I’m awake and it’s early, about 5:30am. The sun isn’t up yet but my dog is, so we snuggle in for an hour or so until it’s light enough to go for a walk. During this time my thoughts bounce from scary thing to scary thing… the pandemic we’re all facing, and all the unknown it brings with it… Will I have enough work in the coming months? Will I end up too sick to care? What about the people who have it much worse than me? The ones who have to go to work each day else they’ll lose their job, and what little stability they have. How will they be affected by this, and how will we all be affected by their inability to stay at home? Why don’t government officials seem to care, on either side of our border? Why are good luck charms a thing to lean on right now, Mr. President? Why do your ratings matter to you right now, Mr. President? This pandemic seems to have me feeling like I’m taking crazy pills, and the anger builds. With a heavy sigh, Ruby stirs next to me, grumbling that I’ve woken her with my own heavy sigh. I squeeze her tight and paste a smile on my face in the morning light. This is no way to start a day. I shake it off and take her for an extra-long walk.
Pandemic Analysis Paralysis
I can’t decide whether to go for a run. Some days it’s a harder decision than other days, whether to leave the house. You never know what’s going to happen these days. But I am able to talk myself into it, and soon find myself feeling a little more normal as I trot down the sidewalk, electronic music bumping in my ears. Several yards in front of me I notice a portly little dog leaning against a building, with a thousand-yard stare toward the ocean. Sitting “side-saddle” on her right hip, cute as can be in her pink collar, I immediately sense that she’s been abandoned and that she knows it too. That’s the look of “what am I supposed to do now?” I run past her and glance around to see if maybe her owner is near, but of course, they aren’t. At the end of the block, I double back and see a local woman approaching the little dog with some water. I know Irma, I’m pleased that she was there to help. I continue on my run but waves of emotion are hitting me one after another. Sadness for that poor dog, anger at people who abandon their animals, fear of what’s coming… that there is so much more coming…
There I am, knee-deep in a 4-mile run, having to stop because I can’t run and cry at the same time. I can’t catch my breath so now I’m panicking a little too, and all the while there’s a dance party thump thump thumping in my brain. I’m at a great place to just throw in the towel but I know I need the mood boost so I decide to finish my run. I do feel better by the time I get down to the Tile Park. The bright mosaics always make me happy, and since the city has been pressure washing everything, they gleam now. I sprint from one end of the park to the other, weaving in and out of shiny mosaic columns, and I’m glad I stuck with it. I feel great. And lucky that I can move my body, lucky to breathe so well. Thanks, body. I appreciate you.
I’ve been writing all morning and am starting to feel hungry, but as the thought is entering my brain I remember that I have no yogurt or almond milk to have with my granola. The dark pandemic cloud of “do you feel lucky, punk?” comes over me once again as I decide whether to risk my life with a trip to the local quickie mart. It takes some doing but I’m able to apply a bit of logic and form a plan, which helps calm me down. I’ll go, grab the almond milk right by the front door, take this 50 peso bill out of my pocket, hand it to them, and walk out. Go quickly and don’t touch anything, wash hands in boiling water for 20 seconds, et voila. Breakfast is served. Easy peasy.
Anger, Sadness, Uncertainty, Even Grief
On the way there I mentally chastise myself for even buying almond milk. The environmental impact is heavy, unnecessarily so, so why do I insist on contributing to the problem and risking my life for it too? That’s pretty dumb. Especially during a pandemic. Why are we so wasteful as a species? Why don’t we have any respect for our environment? I feel angry again. I get there and the manager is in, who I rarely get to see. He likes to practice his English on me so we chat a little. I’m deviating from the plan, and it’s making my anxiety rise. But he’s my friend, and he says he’s glad to see me. Not a lot of people are coming in these days but he’s so grateful he has a job when so many don’t. I feel a wave of gratitude wash over me. I too am so lucky that I still have work. As a writer, I can work from almost anywhere. With a minimum amount of expenses, I can make it in pretty lean times if need be. Though a lot of things are unknown, I’m traveling about as light as a person can. I recognize this as a gift and I feel humbled. Glad to spend these few moments talking with my friend.
I ask him if he has any yogurt, and he does, but it’s Yoplait. There in front of the cold case, staring at the sugar-rich options, all I’m really jonesing for is some Fage Greek yogurt. I buy the fruit-in-the-bottom Yoplait. Strawberry. I cry all way home because I’m so lucky really, and because I deviated from the plan which was stupid, and because I fucking hate Yoplait.
An Unprecedented Pandemic
That was Monday, March 348th 2020, all before noon. In spite of the fact that I pretty much just sit around all the time lately, I’m constantly on a ride that I really wish I could get off of. We all are, to some degree. This pandemic we are experiencing is unprecedented. It is like nothing any of us have ever encountered before, and it’s throwing us all for a loop. There’s an explanation for it, in fact there are billions of them, if we take each of our personal perspectives into account.
Our limbic system supports a variety of basic functions in our bodies like emotion, behavior, motivation, and memory. This is where our emotional life is contained, and where our memories are formed. It’s involved in the basic emotional processing of input and has a big hand in the fight or flight response. When something bizarre happens, like a pandemic where the entire world has to shut down and no one is allowed to talk to anyone anymore because we might die if we do, each of our limbic systems scan for evidence of something like this from our past. A way to react. But none of us have any memory of something like this, because we’ve never experienced it, so our limbic system just blows a big fat raspberry and leaves us to fend for ourselves.
Fight, flight, or freeze… at an emotional level we start cycling through these basic options. Anger has worked in the past for a lot of stuff, but hmmm… maybe anxiety would be the right choice here? Oh! What about sadness… depression… some old standbys… that’s the ticket.
It’s OK To Not Be OK
Mood swings are normal for times like these, because none of these responses are really the right answer. Emotional responses that seem irregular or out of proportion are also pretty normal. Changes in opinions and feelings from hour to hour are all par for the course right now. Again, because we just don’t know what to do with a pandemic. So we try it all.
It’s not any fun to feel this way but it’s important to remember that we’re not wrong in the way we feel. We just don’t really know what to do right now, on a very basic level. Caveman level.
We’re all in this together and I think one of the best things we can do is give ourselves, and each other, the freedom to feel the feels. Make sense of them on our own terms. We’re all coming at this from our own perspective, and with the tools we have at our disposal right now. Those look different for everyone, so one of the best things we can do is just be mindful of that. Sometimes there isn’t much to do in a heavy storm but hang on tight.
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