Over the last several weeks of sheltering in place, the simplification of my life and the turn inward in so many ways have made me more acutely aware of my moods. On bad days, I ask myself questions all day long, like “Am I feeling too anxious today?” and “Do I feel like I can make it through another day of this?” and I try to take deep breaths, sometimes failing. On better days, I wonder if there is something wrong with me that I’m not hiding in a dark corner worried about the apocalypse and rocking back and forth. That maybe I’m just not grasping the full magnitude of what is happening. “Should I be more freaked out today than I am? Am I missing something?”
This constant flip-flopping from highs to lows has become the norm for me lately. At the beginning of the pandemic in early March, for me it was all about the dark. I had just returned from a girls’ trip to Vegas when I suddenly came down with chills, my body aching all over, shivering in the night. Then a fever spiked. I felt absolutely terrible, the kind of terrible when you have to take ibuprofen on schedule every four hours to cope. Simultaneously, talk of the “coronavirus,” which I had been obsessively monitoring for weeks without vocalizing it very much for fear it would make it more real, was starting to reach a fever pitch. News coverage was taken over by fears of a spreading epidemic. Every time I picked up my phone, it was all I saw splashed across my notifications. And there I was, lying in bed shivering, thinking “It’s me. I have it. Could this be it?” I coughed for two weeks and then finally started to feel like myself again. I was never able to get a test, so I have no idea whether I had COVID-19 or not, an uncertainty that is at once perplexing and comforting.
Once that wave of drama passed, all I could feel for a few days was a grateful euphoria. That I was feeling well again, that I had a safe, warm home to live in with my kids and Loren here with me, that we had groceries because I was smart enough to stock up on essentials a few weeks before most people started to freak out. But alongside that feeling of gratefulness was a growing dread that things were only getting worse outside our bubble. I started getting text messages from colleagues and friends talking of things like “surge planning” and “personal protective equipment shortages” and projections around unemployment, and I flipped back to fear.
As the days and weeks of sheltering in place and trying to balance being there for my kids and entertaining them and stimulating their little brains with meeting work deadlines and crafting PowerPoint presentations, and sitting on countless hours of video calls have dragged on, I’ve started reading news less and less, and steadily have retreated further into my protective sphere that I am so lucky to have. Sometimes I even feel like I wouldn’t mind a few more weeks of lock-down because on work days I get to sneak into the living room and kiss River all over his face and neck without worrying about germs. Or Everett and I get to go on a long walk during a work break and discuss basically anything that runs through his brain. Or when I’m sitting in my camping chair in the garage having a beer at the end of the day while the boys draw with sidewalk chalk or fill dump trucks with dirt.
We’ve even discovered a small pond a short hike into a regional park near our house where we sit in the early evenings when we can manage to get out of the house early enough. After my final conference call of the day I call “Let’s go to the pond!” to the boys and we run around searching for sneakers to cram onto little feet. I quickly fill a cotton tote bag with cold bottles of Trader Jose beer, the currently open jar of salsa, the open bag of tortilla chips sealed with a clip, the bottle opener, and two juice boxes. I hurry to grab my phones, swipe away the day-old mascara under my eyes, and bound to the car, shoving small children into car seats. We speed down the road with the windows down, feeling free for just a few moments. Once at the pond, the boys sip juice, we pop open our beers, and for a few precious minutes, we push the worry aside and watch the boys throw rocks into the tiny pond. “Babe, are we going to make it?” I ask Loren, taking a sip of the ice-cold beer. He laughs and says, “Yes, we’re going to be fine.” When we hike back to the car with the sun starting to drop in the distance, singing songs and collecting pine cones and sticks, I feel like I never want this to end.
These moments of light blind me from what is happening outside, that there is a war being waged just beyond my front yard. My life situation allows me to hide out and focus inward and block out the fear for days on end, unlike so many others who are healthcare workers or can’t work and don’t know when they will again. Maybe in 15 years I’ll reminisce about the strange time when we were all trapped at home and stuck with each other and so fortunate to be healthy and surrounded with warmth and acceptance. But who knows what the world will even look like by then?
Other times the darkness creeps in and I lean over the kitchen counter when I’m doing the dishes after a marathon day and evening and I just want to sit on the floor and give up. Or I happen to open the NYTimes app on my phone and go into a black hole of headlines that send my emotions spiraling downward, when I wonder if this will ever end and if people will still have livelihoods on the other side. Or I start worrying about my mom insisting on doing her own grocery shopping and coming down with the virus. These reveries only end when I suddenly realize I’ve been reading for ten minutes and turn off my phone and concentrate hard to get off that speeding train of worry in my mind.
This constant swing between darkness and light is exhausting. But then I wonder if things went back to “normal” how I would truly feel about it. To go back to my extremely hectic life filled with long commutes and office stress and not seeing my kids for more than three hours a day. Is that better? Or running from birthday party to errands to dinner out with family on the weekends, stirring up even more stress by the end and then launching right back into the next work-week? Maybe this slowdown, in some ways, is an improvement. Because I can actually sit and watch my kids grow up for a few weeks, notice their hair getting longer. Note the passage of time. Think for a while about how much I miss my mom being around and her laugh.
There is no easy explanation for these feelings. There is no right or wrong. I feel caught in an impossible limbo and unsure whether to move forward or to hide and shelter, to get back out there or to hang back and savor safety for just a little longer. There is something about extraordinary times that even though terrifying, they are in some ways positive, because they make us pause and look at things a bit differently, and to see and recognize things that we didn’t notice before. And even in the darkest times, there may be some light, in places and ways we never expected.