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.