. Not until your own mask is safely in place.
Because if you pass out, you won’t be able to help them at all.
The same rule applies in daily life. Prioritize your self care so you can care for others.
When you love someone with special needs, it’s easy to put your own needs on a back burner. Over time, they go unmet. And you end up exhausted, stressed, or sick.
Taking care of yourself is not selfish. By taking care of yourself, you take care of the people you love.
If your loved one is at risk for COVID-19, this rule is more important than ever. They need you to be healthy — physically, mentally, and emotionally.
And you deserve that, too.
After my son’s diagnosis, all I could think about was keeping him safe. I obsessed over his medications and breathing treatments. I worried about his diet and how we’d get through the cold and flu season. All kinds of future scenarios played out over and over in my mind.
Meanwhile, I’d go entire days without eating. I was so stressed I started losing my hair.
Finally, I realized that my son needed me — and he needed me healthy and whole. To take care of him, I had to take care of myself.
So I planned my meals. I made time to exercise. I started meditating. And everything changed. My physical, mental, and emotional health took a 180 degree turn. I finally believed I could make a difference in my son’s life.
And that belief continues to pay off. He’s not just surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s thriving.
Never underestimate how important you are to your loved ones, to your community, and to the world. Not just your actions and achievements — you. You are needed. You are loved. You matter.
Take care of you.
Whether or not someone you love is at high risk for COVID-19, don’t be afraid to reach out.
We’re on this road together, and together, we’ll get through this. Together, we are stronger.
Contributed by Tara Toler
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