My COVID-19 Life-Work Reset

My COVID-19 Life-Work Reset

By: Maryellen Pease, COO of Christie Campus Health

This is an open letter from Christie Campus Health COO Maryellen Pease and her experience as a parent of college students returning home because of COVID-19, and the parallel between her career providing mental health services for colleges.

On a recent Sunday evening, we kissed our smiling college senior goodbye at the airport as she headed back to school after her spring break, which was her “all-time, best week ever!!” She was heading back to finish strong and enjoy the final weeks of her college life, as she was finally learning not to stress out about all the typical college pressures. On the way home from the airport, we checked in with our college sophomore. She was coming from a meeting of the track team, which was planning a spring break training trip to San Diego. She was all smiles about how she was so looking forward to the beginning of the outdoor season. Somewhere in the background there were whispers of possible cancellations and sanitizer wipe downs on the plane due to “Coronavirus” on the west coast, but we were not really focusing on what it would mean for us. As parents, all we really want are happy, healthy children, so when they are happy and healthy, all is good in our world, (or so we think).  

Fast forward to Tuesday. I work at Christie Campus Health, a company that is dedicated to supporting the behavioral health of college students. Our team is devoted to our mission of helping more students as they continue to cope with increased levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Needless to say, we were very busy even before COVID-19. Sometime in the early morning before work, I got the first call from my daughter in Vermont: “MOMMM, we just heard that the trip is cancelled, the school is closing and the spring season is cancelled!!!” This seemed drastic, and still unofficial, so I told her to relax and take a breath; that we will figure it out. As I share the news with my colleagues, a gasp comes over the office. We already know that college students are suffering, and we deeply feel for all of them and what this will mean to their collective spirits. Next I got the official message from my senior…and my heart broke as I realized she will never get back those magical moments of the last semester of senior year. Focusing on the positive, I pointed out that her school’s message was that they would be allowed back on campus on April 1st. We now know this was overly optimistic. 

At work, our team is trying to figure out additional ways that we can help students, faculty and staff. As I continued to get frantic calls from my girls…I asked, “What are you and your classmates most worried about?” They replied, “Remote learning, labs, grades, sports, internships, going abroad, friends (when will I see them again???), family, money, jobs, food, getting home, sickness, grandparents, parents…” The list went on and on. The actual pickups for my daughters provided me with a first-hand view of the anxiety, stress and tremendous sadness that has been hitting students, faculty, staff, administrators and parents. Now, as a parent, I focus on getting my girls home and acclimated to their new “norm,” while at work (remotely), my team is addressing the needs of students across the board. My experiences at home are helping me to share a small perspective of the challenges that are facing so many families with college students. While we struggle with new schedules, remote learning, and giving everyone “their space,” I am also facing the fact that while I can listen through the anxious questions and try to be supportive, I have had to say “I don’t know what to say” and “ I don’t have the answers”  so many times, that it is making me anxious! I think back to a few weeks ago when all seemed to be going so well, and try to refocus. We are taking one day at a time and focusing on the positive: we are remote learning and working, we are together, we are talking, we are finding new ways to connect with others, we are playing games and learning new skills, and we are trying to support our friends, classmates, neighbors and each other. While this is a tremendously stressful time, it is also in some ways a gift. We have essentially hit the reset button on our lives and our work. Now like everyone else we are looking forward to bringing those pictures back into focus.

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