By Sonya Ostensen
Although this period of COVID-19 has been both challenging and awkward, I have found it to be an opportunity to take a breath and enjoy what I have. Upon reflection, I feel solace in the ramifications of social distancing. Before quarantine, I did not realize how stressful it is being on the go constantly for school activities, volunteering, traveling for work meetings, playdates, soccer practice, appointments, and so on. Yet now life seems so simple and less stressful since the world slowed down. So, I have been reminded of what truly matters in life as well as the simple necessities. My family and I have been able to reconnect with nature and spend more time outdoors doing the things we love—bicycling, hiking, playing games together, and spending time enjoying the beach. We are lucky to live by such a beautiful resource that remained open, for exercise only, during this period and we no longer need to choose whether to spend time running around or enjoying the awe and wonder of the ocean. I ask my six-year-old what she wants to do each day and often she fervently replies with “let’s go to the beach and dig a big hole mommy!” I love this response. I love that my daughter wants to be outside. I love that she sees a masterpiece in every seashell. I love that we have the time to relish this gift of being “stuck” together and breathe in the salty air.
As a 45-year old mom with cystic fibrosis, one of the most positive effects of quarantine is the lack of kindergarten germs brought home. Ironically, my family and I are healthier now than before all of this started. While I feel for everyone around the world who is suffering from this virus and sad that my daughter cannot play with her friends or finish her first year at school, my anxiety regarding infection control from exposure has simultaneously eased with social distancing. Taking proactive precautions to control our exposure to bacteria and viruses is what we have inherently always done as CF patients. Of course, I must admit that Trikafta has added to my confidence. It is like a secret weapon equivalent to the fountain of youth, which now permits me to live life with a renewed energy. As I chase my daughter in a game of tag for minutes on end without doubling over in a coughing fit, I realize that I am living one of my life’s dreams. The sleepless nights and exhaustion from nonstop coughing are becoming a distant memory.
Another positive change with quarantine has been focusing on cooking healthier meals. Not that it is impossible to eat healthy at a restaurant but let’s face it, when I’m out I tend to do it up and choose the more inflammatory food option. Now, we have more time for food prep and thus more vegetables and fruits are creeping into the menu. Cutting out restaurant food by almost 98% not only saves money but I am also noticing less inflammation in my joints, decreased congestion in both my sinuses and lungs, less digestive trauma, and minimal bloating.
Home Schooling... Let’s just say focusing a kindergartner on a computer program designed to teach robots has been challenging to the point of nearly losing my marbles and spiking my coffee. I have had to dig deep into patience and endurance and at times, sadly, I have lost. Observing these weak moments breaks my heart. I want our child to not only learn but to enjoy learning. If I can reframe the inevitable despair during hospital visits into something positive and hopeful, surely, I can home school in a gentle and fun manner? Being quarantined has given me the opportunity to practice patience and creativity while trying to educate my daughter.
This time has also opened an opportunity to train our dog at my neighbor’s dog agility course - all done in a safe manner of social distancing and with hand sanitizer. This class has revealed more than I ever imagined. My goal was to simply train our dog and work on her aggression toward other dogs and delivery people. In the process, I have gained more tools that apply not only to dog training but life in general. One of these tools is the concept of the Premack Principle, which essentially says that certain more probable activities can reinforce other less probable activities. To illustrate, you shape desired behavior with a rewarding action—when your dog sits, you then play with them as a reward. This same principle can be applied to kids, husbands, and many relationships. If you want your kid to pick up their room, you might offer to play ninja warrior or barbies with them after. If you want your significant other to help you clean the house, you might offer a foot massage in return. Ok, that may be too far, but you get the point. It dawned on me that I used this principle on myself often! I do my breathing treatments before going out to the beach or doodling around in the garden. I force myself to make those dreaded calls to my health insurance and pharmacy before sitting down to play with my daughter.
During this time of uncertainty and hardship, I plan to use both newly discovered resources as well as dusting off my hard-acquired skills. Hopefully, I may help my family thrive and live to the fullest in each other’s hearts as we evolve into the unknown.
About the author: Sonya Ostensen is 45 years old with CF and resides in Melbourne, Florida with her husband and daughter. She received her BS in Environmental Sustainable Resource Management from The Ohio State University. After working in environmental health, she retired due to CF complications. She loves to travel with her family and experience new cultures with a passion for wildlife rehabilitation. Her favorite activities include gardening, baking, walking the beach, and especially climbing trees with her beautiful daughter. Sonya currently serves on the board of directors for USACFA. You can contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.