who else has had a roller coaster of a week?
today marks seven days of social distancing and self-isolation for me, and many of us here in New York, and it has certainly been a journey.
I mean…who on EARTH could’ve seen this coming.
when the coronavirus began spreading in Asia at the end of 2019, it didn’t feel real—especially for someone living in New York, hundreds of miles away in a city that doesn’t slow down for anyone or anything.
even when it began to spread to other countries and soon other states, it continued to feel surreal. it felt like another apocalyptic movie, once watched from the safety of our couches, behind our laptop screens, surrounded by snacks…except coming to life. and even then, it felt like I was watching it all play out, myself removed and immune.
pretty soon, the feelings started swirling until I realized that things were starting to feel a lot like the five stages of grief:
at first I was in serious denial. I had deadlines to meet, chores to knock out, dinner and drink outings planned. I washed my hands and moved away from people who were visibly sick, but ignored my parents urging to send me surgical gloves and masks (that they had already tracked down at exorbitant prices which convinced me even more that people were simply overreacting). I made jokes about people needing to practice “this kind of hygiene a.k.a basic hygiene” every day, pandemic or not. I went to the coffee shop on my block like I did every Saturday morning and read a book and sipped a cappuccino.
then, I started getting angry at the xenophobia and rampant racism. I wanted to stand with the Asian community explicitly, taking the empty spot next to the Chinese woman on the subway, making an extra effort to eat out at my favorite Chinese restaurants, and calling out ignorance, telling my parents that yes the hate crimes they read about were true, but no, they didn’t have to worry about me and that everything would be fine. I mentally rehearsed yelling “I’VE NEVER EVEN BEEN TO CHINA” to anyone who gave me dirty looks on the street.
once notifications started blowing up about huge cancellations—conferences and music festivals, sporting games, broadway shows—I really started worrying. I started to feel pretty stupid for needing warning signs like this to be convinced of the increasing gravity of the situation, to finally believe that this was a living, breathing thing and not something that was as far away from me as the videos I watched online made it seem. I bargained with myself: there was no way people were playing around anymore, right? this had to be serious. but, you know, I’m still going to go out and support these businesses that are suffering because they need it right now. I will be fine, but they won’t.
eventually, I realized I had to stop thinking that “other people will take care of this” and start planning “how could I take care of myself in order to protect other people.” I started to panic. I went to the grocery store after a very weird, glum, last full day at the office and stood in long checkout lines with a basket of frozen chicken breast, cans of beans, and boxes of cereal and pasta. and still, I told myself: I’m just being cautious, but this will probably blow over soon…right? I also knew that this wasn’t supposed to feel like an extended vacation, but in some ways it kind of did, and for that kind of thinking, I started to feel terrible.
soon, all I wanted to do was cry. I hated myself for not taking things more seriously when people were pleading and dying halfway around the world. my heart broke for people who became statistics overnight, people who lost their jobs, couldn’t pay rent, couldn’t figure out how to put food on the table for twice as many mouths after schools shut down and free lunches halted. I felt heavy for people who couldn’t apply for unemployment, couldn’t travel to see family, couldn’t get back home; I felt weary for people who didn’t feel safe at home, didn’t have places to call home. I was sad for weddings and graduations that had to be postponed, baby showers and 80th birthday parties that had to be cancelled. I worried about my family, relatives, mentors and neighbors. I wanted to help everyone, support every cause, donate to every charity. I wanted to hug anyone already battling inner demons, and let everyone who still had to go into work rush home and take care of their families, their own health.
quickly, I began to feel fatigued from all the noise: noise about what we should and should be feeling, what was the right thing to do and what was plain inconsiderate, what really mattered and what we all needed to pay attention to but weren’t paying attention to enough. there was noise about who needed the most help and money, who we should be angry at and who was in charge of fixing things, who was to blame, who was right and who was wrong. everything felt right and valid, but everything also felt incredibly overwhelming. it began to feel hard to focus on anything: getting out of bed, doing work, talking to people, being online.
but this weekend—after a week that felt more like three—the inner turmoil has finally started to settle and relief has begin to surface. things both feel more real and still don’t feel real at all; they feel scary and sad and constantly confusing, but I’m working to accept all of that and focus my energy on how to best move forward, pulling myself out of dwelling on the past or spiraling down on the what ifs of the future.
today, I’m working on trying to turn moments of uncertainty into opportunities for self-reflection, and working to maintain perspective.
I have started to remind myself:
- that it was, and still is, completely okay to feel heartbroken for everyone struggling and suffering, fearful about all the tomorrows, hopeful in the humanity, and maybe even a little thrilled at the thought of wearing pajamas all day…and to feel all those things simultaneously
- that in all the darkness and uncertainty that is very present and very real right now, there is also an amazing and unprecedented unity in the world that perhaps we have always had at our cores, but never been able to recognize and appreciate so outwardly
- that in that unity, we realize that we are all longing for togetherness and connection; we are reaching out to people we love and don’t reach out to enough, and looking for ways to grow deeper with people we are fortunate to reach out to everyday
- that we are all taking this time to count our blessings and count them deeply–something few of us often take the time to do. we are reminding each other and ourselves of the simple pleasures in life: a nourishing homemade meal, a hug with those close by, sunlight spilling in through a window, carving out a space to create and that many of us otherwise abandon, convinced we are “just too busy”
- that if things continue to feel conflicting and confusing, that’s totally okay
- that it’s okay to not have the answers, but to still keep seeking them out
- that it’s okay to want to do everything at once and not a single thing at the same time
- that it’s okay to feel relieved and excited that perhaps you can finally optimize this down time/home time/slow time to do something you’ve always wanted to do…and then actually do it (!) …and it’s also okay if you don’t want to do that something, or have trouble doing it
- it’s okay if your kids are starting to drive you a little insane and maybe you kind of hate their guts
- it’s okay if you’re eating slightly junkier foods, three times as many meals a day, and have a harder time getting your exercise in, and it’s okay if you’ve never eaten healthier in your life and have discovered that online workouts are not as shitty as you thought and you can finally avoid the judgey eyes of other people and do your half-assed plank in peace
- it’s okay if you’re feeling ever so thankful for the chance to finally learn how to make bread and knit a blanket and finish a 5000 piece puzzle and realize that you’ve never thrived more
- and it’s okay if you just want to sleep and cry and do exactly that
like any other day, I’ve been reminding myself that everyone’s process will look different.
it may take some time to realize that, and that’s okay, too.
if you made it this far, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read about mine. I hope you all stay well xx
p.s. has anyone else just recently read Severance and is REALLY creeped out by the timeliness of it all?! if you have, let’s definitely talk.
(photo credit: annie spratt)