What will be my Quarantine Story, what tales will I tell in five years, or 10 or 20? Will it be a story of victory or sadness, revelation or survival, entertainment or boredom, or even joy? Which stories will last, and which will be of the moment?
I don’t like not knowing what changes are ahead; I hate having so many unanswered questions that I’m unable to feel prepared. I want to make plans, whether it’s for tomorrow or five years. I know it’s futile, wanting to predict an unknowable future, wanting to gain back some control. I suppose it’s always been that way, it’s all just highlighted now in this larger vacuum of hard information. My mind jumps from yesterday to next week, settling uneasily into today. It’s like I’ve been put on a phone hold with a long wait. Nobody tells me what number caller I am. But at least the music is stunningly great, and I so appreciate all the performers, pros and friends, who put their songs out there for us.
“I read the news today, oh boy,” runs through my head. I read with breath held, hoping I won’t see what I do see. I take it in in doses I can handle, and when anxiety floods my system I move on and find something else to do, to flatten the emotional curve, hourly, daily. Breathe, breathe, breathe. I tune in less and less, as it’s the only way I can tamp down my agitation.
I’m privileged to be at home waiting this out, watching from the sidelines, for now. My coping skills rise and fall. Each week I find a new rhythm, figuring out how to go out safely, and how to stay in and stay sane. Alan goes out for groceries, which hopefully will last us several weeks, and I feel like I’m sending him out to a war zone. Who knows what will happen out there, whether or how it will affect and infect him, us, everyone. Then the stress of unpacking the bags when he returns. How to deal with each food, the packaging, the plastic bags, washing hands in between, re-wrapping of each item, what should be washed first, storing things away – wait, did I wash my hands before I touched that? Do I need to wash again before I store this? Don’t touch my face. Wash again. Rinse and repeat is a mantra. Can I maintain this level of scrutiny on something that used to be mundane?
The two of us are fine for now, but I worry about our extended family. This includes some working from home and some applying for unemployment. Some are retired, some have young children, or housemates, or live alone. Some have underlying health issues, the ones that get listed in the warnings. Some are “essential workers” (such a strange concept) and on the front lines, exposed daily. And some are isolated elders we can’t visit, who we can only hope will stay generally healthy for the duration, as even a minor doctor visit carries layers of risk. There’s worry and aggravation that go with all of it.
And then there’s all the other people who have it much worse.
I’m interested in how others manage to cope. I wonder how I should cope. I consider whether to create more routine and schedules or let routines go. Do I create do-lists or abandon the lists, make long term goals or forget about goals? I started with some ideas about how to use the time, but am easing off on the pressure to accomplish things, as the guilt and stress don’t help. Maybe later. Soon.
There are changes and shifts every day. My emotions volley and ricochet. I think I’m calmer, and then I’m not. I keep choosing different strategies. I wake up and my first thoughts are the usual – how do I feel, what’s the time, did I manage to get a good night’s sleep? Then simultaneously, instantaneously, the familiar foreboding creeps in. It rises and recedes, this mantle of dread.
At first I delighted in all the online exercise classes, meditations, lectures, and live music that popped up, but I’m backing off from some of it, as the attention to time tables and the busyness is not sustainable. I retired for a reason! I walk and meditate and garden and I already have a strong daily writing practice. I pick and choose between the wealth of online offerings. I couldn’t read books at first – so unusual for me, but I just couldn’t concentrate. A friend brought me a stack of books, so I’m adding reading into the mix.
I feel especially happy outdoors, loosening the disquiet, watching spring unfold with its unceasing optimism. Planting seeds feels hopeful, or just putting my hands in the dirt to pull a few weeds allows me to breathe deep. The promise of clean food is encouraging.
Always I write, trying to untangle it all and bring myself to a better understanding – if not of the world, then of myself. I write about these times, and also about anything but these times, shaping my words into something relatable or useful or entertaining. Or junk. I have a lot of that.
But it’s all right. It’s all right, it’s all right.
We do what we need to do to get through this. There are no rewards for doing it well, and no one should be judged for how they cope. We’re all amateurs now. One person’s stress reliever is another person’s nightmare. There’s nothing like spending weeks at home alone to shine a light on all my anxieties, moods, wants and needs. My best may come out, and possibly my worst.
Small talk, so often meaningless and banal, is now weighted with meaning and connection. We swap tales from a distance now, but I really do want to hear about how you are, about your unique situation, how you’re bearing up, your new activities and discoveries, your interpretation of the latest information, and what’s happening in your town. How are you doing, how’s it going, how are you?
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