Pandemic Part 3

The soonest I will be returning to work in the office is September 9th, just after my 26th birthday. I had a corona coaster of emotions when I read the email about coming back… I’ve adjusted well to working from home. I love not wasting money on gas and Bruce (my cat) is a pretty good colleague, but even after more than 2 months of adjusting to this parallel universe I still miss consistent human interaction and a reason to wear a cute outfit in public. I remember how far away June seemed when I was sent home from work in March, my birthday as a milestone for returning did not even seem like a possibility. I keep thinking, “what will life be like when I want to celebrate over labor day weekend this year?”

It’s become semi-normal to see crowds of people a few feet apart in masks at ice cream stands and in grocery stores. I get nervous and hold my breath when passing others on the sidewalk or the walking path in town. I can’t imagine dancing in a sea of strangers at a concert or going to a nightclub the way I once did. We’ve finally entered phase 1 in Niagara and Erie County which is progress, but it’s weird to think of the last 2+ months as 0. Just survival mode.

My brother, dad and I built a pallet bed garden box that sits in my yard outside my bedroom window at my apartment. I filled the small outside boxes with dahlias and inside there’s the beginning of romaine lettuce, zucchini, cucumber and tomato plants. I never prioritized having a garden previously; my summers were always filled with farmers markets, festivals, barbecues, camping and porch sitting at someone else’s house. Now that I have surplus of downtime in my own place I have been doing things differently and finding joy where I wasn’t previously looking.

I’m going on walks almost every day or meeting up with a few people to line dance in parking lots because I feel better about myself and life in general when I exercise. I tested the limits of my wifi and set up my office on a picnic blanket outside, making me so grateful that I even have that option. I wrote letters on fancy stationary to my sister and my grandparents and sent them via snail mail, just because I wanted to. I still really miss my life PC (pre-corona), but this experience is continuously opening my eyes to nature and the beauty in my backyard. I went on a hike at Whirlpool gorge last Saturday and I have a weekend trip booked for Alexandria Bay next month. I’ve heard wonderful things about the 1000 islands and am trying to focus all of my energy on having something to look forward to.

I’ve lost 30 pounds since new year’s, a side effect of focusing on bettering myself. This intentional lifestyle change has made me happier overall. It’s a funny feeling to celebrate this success without the comments and feedback from other people, since I don’t see very many. At first I was bothered by it because I’ve worked hard to better myself and enjoy compliments/gold stars as much as the next person, but at the end of the day it’s not other peoples’ feedback that will hold me accountable, it really only matters how I feel about these changes and why I made them. So amidst the chaos and confusion, on most days I feel really good. I don’t think you can ask for much more amidst a global pandemic.


Pandemic Part 2

What originally felt like a life lesson in focusing on what really matters now feels like a bad dream without clear purpose. It’s been over a month in this parallel universe and in the wise words of Taylor Swift  “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I never asked to be a part of”.

I’m struggling to write in my gratitude journal, which feels wrong because at least I’m not sick, but it doesn’t feel right either. When the list of normal things you miss is so much longer than the list of blessings that you are forcing yourself to churn on to paper, it just feels surreal. I am longing for the days when I took gym classes with strangers, once worried about what they might think of me, now wishing they were there to judge me. I miss going out to lunch at a restaurant, even when my meal was incorrect or the service was poor, because at least someone else made it for me. My anxiety has always made going on dates a special form of torture, but I would go as far as to say that I miss having the ability to make myself sick while getting to know someone new, outside of the comfort of my own home.

One of my most recent slightly irrational frustrations has to be with movie story-lines where girls hang out with their friends in cute bistros and kiss random boys when they are out on the town.  Watching fictional realities on screen that can’t possibly be true isn’t a recent development, but now we can’t even successfully pretend to be a part of these stories because we are amidst a pandemic! And there is no way those people are 6 feet away from each other!!!

This wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I said I wanted to leave the last decade behind on New Year’s. I’m mourning the loss of trips and experiences, even those I didn’t have planned yet. Just working and passing time. I’m feeling smothered by the need to stay in one place and accept things as they are. Before this pandemic my therapist had told me to remember no person can be an island, I wish I didn’t have the life experience to reaffirm that statement as true.

But just like many other people, I’m making the new normal work. I’m learning to crochet. I’m ordering my groceries for pick-up. I’m talking to my friends on Zoom with a full face of make up and new dress on because I’ll take any excuse. I’m going for long walks. I’m accepting that my screen time is up 12%, watching virtually as we all suffer together while apart. I’m rearranging all the furniture in my apartment, hoping the change in perspective can accompany a change in reality.


The Great Equalizer

I was 7 years old on September 11, 2001. I was being homeschooled by my mother in an impoverished rural town in Upstate New York, with a maximum population of 3,000 people. My mom sat beside me at the small rectangular white table in our yellow playroom going over worksheets when the landline rang and she simultaneously turned on the television. I remember being frustrated when she changed the channel from Scooby Doo to the news. I squinted at the television screen displaying chilling images of smoking buildings, not making much sense of them. I remember my mom talking to my dad on the phone and then my grandparents, while pacing around the house. I remember that she was  talking about my Uncle Dave who lived near the city, not knowing exactly where he was and whether he was okay. Her voice was wavering. I was ignorant to what this terrorist attack meant, but I knew that people were scared. The beauty of being a sheltered child on that day is that I was shielded from the chaos and panic as a result. When it became too much to handle my mom just turned off the t.v.

I was 25 years old on March 11, 2020. I was working at M&T Bank in a suburban slice of Americana, one of the business parks that make up Western New York’s concrete jungle. I sat in an open air cubicle across from my best friend Shannon, surrounded by roughly 500 of my colleagues, compiling data in an Excel spreadsheet. I remember talking about my fast approaching vacation to the Dominican Republic, crossing days off on my desk calendar with excitement. I was frustrated when I went on my lunch break and came across a post on social media about the coronavirus. Just 2 days before my best friend Megan and I were joking about how President Trump would have to escort us off our flight to the DR personally, because we were going on this trip no matter what. Just 1 day before I remember talking to my friend Sandy over sushi, trying to calm her down as she explained to me her concerns about suffering from an auto-immune disease and being especially susceptible as the coronavirus continued to spread. I had maintained a certain level of comfortable naivete to the disease and was not a fan of admitting what a large scale problem it really was. I had been devouring self-help books and utilized some of the advice I read, encouraging my friend to focus on what she could control, as it should lessen her anxiety, and encouraged her to trust in something greater than herself (God).

I was ignorant to what exactly this pandemic meant, but I knew people were scared. My boss told me we would be testing out working from home because of the current health risks. A few days later the emergency plan for us to work remotely “until further notice” went into effect. There are many differences when you are immersed in a crisis as a somewhat self sufficient adult,  but in stark contrast to what I recall as a child from 9/11, today everyone is offering advice and opinions and no one (not even the children) has been shielded from any of this chaos. I can’t just turn off the t.v. because coverage of this tragedy is everywhere.

We are a society saturated with status updates and we are currently drowning in the painful realities of the pandemic that we are facing. I feel this is hurting us more than it is helping us. The media’s excessive minute-by-minute documentation temporarily provides us with a false sense of control, ie. we know exactly how many cases exist and where the people have been and some of the facts about them, which gives us hope that we will know how to fix this. Initially this may be a positive, but personally I feel smothered by the overwhelming quantity of information blasted via all platforms about the virus at all hours and some of it I don’t understand. The media also starts talking about groups of people like the elderly or the immune-compromised as generalized populations and so we stop thinking of them as our grandparents and individual people like my friend Sandy. We see these news stories with click bait headlines on our individual social media platforms and we selfishly become more concerned with our individual needs and focus on what a disturbance this pandemic is to our everyday lives, rather than the impact it is having on all of us collectively. We previously took for granted the ease of access to limited resources like bread, milk and toilet paper and so now individuals are scouring high and low to stock up whenever they find it… which means many others will go without it. This is self-sabotage. We lose sight of the fact that we are all facing the same fear and inconvenience at the same time, our vision is blurred by our own selfish tendencies. The coronavirus is our common enemy, but with competition and self preservation as the main focus in the age of social media we can easily slip into a place where we blame the woman who bought the last rolls of toilet paper instead of the reason we’re panic purchasing tp in the first place. In my opinion a significant difference between the 2001 tragedy and our present crisis is the societal mindset. We have become more narcissistic and consumer driven in the past 19 years. There is certainly a scientific explanation for our exposure to this virus, but perhaps as lay people/not medical professionals we should also be focusing on what we can learn from this illness rather than just providing medical advice and frightening statistics to everyone within an earshot**

Think about the lessons that came out of 9/11. The silver lining of devastating events is that they are a unifying factor that bring us all together! And although we currently need to “come together” from a safe self-quarentined distance, we are still fully capable of providing the love and support for the communities and individuals both near and far that are suffering. Think about the retail and restaurant workers that are risking their lives, putting themselves at risk to support themselves and their families, so that you can visit 4 stores to buy your preferred ply toilet paper. Consider the vulnerable portion of the population that does not have medical coverage, because they cannot afford it, and the stress that this adds to their lives even when this specific hardship subsides. Remember that this virus is not discriminatory; regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, faith, orientation, etc. we are all susceptible. Tragedy is the great equalizer and although this is a scary time for us worldwide; if we join forces and support each other, looking out for our overall good by making sacrifices individually (like isolation and cancelling trips to the Dominican Republic :,() then we will make it to the other side of this stronger and more united. If we focus on our individual desires at the expense of the greater good then I have a feeling we will be combating the virus for a long time.

In the book “It’s Not Fair” by Melanie Dale the author spent a chapter asking God why bad things happen. She has suffered from illness and infertility and found comfort in knowing that the answer to that question is “above her pay grade” or ability to comprehend. I don’t understand why we are going through this catastrophe right now, but I do trust that God sees the big picture and has a much better understanding of how all of this going to play out than I do. Because he gave us free will and the ability to make decisions this too much be a part of His plan, he doesn’t endorse bad things but he allows them to exist for the greater good. Think about the life lessons you learned while going through difficult times in the past, this global hardship is no exception. -Allison

**PLEASE still wash your hands.