Mom Talk: When 2+ Years Of Isolation Leads To Inspiration
Written by Alessandra Olanow
Photography by Photographed by Yumi Matsuo
Living—and parenting—during a 2-plus-year pandemic has affected everyone differently. In the case of Brooklyn-based artist, entrepreneur, and single mom Alessandra Olanow (whom we profiled last year), what started as a dearth of inspiration eventually evolved into a new business idea. Below, she shares her story.
I am a visual and social person. As an artist, I have historically been motivated by the world around me. I’ll gather pieces of information when I peer out my window: a teen walking their two family dogs, neighbors rushing to their cars to do the alternate street-side shuffle; all of these pieces of daily life spark ideas of connection and creation for me. So when the world unexpectedly shut down in March of 2020, seemingly overnight, and my daily visual cues disappeared, to say I struggled would be an understatement.
The first few weeks were filled with panic, anxiety, and question marks. Beyond whether or not I had enough food, toilet paper, or masks, I was unsure of where to physically be. As I watched many friends and neighbors make a massive exodus to second homes, parents’ houses, or AirBnBs, I—as a single parent who shares custody of her child—couldn’t make sense of it. Sprinkled in between this internal dialogue of what to do were constant phone calls rolling in, reminding me that New York was the worst place to be, the epicenter of Covid—and yet it was my home. So I did what I thought best—I stayed.
Before Covid, my daughter Coco was with me 75% of the time, but as we all became teachers and playdates for our children, leaving little room for much else, her father suggested this might be the time to move to a 50/50 setup. I welcomed the idea; I was drowning trying to entertain a 5-year-old and keep up with the illustration work that was coming in. It seemed like the chance to free up time and space for myself, which I thought I would apply to work and overall mental well-being. But the extra days of being alone made me realize it wasn’t just time and space I was lacking. I had been severed from all of the tactile cues and exchanges that fed my creativity, and without it (and without my daughter), I felt overwhelmingly lonely.
For a little while, I lingered in this space of loneliness. So many difficult feelings showed up: anxiety, stress, grief. I had lost my desire to make artwork, and I felt empty. But with time I began to think—not just about everything I missed, but also what I would do when things got back to normal and what I would change. I started to come to terms with my parameters and consider new ways to connect.
My first effort was called “The space between you and me,” a series of conversations with friends, neighbors, and strangers in which we spoke about quarantine over Zoom and I sketched their portraits. I posted each drawing and an excerpt of our conversation on Instagram, and in 6 months I had conversations with 52 people from all over the world. Being able to speak to so many people and see the common theme of craving and missing connection was extremely therapeutic.
Around the same time, I began training to become an end-of-life doula, which is something I’d wanted to do for a long time. Emotional care at the end-of-life stage is often neglected by our society, and being able to contribute and make a difference for another human means the world to me.
These new outlets offered bright spots in the isolation of Covid, but I still felt anxious. So many things felt out of my control—the global pandemic, the state of the government, the inability to just be able to get together with friends.
So instead I took a look at what I could control and how I might shift perspective. I started looking within. If my visual sense could be such an important tool for creativity, perhaps some of my other senses could offer something similar, or something else.
So I started to play around with smell and touch. I began using essential oils as tools for inspiring, but also grounding myself. One smell of jasmine would quickly shift a mood, or a hint of lavender might make my shoulders soften a little. I was so surprised by these uplifting feelings that I turned it into a practice, maybe even a way of giving myself a hug. “You’re A.OK” became my mantra.
That’s when I decided to create A.OK., an all-over oil born of a ritual, my daily practice. It’s the perfect oil for winding down after a rough day or calming anxious thoughts, while also being incredible for my skin. I created it as a tool to reconnect with my body and mind, and I hope that it can spark the same creativity for others.
The past 2.5 years have pushed me in ways emotionally that I could not have anticipated, and there were times I couldn’t see my way through. In the past, I’ve let my environment and all of my external influences shape how I feel. But what I’ve learned is that, despite what might be out of my control, we all have the ability to influence how we feel. And it can all begin with the smallest ritual.
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