In a year of many ups and downs—both for my family and so many others around the world—I have learned to answer the question “How are you?” very honestly. Why waste time with the niceties of replying with the default answer of “I’m good” when I may not be feeling that good inside? My preference is to be open and honest when I am asked “How are you?” because what I have discovered is that the people in my life who truly care about me will want to hear my real answer, which is “I’m okay.” Yes, just okay. From my perspective, this pandemic seems to have brought out both the worst and the best in people. You learn who unconditionally has your back and whose love was perhaps only conditional. 

My family has been on high alert since the pandemic began over a year ago, and with good reason. I’ve always had the ability to work from home, as my job as a Marketing Communications Manager for a global dairy company allowed for it. My challenge is that I am diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that puts me in the at-risk part of the population. My husband, Brent, works outside of the home as a contractor, so he’s needed to be extra cautious during the past year. 

We have two amazing children, Noah and Amelia (Mia). Noah recently graduated from eighth grade without all the fanfare and celebration that typically comes with such an event. To start high school, he opted to stay home because there had been COVID cases at his school and he didn’t want to put his family at risk. Noah is also a competitive swimmer at the club and high school levels. Thank god he has an outlet to keep him active, grounded, and safely social. The other swim moms and I have made every effort to keep the kids connected and in the pool as much as possible over the last year; we help each other in the process. 

Amelia is our angel with special needs. When she was three weeks old, she suffered a massive seizure that led to acute ischemic stroke. The doctors discovered that she has a complex vein of Galen malformation, quadriplegic cerebral palsy, and acute complex brain injury, which means a high level of care is needed in case of seizures. Amelia is nine years old now and needs constant attention and care. She is non-verbal and on a specialized diet. She’s e-learning for a few hours a day with the help of a nanny that works with her three days a week while I handle the other two. A few months ago, she started randomly vomiting and her doctors haven’t been able to figure out the cause of the issue. She’s been in and out of the hospital with my husband by her side for the most part. It’s scary, and I just want my husband and daughter home for the long term.

Needless to say, the past year has been both mentally and emotionally challenging for me, and I look for ways to maintain grace and balance each day. My workouts on the Peloton have been an outlet where I can find a release and ugly-cry if the mood strikes. I’ve taken care of my physical self, however, my emotional self might need some work still. Yet, I’m learning that perhaps I have more strength and resilience in me than I thought I did. 

What’s been perhaps the most joyous and heart-breaking symptom of our situation is that it’s enabled me to clearly see who matters most in my space—who my true friends are. It’s been both eye-opening and cathartic. There have been moments when you need someone and they aren’t there. I acknowledge that everyone is going through different levels of crisis—and my family has to be extremely careful 24/7—but it’s difficult to watch friendships that I thought were so strong suddenly disappear. It’s nothing that I did, and I have no idea what they are going through, but there’s a feeling of loss and grief as a result of this. Even in the midst of all this, we still have so much to be grateful for. We’re still here, we are together, and we are taking the necessary precautions for our family. 

Peeking through the clouds of lost friendships are some new ones. Strong communities of people have emerged in my life. I have bonded with some incredibly supportive people from the Peloton community and I’ve never even met them in person. Some of those folks also have children with special needs, and it’s that kind of supportive community that I never knew I needed. My very best friends whom I have known since grade school are my constants and I am beyond grateful for these women. The moms from my son’s swim team have become a second family to me, as we all try to support our children during this time. I can still see family members and my best friends over Facetime or Zoom, and I’ve even reconnected with people during all of this. I now have these unique and caring support networks that keep me going, but there is still a sense of loss in all of it. 

But it’s not just us—everyone is going through their own personal journey during this time. It’s a global issue. I’ve learned that I have a voice and I’m learning how to use it, too. Writing and speaking are helping me build confidence while also being vulnerable. I’ve learned to answer the “How are you?” question honestly, and I’ve found it helps me relate to other people and build connections with them. People who make the effort during this time are people who truly have your back. As I’ve learned through this challenging time, the one thing that truly is what perspective you have and how you choose to use it.