Change comes slowly and then all at once.
I honestly thought I would be better at coping with change and the pandemic bunker mentality by now. But after a year, I still feel compelled to dig into my reserves to get through most days. I know I’m not alone (feel y’all) in my exhaustion and anxiety. Other times, I’m just plain pissed off. More examples of that last bit in a minute.
To be fair, there are good aspects to my life, too. So, this means quite often I feel like a pin pall flung around by a lever I don’t control. In total everything these days has an added a level of pounding intensity. The pandemic’s forced sustained change in daily routine brings me back to a different but equally intense dark time in my life. (Silent Sorority readers know what I mean.)
The elements are all there: the social withdrawal; the never-ending wait; the dread of what may or may not lie in my future; the constant societal reminder that I’m not essential (aka valued) enough.
Playing By the Rules
A year ago today my suitcase stood packed by the door. I eagerly anticipated a big anniversary trip to Maui. 2020 was bursting with change, promise, travel plans, and new ideas. Well, we all know how that turned out.
I returned home safely from that trip the day the world went into lock down. Today is day 341 of my captivity. Yes, I have been in lock down mode ever since with Alex. While the world at large shifted into varying degrees of safe six, confoundingly, many others blindly went on as though nothing had changed. This blatant pandemic disregard was the first thing that pissed me off. I’ll admit, I’m a bit demanding when it comes to plagues because I know the deadly change they inflict.
As my dear friend Klara can attest, I’ve long had an odd fascination with plagues and the change and chaos that result from them. Well before most people had read The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, I’d long ago consumed it. And The Band Played On. Read it in 1987. The American Plague ? Yes, all of the above and more sit on my bookshelf. I knew the minute COVID arrived on the scene, public health guidelines and the public’s adherence to them would make or break its containment. Alex and I have been the model of best practices here in this household. We’ve gone to social isolation extremes. (Happily for us, we still like each other.) Meanwhile, throughout the year, my blood pressure has risen with each group gathering scofflaw post on social media. COVID denial and carelessness both angered and depressed me.
I can’t afford to gamble. My severe asthma has caused me to hide entirely from people since the case load first began to rise. The sensation of drowning, gasping for air is not an abstraction for me. I live it. Routinely. For years, I’ve had to reach for my inhaler when all too often someone carelessly lets their dog(s) off leash in public parks or trails. Try as I might to avoid them, the dogs inevitably make a beeline for me and rub their hair and dander or saliva on my clothing. (I’ve also felt my chest tighten and airways constrict when ignorant travelers insisted ‘Fluffy’ had to be in the passenger compartment of the airplane.) One person’s ‘comfort animal’ is another person’s threat to breathe and to exist.
A variety of allergic prompts, sadly, unpredictably causes my lungs to wheeze and threaten to shut down. The past year, for me, has not included routine masked trips to grocery stores or outdoor restaurants or many of the other socially distanced errands and activities others manage. No. I’ve been the bubble girl. None of the above is worth a trip to the ER. There’s no reprieve or reward for those of us who have adhered from Day One to all public health guidelines
Does a life-threatening pre-existing condition or good behavior buy me anything? The answer is a hard NO. Instead, I watch as perfectly healthy people get front-of-the-line vaccine privileges. There’s my neighbor who socialized throughout the summer, maskless, who now teaches ski school to kids. Vaccinated. My friend who routinely runs 5 miles a day and has never had more than a cold. He turned 65 this week. Within 24 hours of his birthday he had a shot in his arm. He texted me afterward in disbelief when I told him there was no shot in my immediate future.
The days since a viable vaccine first made headlines has turned into weeks and months of more waiting. The vagaries of vaccine priority, well, yeah, that really pisses me off. It’s also brought up lots of unpleasant stuff about how society assigns value to people. My parents, 3,000 miles away, are now well into their 80s and my frail father is failing. Nothing would make me happier than to give my weary mother a break, or to give my father a hug, but I can’t. Until I’m vaccinated. Childcare gets prioritized. Elder care does not.
So, each day I search public health and pharmacy websites hoping to secure an appointment. I’m wait-listed everywhere. The hope cycle looms large. Only now it’s hoping for a chance to not fall severely ill or die prematurely from an avoidable plague that’s now riskier than ever due to the multiple variants. The anxiety on some days can feel paralyzing. The uncertainty has impacted my ability to sleep, to focus, to do more than slog through the day. Again, I know many relate and resonate with the frustration of life in 2021.
Change Affects Us All Differently
The systemic change we’ve undergone and what awaits, once again, feels epic. My goal in writing about the past year’s challenges is not to garner pity or to get into a new form of Pain Olympics. Rather, I want to provide context because it also rankles a bit to see mothers singled out and lauded for their heroic efforts to keep it all together. Yes, I understand the constant demands on their time. Yes, I recognize the complexities of juggling multiple responsibilities and lives. My point is that they are not alone or unique in struggling. Where mothers might crave time alone, some of us crave the hugs and care that (young and old) children bring. In short, life pretty much sucks for everyone.
Now, I said I’m grateful for the good things, too. I’m thankful for the sunshine, the lengthening days, the near full moon that filled my window last night. I relish dancing in the kitchen along with my best guy to music that plays while we make dinner together each night. Then there are the beautiful stories and films that stream into my living room reminding me that humans have always engaged in soulful battles, difficult ethical conflicts and personal struggles. This is nothing new and, universe willing, we will persevere. As always, welcome your comments.
On the days I am able to focus, I’ve been busy on a few other change-related projects:
- –The IVF industry must be breathing a sigh of relief as I (temporarily) turn my focus away from its insidious business practices to the ways Airbnb destroys neighborhoods with short-term rentals. I developed this op-ed and this PowerPoint presentation as part of my work on a virtual community grassroots task force. The fight on the local level to keep neighborhoods from hotelification is under way across the country.
- –A podcast with Kallie Fell will go live March 4. Kallie’s career started as a scientist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University with a M.S. degree in Reproductive Physiology from Purdue University. While assisting in the investigation of endometriosis and pre-term birth, she decided she wanted to interact more with women in a clinical role and went back to school to become a registered nurse. Stay tuned for the link.
- –And, I will share more soon on my year-long effort on a Journal article titled, An IVF Survivor Unravels ‘Fertility’ Industry Narratives. It was accepted and will run this Spring.
13 thoughts on “Forever Changed … Again”
My husband, who works for the city of San Francisco, says that vaccine distribution will open up for people with pre-existing conditions ages 16-64 (at their doctor’s discretion) on March 15th (in California). I hope you can get vaccinated once it opens up. I can imagine this has been especially stressful for people whose medical history makes the possibility of getting covid much riskier. I hope you find relief from your isolation soon.
Thank you, Noemi! That’s very encouraging! I hope Nevada follows suit. As much as I love our cozy home, the ability to move more freely (with mask, of course) outside in the world will feel like heaven. Hope you’re managing well through these stressful times xx
Congratulations on getting your journal article published! I look forward to reading it.
This past year has been so hard. I am dreading all of the “It was just March 2020 last month” comments that will inevitably abound this week.
With my family’s and my community’s choices, I am surrounded by people not taking the pandemic seriously. :(
You nailed it, Phoenix, in your blog post. It’s just beyond comprehension the ways humans can be so irresponsible, careless and stupid. How did the human race last this long?
I can only imagine what it has been like. The anger I would feel towards others who have ignored public health guidelines would infuriate me. I have a niece with cystic fibrosis, and anyone who has talked about letting herd immunity develop has effectively said that her life doesn’t matter. The selfishness is extreme. I hope you can get a vaccination soon. Sending hugs, and love.
Your article about airbnb is appropriate here too. I have a friend who lives in a wine village about an hour away from here – people are buying up homes and renting them out as weekend party homes. It’s a nightmare.
Thanks, Mali! It truly has been a surreal nightmarish year on so many levels. I am just beginning to start to allow myself to think about what it will be like to move freely in the future. As for Airbnb and the evils it has wrought…actually not entirely surprised that it’s a problem in New Zealand as well. It’s too bad all the impacted towns, neighborhood and cities can’t all join across the world and uniformly put caps and limits on where and how they operate. An ‘unhorsed’ home is a hotel.
Wow, what you’re going through is so, just…wow. Don’t want to risk insulting your experience with a metaphoric inference, but I’m feeling empathic constrictions in my chest as I type. Uselss I know. And that sense of being left behind and not included for that which you don’t control, well now. There’s a trigger!
I’ve been amazed – though not surprised – at what I call the “it can’t happen to me mentality” this virus has so exposed. What a human train wreck.
In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to the podcast and your article!
Right, Sarah? It has been a year. I look forward to the time in my life when I can focus on something non-medical, non-biological and get outside of living in my head.
I share your frustration in waiting to be vaccinated, Pamela! although I don’t have a condition like asthma to deal with on top of everything else…! For all that Canada has done relatively well (vs the US & UK) in terms of case numbers and deaths per capita, we have totally sucked to date when it comes to vaccines. :( So far it’s a mess and fewer than 2% of the people in Ontario have received both shots to date — most of those being health care workers and people who live or work in long-term care homes, where the losses have been awful. Vaccines for the general population ARE (FINALLY!) starting this week — those over 80 get first priority. So far as I can tell, it will be at least July before I get my first shot (unless new supplies miraculously materialize). So I likely won’t get to see my parents this summer (second summer in a row), but I’m holding out hope for Christmas… :(
I hope that you can get vaccinated ASAP! In NY, they added comorbidities to the vaccine eligibility lists but it is insanely hard to get an appointment. I was fortunate to get vaccinated as a teacher (I also have moderate asthma that is well-controlled until I contract a respiratory infection), but I feel for the issues of elder-care and people who need desperately to visit elderly parents but who don’t work with the elderly, so they are ineligible. I will admit I was upset when people who teach fully virtually were able to get vaccinated at the same time (or sooner!) than me, when I am in person with kids 4 days/week (soon to be 5). I think the vaccinations shouldn’t be so hard to get in general, but maybe people most at risk in the public and people who cannot go in public because their risk is so great should top the list? So hopeful that it won’t be so hard to get vaccinated soon. I was totally locked away until school started, and then I had to choose between working and taking a leave, and with all the precautions it’s been…ok. I am fortunate that my school district is all about masking and distancing (although they are now looking to eliminate distancing to address the hordes of angry parents who want all kids in school 5x week regardless of safety protocols). I hear you on the “moms have it so hard” piece — EVERYONE has it so hard in one way or another. Argh. Crossing my fingers that you can get your vaccination and see your parents! And congrats on your accomplishments, that’s amazing.
So helpful, Jess, to hear how vaccinations are unfolding in other states. Good to know that you were able to secure your shots. I can’t help but wonder where we’d be now if only more people had taken this crisis more seriously early on. Meanwhile, still hitting refresh on my public health website and vaccination locator tools…