I can’t remember the first time I heard about the coronavirus, even though it’s the only thing on my mind lately. There’s a quote from the TV show The End of the F***king World (hopefully not too appropriately titled) that sums up my feelings about that:
“It’s strange. A lot of the time you don’t register the important moments in your life as they happen. You only see that they were important when you look back…And that was the beginning of something, something massive, maybe something massive and awful, really awful, like f***-up-your-whole-life awful.”
I don’t think the coronavirus is going to f*** up my whole life, but it’s definitely f***ing with a great deal of my life as well as everybody else’s, and I never realized it would when I first heard about it. I saw that happen back on 9/11 too. When I got to my college class, five minutes after the first tower collapsed, I asked a guy with a laptop if he could look up the latest news. He was totally affronted that I’d dared to interrupt whatever he was doing and then mumbled, “Geez, is this something we’re going to be hearing about all day?” And then he laughed.
So, yeah. People don’t always recognize the important stuff when it happens.
Drastic mood swings
It’s crazy how fast the mood of the country went from “cautiously concerned” to “hunker down for the apocalypse.” If you’re using the word “hunker” things have to be bad, right? This disease was first reported in China at the beginning of the year, so I’ve been hearing about it for more than two months, yet it still came up on me fast. (Note to self: Make friends with epidemiologists.) A week ago, the idea of cancelling March Madness seemed like madness, but now the idea of NOT cancelling it seems mad.
I’d been concerned enough about the virus on February 18 to wash my hands extra well in a hospital restroom when my mother had an outpatient procedure. (She’s fine!) When a sniffling woman sat down two chairs next to me in the lobby, I crossed to the other side of the room like a rude-ass bitch. But I wasn’t worried about picking up the coronavirus in the “real world” yet, just in the germ-infested hospital. I even shook the doctor’s hand, which now seems like utter lunacy.
Three weeks later, March 10, I bought some dry goods at the grocery store and everything seemed so normal that I asked myself, “Am I being paranoid?” Forty-eight hours later I saw pictures on Twitter of empty shelves and hordes of shoppers, and I was like, “Dude, I was not paranoid enough.”
I’d also assumed I was buying the food to protect others from the disease if I had to self-quarantine, but it turns out it’s going to be the other way around. I’m not locked up from the rest of the world. The rest of the world is locked up from me.
On the same day I was buying groceries, Harvard University announced it was evicting students on five-day’s notice. At the time, I thought that was a shitty thing to do. Now, I suspect they knew exactly what was about to happen to society, but didn’t tell us because 1) we would have thought they were paranoid nutters and 2) it would have caused a panic.
That’s how quickly your whole point of view on the world can change.
Hello, world! Welcome to my lifestyle!
It turns out I have been preparing for the pandemic lifestyle my whole life without knowing it. The self-isolating behaviors everyone is now adopting are…basically the way I live my life anyway, just with less trips to Meijer.
As a self-employed web designer, I’ve worked from home for a decade. I also have a chronic headache condition that drains my energy, so I don’t go out that much. All in all, my routine hasn’t changed that much since I started practicing social distancing. For all my life, I’ve been an introvert living in an extroverted world, but finally, FINALLY, I’m an introvert living in an introverted world. Introverts, now is our moment!
That said, even I feel a bit stir crazy. I do usually run errands once or twice a week, and I go visit family and friends at least a couple times a month, so staying inside is starting to grate on me. Fortunately, I have a balcony and no one is living in the unit below, so I can let in fresh air without the fear one cough from the patio below infecting me.
Despite the fact that I’ve been social distancing for years, I still spent the last five day paranoid that I was sick. I know that the elderly and people with underlying conditions are the most vulnerable, but healthy people in their twenties, thirties, and forties have been put on ventilators too, so I’d rather not take my chances. If there were a lottery in which the odds of winning a million dollars was 1%, EVERYONE would play, yet when the odds of dying are 1%, suddenly we all feel safe?
I have post nasal drip from the dry air, but my temperature has been normal for days, which helped keep me sane. Now that my mom and I are both five days out from our last trips outside and still asymptomatic, my anxiety has gone down significantly. Oh, right, about that anxiety:
I had no idea my body could feel this way
After my dad left us many years ago, I felt levels of anger I’d never experienced before. It was like discovering completely new emotions. Over the past few days, the same thing happened with my anxiety—a tight, crippling feeling in the center of my chest that I did not know my body was capable of generating.
Part of this is my own fault because on Wednesday and Thursday I descended into an anxiety spiral as I consumed way too much news. Every major event was getting cancelled, schools announced they were shutting down, and the nicest man in Hollywood, Tom Hanks, was diagnosed with the coronavirus. The last time I felt such fear for an extended period of time was in the days after Donald Trump was elected because, well, this was all predictable. How do I know that? Because I predicted it. As I said then, “there will be a major crisis, like 9/11, and [Trump] will bungle it and cause the deaths of many Americans.”
That said, I’m doing much better now and most of my anxiety is gone, replaced with concerned vigilance.
There are ways to fight the anxiety
On Friday, I made a list of rules to keep myself sane over the next few months. I’m focusing on the things I can control and accepting the things I can’t. I can wash my hands and try to stop touching my face. I can stay inside as much as possible until this thing blows over, which will probably take months. I can clean my kitchen so well that my cat hides under the bed because he can sense something is deeply wrong.
I can do everything in my power to stay out of the way of the federal government, which isn’t being all that helpful right now. I also know what steps to take if I think I’m infected. If there’s a recession, I’ll just deal with it one day at a time.
I’m only going to check the news once or twice a day, so I can concentrate my anxiety into short bursts, and never after 8pm. I want to wind down for the day without fear. I have completely abandoned Twitter. The trending topics were freaking me out and who knows what’s true on there anyway?
Lady Macbeth is my new role model. Wash those hands! I’ve even upped my handwashing skills by watching a video demonstrating the World Health Organization technique.
I also set the lock screen on my phone to display this. (Thank you, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)
But I can’t tune out all together
Despite the anxiety, I’m trying to stay informed so I’m not totally shocked by whatever comes next. It’s my understanding that eventually 40-70% of the population might get this virus eventually, however, you don’t want to get it as the same time everyone else is getting it. That will push our healthcare system past its limits. That’s the biggest threat in the coming weeks. If someone I loves gets sick, they need to do it in August. We need to flatten the curve of the epidemic, as the experts have been saying.
I know some of you might think I’m being overly paranoid, and I hope that’s the case. In a month, I’ll be thrilled if we’re all laughing about what a hypochondriac I was. However, I keep thinking about a moment in the Chernobyl mini-series the aired on HBO recently. During the first 24 hours after the meltdown, they thought only a small amount of radiation was coming off the reactor because their instruments topped out at a certain limit and couldn’t measure anything higher. When they brought in an instrument that could detect higher levels of radiation, they realized the problem was way, way, worse than they thought it was.
I fear that might be happening in the US right now. The US only has a few thousand confirmed cases of coronavirus, but that’s because we’ve only tested a few thousand people. If we were testing hundreds of thousands of people, the numbers would be higher. How much higher? We don’t know. That’s the problem.
If enough people believe one thing will happen, the other thing will happen
A strange paradox about epidemics is that if enough people believe one outcome will happen, they’ll act in ways that make the opposite outcome happen. So, no matter what you do, people will think they did the wrong thing.
For instance, if the majority of people believe this could get really bad, that will change their behavior. They’ll practice social distancing, wash their hands more, and avoid touching their faces. That will lead to the epidemic getting better. Then it will seem like those people were overly fearful, when actually it was their concern that led to the good outcome.
In the other scenario, if the majority of people don’t believe this could get really bad, they’ll act recklessly in ways that spread the disease. That will lead to the epidemic getting worse, and those people will regret the ways they acted and wish they’d taken things more seriously. Of course, if they’d taken things more seriously, the epidemic wouldn’t have gotten worse, which would have made them feel like they overreacted.
It’s a twisted situation. Just accept that someone will be complaining, no matter what.
But on the bright side…
I’m trying to cope by focusing on the positive things that are happening in the wake of this crisis.
1) I’m going to lose so much weight! There’s no way in hell I’m running out to get ice cream right now, and I don’t even want it because anxiety killed my appetite. On Thursday, I had a tight pain in my chest and was like, “Oh, no! Is this respiratory distress?” And then I was like, “No, I just haven’t eaten in seven hours.” I only go that long without food when I’m sleeping. I’m already down five pounds. I wouldn’t recommend the Global Pandemic Diet, but I think it will be rather effective.
2) I’m chatting with my family way more than I usually do. I’ve been checking in on my mom daily, talked to my older brother for the first time since Christmas, and I even had a conversation with my father who let me know Florida still has groceries on the shelves. I told him to stock up and hunker down.
3) The Indianapolis Public Library has shut down for a few weeks, so they renewed my book for an extra month! There will be no overdue fines if you don’t want to touch the drop-off box handle. A librarian friend of mine in another county said someone tried to microwave a book to disinfect it and the RFID tags set it on fire. I guess there’s more than one way to burn a book?
4) When I told my mom I was incarcerating her in her apartment, she reminded me that she’d spent two years in the Peace Corps on the island of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean with no electricity, phone, or internet. “This is a cinch compared to that.”
Overall, I’m going to take this one day at a time and not let anxiety get the better of me. It’s going to be a rough couple of months, maybe even a rough couple of years. I don’t know what the other side of this crisis looks like, but the odds are most of us will get to see it. We’ll get there together…six-feet apart, but together all the same.