I did a big grocery shopping run a couple days before the panic started. Hearing about the COVID-19 virus in the news, my state (Washington) with the first reported cases, was making me uneasy. I had checked my emergency supplies bin the weekend prior, and found all our supplies floating in moldy water. A couple gallons of water had burst and ruined most of the items in it. (I no longer store water in the emergency bin).
The grocery store was pretty calm, there was plenty of toilet paper, just no hand sanitizer left. I replenished my emergency food and medicine stock, adding some extra soups, Kleenex, and cold medicines in case we got the virus.
Three days later, the first person in the US died of COVID (in WA), and the panic started. By the next week, deaths were a daily occurrence as the virus ravaged a nursing home in Kirkland, WA. My boss, our general manager, and I came up with a plan for everyone in our office to work from home (fortunately everyone was mostly set up for that already). I re-routed all our company mail to my house, packed up my office chair and a large monitor and some supplies, and went home. Initially we figured we’d be back in April. Probably. I mean, this HAS to go away soon. Right?
Obviously, that was not the case.
Paddy and I stayed home and became increasingly afraid of the outside world. We are both privileged to have office jobs in essential businesses that are still doing okay and very lucky to both be able to work from home. We have a large house with an attic and a basement where we can work far away from each other and not disturb each other. We also have a great relationship and after months of pretty much only hanging out with each other, we still enjoy each other’s company. We are fortunate in many, many ways.
Initially, I think we all thought this would be over by summer. We cheered ourselves up by deciding to take this “down time” to get projects done, embark on hobbies, start a garden. (We didn’t join the sourdough bread-making bandwagon, but we considered it). I bought planters for our deck and planted vegetables. I utilized my attic art studio and completed two paintings, the first in 4 years. I canned a big batch of pickled green beans using dill from my deck herb garden. I made a fantastic carrot cake for Easter (it was SO good), and we watched old 80’s movies. We did a bi-weekly Zoom call with some friends and started a Netflix party movie group for Friday nights. I did daily walks on the treadmill while watching travel vlogs on YouTube during my lunch breaks.
There were dark days, though. There were a few days where I found myself curled up into a ball on the daybed next to my makeshift folding-table desk, crying. I was sad and scared, and sometimes “making the best of it” wasn’t possible. I felt guilty for being sad when so many others had fallen on much harder and scarier times than me. I am someone with an income, a house, and a job that didn’t require me to interact with the public. Our families were doing okay and taking the virus seriously. I did have to take a 3-month 5% pay cut, but that was minimal considering I was no longer spending time and money on gas and tolls to commute to work.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression all of my adult life. For the most part, I am able to stave it off with medication and lots of planning. Before the pandemic, I was always planning a big annual trip, as well as several parties and mini-getaways. As long as I had something to look forward to and plan, there was a reason to get through another work week. Paddy and I are very social, and sometimes had to schedule weekends for down time with no plans, as our weekends were always full.
Now, I can no longer plan. No parties, no social events, no concerts or shows. I’ve lost that coping mechanism. It became clearer and clearer that our big “second honeymoon” in Greece in September for our 10 year wedding anniversary was not going to happen, after I had spent months meticulously researching, planning, and booking everything. In May, I went ahead and cancelled the trip. We lost a small amount of money, but got most of it back or credited until 2022. I have a 2020 calendar in our kitchen with scenes from the Greek Islands. It now makes me sad.
In May there was a glimmer of hope as the virus numbers began to curve downward. I didn’t have any hope of parties or travel again until a vaccine was widely distributed, but maybe things would get safer. Scientists came to the conclusion that masks stop the spread and are necessary, and a lot of people got on board with that. I read a news story about two hair stylists in Missouri who worked with COVID symptoms for a week after restrictions were lifted. Both the stylists and customers wore masks the whole time, and no one got infected. If we all wear masks, maybe we can beat this!
Of course, that hope got ripped apart, stomped on, and set on fire as many states threw caution to the wind, opening up everything willy-nilly, and hoards of non-mask wearing people began having Memorial Day BBQs and pool parties. Some states never closed down much to begin with. While New Yorkers, reeling from the worst of the US pandemic began wearing masks and face shields, people in Florida began going to night clubs and bars. A woman I worked with at another company location who had been out sick for a month passed away of COVID.
No longer temporary
Realizing that we would be in this for the long haul, we purchased real desks from IKEA via curbside pick-up, replacing our makeshift folding table and tv tray office set ups. I ordered masks in fun prints, which piled up on the dining room cabinet. It became clear that a permanent mask storage solution would be needed, so I bought a hanging basket to store them.
I started a project transferring old VHS family home movies and embarrassing middle school lip sync videos to digital. I bought a hammock. I am growing out my natural hair color for the first time since I was 14. I wear yoga pants. I no longer bother to lint roll off the sweater of cat hair off my clothes when I make my bi-weekly trip to the grocery store, because fuck it.
Acceptance. It’s one of the stages of grief.
The world exploded
As the virus numbers climbed more and more sharply, the criminally negligent (and perhaps willful?) killing of George Floyd by a police officer caused an explosion of protest and outrage in Seattle and across the country. This death shortly after the murder of Breonna Taylor in March, and Ahmaud Arbery in February—two other unarmed black Americans, was a tipping point for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Our president threw fuel on the fire by attacking city Mayors and state governors for not getting the protests under control, and sent federal agents in unmarked vehicles to kidnap protestors in Portland.
Grief turned into overwhelming anxiety about the state of our country. Emboldened racism, our doomed economy, and a president who fancies himself a dictator cannot be a good recipe for the future. I’m not sure we can even rule out the possibility of civil war at this point. The November election may break us. I am terrified about it.
The world closed its borders to Americans, seeing that our leadership was proving incapable of getting the virus under control, and Americans are too selfish to care about others. The term “ugly American” took on a whole new level of meaning.
Today, there was a headline about another unarmed black man shot seven times in the back by police in Wisconsin, in front of his children. The state of California is on fire, there are two hurricanes headed one after the other to the southeastern states, and there are a lot of shady things going on with USPS in advance of the election. We have passed 170,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US.
There is so much to love about the US. But right now, we are broken. I am trying to hold onto hope that we will find a path forward and out of this dark time. It is really hard to stay positive when a good news headline comes only once in a very, very blue moon.
Depression and anxiety go hand in hand, the latter usually preceding the former. Depression to me feels like floating deeper and deeper out to sea. You can see the land (healthy mental state), and most of the time you can beat the current and swim back. Sometimes the current is strong though, and it gets harder and harder to get back to safety.
2020 is a lost year. I hope that we can only go up from here. I hope you are doing okay. I don’t have any answers, or anything profound to say right now. There isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said. If you aren’t okay, please reach out to your friends and family for help. Take it one day at a time.
And please, please, please VOTE in November.