Many of my writer friends posted blogs this past week of their thoughts as the pandemic came to the end of its first year. This, of course, had me evaluating my own thoughts and actions during this unprecedented time in our lives. I can say this with absolute clarity and truth: I am not the same person I was 365 days ago.
Not even close.
Prior to March 2020, I would have defined myself as a happy hermit. Since I write/work from home and the majority of my friends and my husband still work full time out of the home, I spent every day alone for up to 13 -15 hours.
Let me be clear – I didn’t mind this. It made me extremely productive as a writer, proven by 25 books in 5 years. I had a daily routine that included going to the gym or hopping on the treadmill for some exercise, a little light housekeeping, and then I’d settled down for 8-10 hours of writing until I needed to decide what to make for dinner. Every now and then hubby and I would go out to eat on the weekends for a treat, and we’d see our friends when everyone’s schedule aligned. I visited my daughter in another state often, and she came home here when her work schedule permitted.
I was happy with this life. Really happy.
Once a week I took my 80+ year old parents food shopping because they don’t drive and live two bus routes from the nearest grocery store.
Then, I heard about what was happening with nursing homes in Washington State and about this deathly “flu” like condition, novel coronavirus 19.
I can in no way predict the future, but as an old nurse who’s studied and loved public health history, I knew something big was going to happen if this situation wasn’t capped immediately.
I don’t need to reiterate that didn’t happen. I’m still trying to come to grips with the incompetency of the previous person in charge of this country.
What I will say is, that seeing the handwriting on the wall and knowing how fast people can get sick, I immediately told my parents I would start shopping for them so that they could stay home and out of harm’s way until this situation was over.
A year later they still have not gone out to a grocery store, the doctor’s office, or anywhere else public. I am the only person they’ve seen and interacted with in over 12 months.
Put yourself in their position. You’ve seen no other human being to interact with, say hello to, or simply smile at, for an entire year. The only way they know what is going on in the world is through their television news. They don’t have cell phones. They don’t have a computer. I have noticed a decided decline in their mental status this year, that I have tried valiantly to allay. I’ve brought them books to read, magazines, encouraged them to write letters to people, anything and everything I could do to help their cognition stay active. But I’ve seen them grow more anxious, forgetful, and even begin bickering with one another over the stupidest of things. This is all a direct result of human interaction deprivation.
When the official word came down and we shut down ( as much as we could) as a country, I thought, no big deal for me. I’m used to being in the house.
There’s a real difference between electing to be a hermit and being forced to be one. Prior to quarantine, I could run to Target for a few minutes if I needed something. I could grocery shop at any time of the day and find everything I needed on my list. I went to the gym. I went to the post office. I lived my life in segments of hermit-dom. When I needed fresh air and human contact I sought it out. And I found it.
Once I was commanded/forced/encouraged not to leave the house, I realized what truly being a hermit was.
Isolation. Complete and total isolation.
Suddenly my hermit-like life wasn’t as fun as it had been. My writing suffered, that is for certain. There were days when trying to type a coherent sentence was a monumental task. In 2020 I had 4 new works published either traditionally or independently. While that isn’t horrible – many writers had nothing new come out – every word I wrote was a struggle, something I’d never experienced before and which I can lay directly at my mounting anxiety’s door. With uncertainty surrounding me/the world due to the raging numbers of infections and deaths, my anxiety and nerves skyrocketed and I know, internally, my brain was wondering “why are you even doing this (writing?). You don’t even know if you’ll be alive if you get infected.”
Heady thoughts and the stuff of nightmares – awake and sleeping.
Schools went into quarantine, parents were forced to work from home, and kids were forced to learn remotely, not see their friends. Not learn how to socialize, how to sit still, how to ask for help. I can’t imagine the mental health issues that will be coming to the surface once we got back to a semblance of school-normal for these kids. And think of the children who were going to school for the first time when this pandemic hit. They have never known a schoolroom that isn’t virtual. They don’t know how to raise their hands to ask a question, wait their turn to speak, how to sit still in their seats for a lesson.
Women have had to leave their jobs because they need to stay home with their school-less kids. The social inequity of that alone has rolled female empowerment back decades. Imagine the mental health issues these folks will have/are having. I know one shouldn’t derive their self-worth from their occupation but from the person they are, but let’s be honest: most people categorize their worth by their job title. When your title is taken from you, or worse, you have to abandon it in order to be able to care for your family, that has to weigh heavy on the psyche. In fact, I’m certain it does.
When this pandemic is over and done with, which it will be eventually, and the world turns right side up again, I’m truly worried about the mental health toll all the isolation, quarantining, social dis-interaction will have taken on people. Adults, children, seniors. No one has been left out of this equation. The world will be a completely different place once the virus is contained. People have changed.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I am not the same person I was 365 days ago. I’m more anxious about the future, something I’ve never been before. I’m worried about the health ( mental and physical ) of my aging parents. I’m worried about my daughter’s future and the future of the children she will have. I’m concerned I can go back to the care-free hermit-like ways I used to have without worrying that I am doing myself mental harm by not being around people. I worry if our children will ever be able to live in innocence again, and not be bombarded with mask mandates, hand washing instructions ad nauseum, and fear that they will die.
So yes, these 365 days are not ones I will remember with undiluted pleasure ( to quote Queen Elizabeth).
A few bright spots I can share, though, are that my husband is fully vaccinated since he is an essential worker, and my parents have received their first injections, with appointments to get the second dose later this month. Since I have no comorbidities and am 60, I will have to wait a while to get my vaccine. But I will be getting it, make no mistake about that. In a year where I had no control over anything that happened to me, around me, or with my loved ones, getting vaccinated is the one, singular, empowering thing I can do to ensure the next 365 days are better than the past ones have been.
Stay healthy, my friends. And when you can, hug the living daylights out of the people you love; tell them you love them – often. Get out – take a walk, say hello to people you see on the street that you don’t even know. You have no idea if they are hurting for interaction and human contact as much as you are. I would bet cash-money they are.
Smile. Take a breath of fresh air. Enjoy being outside again. Be cautious but try not to be fearful.
I’ll see you all on the other side of this pandemic.