an image of a house in the background and red currant blossoms in the foreground

The Only Way Out is Through

If you’re reading this anytime but the spring of 2020, I need to give you some reminder context to what you’re about to read. The short version is that the world has been undergoing a global pandemic called COVID-19, or COronaVIrus Disease that started in Asia in 2019 and progressed across the world. The first case in my province was January 28th. It’s a shitshow. Governments are responding in various ways – some great, some terrible – and nothing is the same as it was. My family is fortunate enough to be employed and working from home, and we are healthy and well. I acknowledge my extreme privilege in not navigating COVID-19 alone, with a disability, as a marginalized person or other hardship that makes this worse than it is, but I also own that it’s been hard. I write this as my province has begun to “flatten the curve” but also while we must remain vigilant to ensure that we don’t let up. There have been 111 deaths as of today, and there are more than 2,000 laboratory confirmed cases. 

A honeybee creating ripples on water, image shot from above

When I was home with my newborn, one of the best pieces of advice my midwife imparted on me before she was required to close my file and move on to other mothers was that if things were bad, change them up. Baby crying endlessly while clothed? Take off their clothes and have a bath. Everyone has been cooped up all day and starting to show signs of snippiness? Go the fuck outside. 

This advice has applied to my life since those days; in my work life, marriage, and as a parent. In life pre-pandemic, if I had a bad day or needed to mix it up I would blow off steam with a glass of wine, an ice cream, or a walk with a friend. Even if I couldn’t do it on the “bad day” when it happened, just knowing there was a little blob of time set aside in my calendar at some point soon would often ease the burden of something that was a slog or frustrating.

Like my son, I’m a frustration cryer; we often burst into tears not out of sadness, but rather, when we have reached the end of our proverbial ropes, even if this is inconvenient. A good cry always helps, I say. I think that while I’ve had a close look in the mirror to examine my coping techniques this past seven (!) weeks, I have only cried once or twice, and both times in the early days. Once, I cried with my friend in her alley, desperate to hug and comfort her after her dad had passed, and once after a slog of a day at work that was awful for no real reason but was the day the dam burst. I don’t think I have much left in my capacity to cry anymore – I have become rather numb and now seem to live in a state of neither here nor there.

Right now, I spend a lot of time hearing the sound of my own brain on the porch at the end of the day, dead-eye staring into the void and trying to regroup but I don’t know what the goddamned ‘group’ looks like I’m trying to return to. I’m sick of my family, and becoming sick of myself. In my life there have been many moments when I didn’t like the person I was, but I have rarely been sick of myself. I am just so utterly disgusted with the sound of my grating voice and the sad eyes on my stupid face staring back at me during meetings via video conference. Fuck you, face.

And so, I cope. I joke with friends while we play silly trivia games online. I drink. I eat bags and bags of chips. We do puzzles. I flex my employed privileged ass, and I buy a whole new skincare regime online. I buy hair masks, and special drying towels. I sign up for yoga classes online – fucking yoga! – and I love them. I take private lessons with my sensei to keep plodding toward my brown belt. I spend less money overall but take the time to shop more locally and thoughtfully. I walk my dog in the quiet secret forest by my house. We designate a night a week as takeout night and try restaurants we haven’t ever gone to. We’ve stopped eating at our table upstairs, and watch Star Trek together over dinner every night in the basement. Time is slow and meaningless. I garden. Holy shit, do I ever garden.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about “the new normal” and how we are trudging through the mud toward it. But it won’t ever be back to normal, not on a global, local, or personal level. I’m staring at myself these days, a buzzing in my brain and a stillness I can’t recall, and I’m cottoning up the person I am and the people I’ve surrounded myself with. It’s going to be the “new routine” or maybe something else, but it’s not going to be “normal” again, not even a year from now when we’ve forgotten the way the weeks and weeks of isolation and distraction and introspection felt. Our bodies will remember, and we are forever changed. Everything will be referred to as pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, but what of the now? What of the period of suspension we live in now?

The only way out is through. I remain optimistic we will come out the other side, and I’m grateful this has reminded me who I am and given me the chance to remember who and what is important to me.

3 months ago

5 Comments

  1. Well the only thing I can say is you are not alone in this. Everyone, I think is in the same place these days. We, as humans are social and that is in my mind what the BIG thing missing is and and I miss hugs with my friends and family. I can handle all the extra time to shop waiting in lines and deal with that but no human contact is the worst. You are a strong person and have a strong family and you will come through the other side. I think also what is bothering us humans the most is “when will it end”. The unknown. Maybe once some things do re-open we will feel a little less stressed with our new normal. At least that is my hope. Hang in thereSending a big virtual hug ( not the same ) but there you go. Sent with the same feeling that a normal hug give. Love you.

  2. A lot f this resonate strongly with me, especially the part about privilege and eating chips (hah!). I will remember your midwife’s advice about changing things up when things become difficult. I realize that I did that this afternoon when I threw in the towel on Work From Home and had a goddamn nap on the couch in the afternoon sunbeam (privilege guilt!). I feel a lot better, partly from the rest but probably more from giving myself a break from struggling to stay focused.

    Thanks for sharing this time capsule piece. I’m glad to have you as a – distant – friend.

  3. Yeah.

    All of it.

    Some days are up some days are down some days are just garbage.

    I found this place https://www.suleikajaouad.com/the-isolation-journals last week and started with day one, because it’s too late to subscribe when it’s 6 days from the end of the month. It’s given me a Thing To Do which is helpful sometimes.

    Full disclosure: I haven’t cried very much at all (and I’m definitely a crier) but yesterday on my way somewhere in the car What A Feeling from Flashdance came on the radio and I had this overwhelming sense of sadness and grief because of what the 80s and stupid pop music represents now. Oof.

    Hang in there.

  4. aw…see, the “hang in there” had html tags that said “Kitten on a rope” and it was WAY FUNNIER. Dammit. We can’t even have funny HTML tags anymore!

  5. Great post, Jen. Time (at times) seems altogether meaningless to me: he days seem somehow seem hopelessly long yet surprisingly short. Has it been 7 weeks already? Only that long?

    In response to the beginning of your post–“If you’re reading this anytime but the spring of 2020, I need to give you some reminder context to what you’re about to read”–and the concept of time divided into pre- and post-pandemic, here’s a funny clip in which comedian Julie Nolke visits her pre-pandemic self to prepare her for what’s on the horizon…without giving away the plot.

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