This is written from the fortunate position of, so far, not having contracted or been impacted by a loved one contracting COVID-19. Hence the only effects I’ve felt are the society-wide ones. Though, at this rate of spread, who knows how long that will last?
What’s jarring is how little my daily life has changed.
We’re supposed to be staying home, not going to work unless our work is essential, not going to restaurants, avoiding crowded places, keeping a six-foot buffer zone around us at all times, eyeing every oft-touched surface with suspicion, and carefully monitoring and dodging the secretions and airborne emissions of ourselves and others.
The pace of existence has slowed, its volume lowered, like we’re trying to creep past something without being noticed. We are spending money less freely because we’re not sure where more will come from, putting up supplies (if we can) because who knows when we’ll be able to get more.
For many people, this has been an experience of constriction. Their lives suddenly got much smaller and much scarier, and they’re trying to figure out how to cope with it.
You can see it in the anxiety that has people hoarding toilet paper and running to gun stores.
You can see it in the denialism that had spring breakers still crowding Florida beaches, pandemic be damned.
You can even see it in the way people are suddenly heading to public parks and paths (that have always been there!) near their houses to take advantage of one of the few approved activities that isn’t staying home or conducting essential business. Desperate to do something, people are doing plenty of the something allowed to them. How else to discharge all this anxious energy?
I’m more worried for you and for me now, but my daily life hasn’t changed much.
Before all this, I’d cycled through years of social anxiety that, at worst, kept me completely housebound and, at best, allowed for minimal and halting outings and interactions.
Forget friendships or social gatherings. For the most part, I stayed home, didn’t leave for work, prepared my own meals, designed and timed any necessary excursions around best practices of crowd avoidance, got anxious if not afforded at least 10 feet of personal space in all directions, distrusted commonly touched surfaces and the ability of others to adequately contain their secretions, and lived as though I were at all times trying to creep past something foreboding without being noticed.
This kind of living really cuts into one’s earning potential, I find, so I learned to economize and I satisfied my pared-down needs by straining the generosity and goodwill of others. (Thanks, Mom. Sorry, Mom.)
An average week entailed a low-stakes volunteer shift at an uncrowded place within walking distance of the house, a therapy appointment across town by bus, and a weekend grocery run at a non-busy time in a borrowed car. Other than that, I was home, except for when I’d walk the parks and paths around the house (they really are there all the time) for exercise and the feeling of having gotten outside and encountered life.
If I said more than “hello” to anyone outside the house on an average day, it was a lot. Strangers were potential vectors of judgment, chaos, and psychological contagion, not to be trusted. These were deep learnings from long ago, neural pathways reinforced day after day unless I was especially motivated and diligent about taking a different path by catching and reconsidering every automatic negative assumption.
At best, I could see my situation clearly enough to write about it from a comical or reflective remove, briefly inhabiting a better version of myself. But living from that better part of me? Living from that better part of me would always be a challenge.
Instead, I lived small.
So you can see how it’s possible that not much has changed in a day-to-day way.
The worry is greater, the stakes are higher, there is more distressing news to read from around the world, but the reality is (so far, in my case, knock on wood) much the same.
There are just more people in it with me now.
It has been eye-opening to see how constricting average, healthy people plucked out of other lives find an existence like mine to be. People are worried, helpless, stir-crazy. It’s eye-opening to think that that’s how constricting I might find an existence like mine to be, if I knew (or even ventured to think) that more were possible for me.
I’m more worried for you than for me. For me, much of this is normal.
Which, paradoxically, makes me worried for me.
Stay healthy, everyone. I require no more drama than I can generate internally.