Like most of the world, my life took a sharp left turn in March, 2020. I saw Covid coming, long before it locked us down. Long before it isolated us, or made us look out the window and wonder. Before we looked at others and judged whether they masked or didn’t, whether they distanced enough, or washed hands long enough, or wiped down groceries and counters and door knobs and shopping bags. I saw it before I was grieving, like millions of us are, for so many people dead, so much apathy and so many heroic efforts.
I was watching the news and for some reason (cue the woo-woo music), I took this seriously, when it was happening in China. We live in the Pacific Northwest. Just thirty minutes away, in British Columbia, is one of the largest Chinese communities in the world, outside of mainland China. It seemed inevitable, only a matter of time, that what I was seeing there, would be here. I’m not a worrier, when it comes to things like pandemics, or health things. But this was something I noticed, and worried about.
I said it to my husband daily, starting in late January. He laughed at my anxiety, when we traveled to NYC and then to FL to see his father. He poo-poo’ed my worries that we were riding subways, going to shows, and touch, touch, touching so many things, and not washing our hands enough. It wasn’t here yet, he told me, and he wasn’t sure it would come at all.
We live in the Pacific NW, an hour north of Seattle. We live an hour north of what would quickly become “Ground Zero.” In fact, as we headed to the airport in Fort Lauderdale, to return home from FL, the first case in WA was identified. This was just before several nursing home patients would die, when nurses, aids and health care workers, ignored warnings. It was an instant before it all went sideways. Right before the place where I live became the US focal point for something we all started to watch.
I have severe immune issues. There isn’t a firm diagnosis, but a cluster of medical challenges that leave me needing monthly IV infusions, to maintain energy and not get too many infections. Paper cuts are always an infection for me. That’s the small stuff; but, bigger infections and health problems are a constant issue. So, a pandemic that is highly contagious, and impacts the very systems that I am constantly working to keep strong, is something I have to take very seriously. I went into “isolation” about two weeks before our Governor asked us to, and before the whole world began to lock themselves in. I was wary. I was watchful. I wasn’t paranoid, but I took this seriously from the start.
But, none of us could see what was really coming. The daily death counts. The horror of watching factions fight over whether this was real or not, as people die. The watching and wondering, where will this all go. Watching Italy implode, and fight so heart-breakingly to combat Covid-19. Singing out their windows and holding on to their commitment to community. We watched them, and their beautifully heroic efforts, their hope… and then the focus switched to NYC, where my son and many friends live.
I have thought so many times: how many of us remember where we were when this all changed. Do you remember that last day, before your life changed? Has your life changed? Mine has. I’ve been home. I’ve been on my own, since March 9th. I go hiking. A lot. I hike with one, sometimes two friends. I didn’t go to a grocery store for 14 weeks. My husband went. It was hilarious! It would take two hours for him to do what I did in thirty minutes. In the first few weeks, I called him once, to see what was taking so long. He said: “this isn’t easy, you know! It takes a while to find everything––and it changes all the time!” Um, no, I haven’t done that for thirty years… with kids. I had to laugh, even as I managed my own anxiety at not doing something that’s such a normal part of my life. It was good to laugh.
Eventually, I cried. I bottled it up for weeks, that rolled into months, and then it all came down one day, and I really began to see that this thing––this Covid thing––is not going away soon. For people like me, and so many others, this will continue. We will worry about spending time with the wrong person. We’ll worry about people who cough near us, or lean in to say something. We’ll have to avoid hugging people we love, because we don’t know if they’ve been distancing, too.
I’m eating too much. I’m drinking too much. Ice-cream and wine, became my vices early on––two things I’ve never been addicted to. I drank every single night for three months. I added ice-cream, and fell down a whole with Haagen Dazs’ Whiskey Hazelnut Latte is my poison. Even my ice-cream is boozy. I’m not really a drinker, so this was really something new, something potentially concerning, coming from a family where alcohol has been a problem. But I’m not alone. All you have to do is take a walk on recycling day, to see that a lot of people are drinking more. I’m not alone in my tub of ice cream either; studies have shown that ice-cream sales are up, deodorant sales are down. I’m ahead of the curve on that one; I smell good.
I’m giving myself credit for the positive things that have come from this. I’m reading more (watch for book reviews); I’m hiking a lot; I’m socially connecting, while physically distancing; I’m giving myself permission to cry when I need to, and snap once in a while. There are plenty of gifts, they’re just wrapped differently. Summer makes outside dining possible––and walks with friends, and gathering at a distance for drinks––I can exhale a little. I live in an incredibly beautiful place, and this time of year, that is a luxury. It’s rarely too hot, or too cold. The ocean and the mountains sparkle in the sun. I can venture out of isolation a little. I can get stronger, hiking and walking and pushing myself. I can connect with friends, without masks, because we are outside and sitting eight feet apart. I get to enjoy weekly deliveries of fresh produce and fresh flowers, from our local farm. It’s a burst of sunshine each week. I’m looking for creative ways to see my sister and brother, and other family, so we aren’t as isolated as we might be. I’m grateful for the connections I have and make and nurture. I’m pushing myself to write… to start putting this down. I’m late, but there’s a lot to say.
I’m grieving. We’re all grieving. Even if you don’t believe this is real, and that masks don’t work (you’re wrong), then you’re still grieving the fact that none of us can enjoy eating out, the way we did five moths ago. We can’t go to sporting events, or back to school, or out to bars and clubs. Regardless of what you believe in, our lives have changed completely.
And this post hasn’t even touched on the Black Lives Matter explosion, that happened just as we’re all collectively grieving, and raging, and isolating. It’s been a long time coming, and has to happen. Black lives should always matter, it’s time we all unite in this. But in the face of all of this other collective grief and isolation, we have zeroed in on it, in a way that is long, long, overdue. But that’s another post; it has to be. It’s too important to lump into my self-indulgent vent about isolation and anxiety. This thing that has the world by the neck.
The whole world is on fire, but like the forests where I live after a fire, we will all come out on the other side, ready to see new growth and most importantly… change.
How are you coping? What makes you smile right now? What do you really miss? Share your thoughts in the comment section; let’s share some dialogue.
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