If week 1 of this event was a whole lot of shock and awe (and, with new information and changes in ways of life coming almost every day, it was), week 2 was, for me, mostly soft monotony. I’m no longer waking and reminding myself of our new reality; I’ve so quickly adjusted to the new normal that I slip into consciousness each morning as easily as I do the fuzzy socks I’m now likely to wear all day long.
Yes, there’s been a low-level thrum of anxiety beating through all the week’s moments (including in my dreams, which have been filled with missed flights, searches for things that can’t be found, and more than one predatory chase from which I woke with adrenalin coursing through my body), but I have been in my own home, with plenty of heat, light, food, internet access, and toilet paper. (No, I didn’t hoard. I did buy one pack a week for several weeks in a row starting in February, though.)
I have the company of another person much of the time, and I am in regular communication with those who are far away. Zoom happy hour with two close friends has become a new routine. Even the grocery store has become a more reasonable place. Because I still have my job and a guaranteed paycheck, I’m not worrying about how to pay for my mortgage, utilities, or groceries. Because my children are grown, I’m not trying to care for small humans in the midst of either economic free-fall or expectations to work from home. All in all, the waking hours of my week were comfortable as the flannel jammie pants I’ve been wearing more than I probably should.
Because last week was our regularly-scheduled spring break, things felt strangely normal, despite not leaving my house for 7 days straight. Which was strange, because things are definitely not normal. I mean, at least, it seems they aren’t, from the things I’ve been reading online. It all feels a little unreal, though, here in self-isolation land. I don’t know anyone who is sick. Most of the people I know haven’t lost their jobs. I know things are very, very dire in some places and for some people, but it hasn’t directly touched me. Yet, I suppose.
I spent a fair amount of time reading about the experiences of those who have been touched. (Slammed, more like it.) When I am living much of my life in pajama pants, bearing witness feels like the very least I can do. I do it, too, to ground myself in reality, to remember why we really do need to stay away from each other and keep our businesses closed. I tell myself that the relative calm I’m feeling is a sign that those things are working, evidence not that we should let up, but that we should stay the course. Because it would be easy to feel, in my place where I can’t directly observe what’s happening, that maybe all of this isn’t that bad and that maybe we’ve over-reacted.
Like others in similar circumstances, my week was full of mundane things, many of which brought me joy. I finally finished the bedroom painting project I started early in week 1 but abandoned when migraine took me out for a few days. I tried new recipes. I worked on some art. I did some writing and reading. I slept more than I usually get to and watched more TV than I usually do. I had long conversations with people I love. I did some deep cleaning in the wake of the bedroom project, which somehow seemed to get the whole house dirty. It was not hard to be home all week. I didn’t get bored or restless. In fact, I ran out of time to do all the things I’d hoped to.
How can it be that, in this time of pandemic, I feel healthier than I have in months?
Sometime mid-week, I remembered the spring when I missed about a month of school for a hysterectomy. At the time, the surgery felt like a choice, a procedure that, perhaps, didn’t absolutely need to happen, and I remembered a quiet moment by myself when I admitted that part of why I was choosing it was that I desperately wanted to step out of my life for a bit. I was teaching full time, raising two second-graders, in a marriage that was becoming untenable. I was exhausted all the time. I understood that there was something terribly wrong in this–that I could even think that I would choose major surgery to remove an entire system of my body (faulty as it was) just to get a break–but there it was. The idea of being in the hospital felt easier than that of being in my usual daily life. And, as it happened, it was, even with pain and complications and a spouse who did not see me until the day he came to take me home.
It has been easy to see the parallels between that time and the one I’m now living through. I would never choose what’s happening now, but at the same time, I have been grateful for the break. In spite of everything, my life these past two weeks has been easier than it would otherwise have been. It seems that there is something terribly wrong in that, too.
There is another shift coming as we move into week 3, though. Monday I return to working, though I still don’t really know what work is going to look like. I know it will be done from home. I’m sure Zoom meetings will figure prominently. I’m waiting for more information from those who have more power than me to determine what things are going to look like. I’m not feeling anxious about that because I’m just so grateful that my job–no matter what it will consist of–is secure right now. I’m aware that as this goes on and we begin to feel long-term economic impacts, that could change. I’m not worrying about any of that right now, though. I’m doing my best to stay grounded in the day I’m in.
All in all, the days I’ve been in have melded into a dreamy bubble. Days drifted by, or I drifted through them. Somehow, there was a large sense of drift. It feels wrong or dangerous to say that out loud, to share pretty pictures of my time in refuge. As I do, I feel superstitious fears rising up in me, based in irrational beliefs that if we draw attention to our good fortune, the gods or fate or spiteful humans will do something to ruin it. It feels callous or shallow to do so when others are suffering, and maybe it is.
Or maybe, instead, you might read my story and wonder, as I have been, why it can’t be everyone’s. It feels fundamentally wrong to me that I have had it as relatively easy as I have, when others are sacrificing so much–especially our healthcare workers, and those who stock our shelves and pump our gas and do the work we’ve all realized, in new ways, is essential.
I have been thankful over and over again that I have not had to work the past two weeks or worry about immediate income loss because it has allowed me time and space to process what is happening and keep my anxiety low-grade rather than acute. More importantly, it has allowed me to do what our scientists and public health officials have been pleading with us to do: stay home.
I know life can never be entirely fair, but why, in a country with as much wealth as we have, has our public health system failed so dramatically and so many of us had to worry about how we’re going to pay rent and take care of ourselves if we get sick? It’s not that way in other countries, where lower-wage workers don’t live so close the bone, and where laid off workers and their employers are receiving more funds than ours will to keep their economies afloat. Why is it that way here?
And, if more people could have spent the past weeks the way I have–sequestered at home, not feeling the need to leave to pay bills–perhaps the virus could be managed and contained to reasonable levels in every state in our country (as we seem to be doing here in Oregon), reducing the tremendous and inequitable impact on not only our health care systems, but on our healthcare workers.
Coming up on the end of week two, it’s seeming to me that there is more than one type of impact curve that we could be flattening.
“We have lost it all”: The shock felt by millions of unemployed Americans
For the millions of Americans who found themselves without a job in recent weeks, the sharp and painful change brought a profound sense of disorientation. They were going about their lives, bartending, cleaning, managing events, waiting tables, loading luggage and teaching yoga. And then suddenly they were in free fall, grabbing at any financial help they could find, which in many states this week remained locked away behind crashing websites and overloaded phone lines.
April bills loom. The economy hangs on how many are left unpaid.
The 11-year economic expansion left record low unemployment, but it did less to ensure financial stability. The Federal Reserve reported last year that four in 10 Americans would have difficulty covering an unexpected expense of $400.
If Oregonians stay home, state hospitals appear capable of handling coronavirus burden
New modeling released Thursday by the Oregon Health Authority shows the state’s hospital system appears capable of handling the coronavirus cases that are expected in the next month. But that’s just a planning estimate and assumes that nine out of 10 Oregonians stay home.
“We know that is going to be very hard to achieve in the short-term and probably hasn’t been achieved,” said Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist, “and will be very difficult to achieve in the long term.
“We know that the only way to get that curve to be flat or go down is aggressive action that people listen to.”
The billions that countries are spending to fight Covid-19
(Includes a long list of links to articles that share information about aid that various countries are providing for their citizens)