I haven’t felt able to write in recent weeks. Not because I’m one of the almost seven hundred thousands cases of COVID-19. No, my family and I are, fortunately, healthy, and I hope the same is true of you. I wish the same were true of everyone.
I have simply found it hard to write because of the enormity of it all–the uncertainty, the rapid changes, the loss of routine, the cancelled events and encounters, the giant question marks that confront us all. For a while, so much was changing from one day to the next that I just felt dizzy and somewhat nauseous from it all. Now that we’re settling into social distances, I guess I at least feel I know what things are going to look like in the coming weeks, perhaps months.
And for no other reason than I like to make lists, I just started making a list of the some of the ways in which the existence of the coronavirus has changed life for me and those near and dear to me.
- Our internet connection at home sucks. It is just not fast enough for three people to be using it when the rest of the world is also streaming and uploading and whatever else. We’ve been meaning to upgrade for a while and now we’re paying the price for postponing that chore.
- Therapy has gone fully online. I had actually experienced this a few times before and was slowly making peace with it. It’s not my preferred mode of delivery, particularly given crappy internet (#1), but it is better than no therapy, that’s for sure. In fact, I’ve already experienced my first online rupture and repair, sigh.
- I have had to become firmer about my boundaries, or rather, I am in the process of learning to become firmer. Every day I post my daily work schedule (which varies) on my office door, along with a DO NOT DISTURB sign that goes up maybe 15 minutes before an online meeting. You know what is interesting? My son with autism and ADHD respects that sign; my dear, easy-going, cheerful husband does not. He has developed a new habit of “just sneaking in for a minute for a kiss” right before I start an online work meeting. Yes, maybe I’m not online yet, but I’m getting ready for the meeting and have my head elsewhere and he tends to make me jump. No, I haven’t managed to tell him (yet) to stop that, because he is always cute and humble and loving as he does it. But it’s ironic that having him at home during the work day can be more disruptive than having Andres here. Who would have guessed?
- Another surprise: I am getting MORE exercise, rather than less. I am now taking daily walks with my nextdoor neighbor, Eliza. She and her husband have lived there about eight years, and we’ve always been somewhat friendly and taken occasional walks. But now we have a routine to go at the end of our workdays each afternoon. We walk six feet apart from one another and just talk about what’s on our heart. So far, days she has been really distressed, I’ve been pretty calm and vice versa, so we have been able to listen and empathize with one another well. I’ve loved getting to know her better and value our time for the fresh air, movement, and the chance to talk to someone who is not family.
- I’ve been a little sad that I reach out and check on friends and family a lot, and I’m noticing that it’s not, generally, reciprocated in the same way. This could trigger all my “I’m not important; I don’t matter” stuff, but I’m trying hard not to feed those thoughts. Instead, I try to tell myself that everyone feels overwhelmed and has a lot to cope with. Some health care workers continue to work long hours, risking their own health to care for others. Some people serve by donating meals to the many unsheltered families temporarily residing in the convention center. Paramedics and firefighters go where they are called. Clerks keep working at grocery stores and pharmacies, even when their employers don’t do a good job ensuring their safety. So if my very small contribution is to check in on people without asking for anything in return, so be it.
- I’ve drastically cut my news intake. That’s a good thing. Some days it’s enough to skim the headlines of the New York Times or hear NPR or the BBC at the top of the hour. One way I’m taking care of myself is by being very alert to what I let myself take in.
- That brings me back to boundary issues again. Andres, my son with autism that moved back in with us in November, copes with his anxiety by obsessively reading everything, true or not, that he encounters on Facebook or a few of his favorite YouTube channels. And then he wants to share it all with me. “No dear,” I have to say, “remember I’m reducing my own anxiety by not spending so much time thinking about the news or worrying about every lame thing that He Who Must Not Be Named said during his daily press conference. So please, I’ll be a calmer, more patient mom if you just don’t tell me.” Some days when he is really bursting, we will establish a half hour when he can tell me whatever he wants, but he has to save it until then. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a glass of wine in my hand by the time that half hour rolls around.
- We had group therapy online tonight. I thought that would suck, but it didn’t. Instead it felt sweet and nourishing to see one another, even in gallery view. The experience of group therapy has really changed for me in the past few months (at about month 14 of meeting twice a month). At first I felt it was too superficial and didn’t bring me much. Now it feels rich and tender. Another thing to be grateful for.
- My other son, who lives in a house with five friends about three miles from here, is being very responsible about the social distancing and staying away. He just came once to visit so far and sat on a disinfected chair about 8 feet away from me. No hugs, sadly. But I’m proud of how thoughtfully he and his friends are managing, and I’m thankful to him for offering to do our grocery shopping for us.
- Though he seems much younger, my husband is in fact 71 years old. He’s very healthy, usually bikes well over a hundred miles per week, and rarely gets sick. Still, he’s 71, and he did have heart surgery five years ago. I worry about him. So even though we respect each other a lot, give each other a lot of latitude and almost never tell each other what to do, I put my foot down with him. I was very mad when his employer said that he and a few others should continue to go to work at their biotechnology company. The managers were all working from home. The chief engineers were working from home. Why should he drive in and be in an office, even if there were only a few others there? I was very stubborn about it, and he came to see my perspective and told his boss that he didn’t feel right about it. I didn’t know how that would go over, but in fact, the boss accepted it and has found things my husband can work on from home. Back in the day, I used to go along with the demands of others, especially others in authority, even when I didn’t like it. I’m glad that I resisted the unfair expectation that my husband should risk his life for something that is absolutely not a matter of life or death.
I guess that’s it, a quick glimpse of some of the things I’ve learned or experienced in this strange new world we inhabit. When you can, please check in and let me know how you are doing. I send you all virtual, virus-free hugs and good wishes.
May you be well. May you be happy. May your heart be filled with lovingkindness. May you feel connected in this time of social distancing.