I’m burnt out from all the numbers. We have become fixated on them. I believe the statistics and death rates and confirmed cases absolutely communicate valuable information, but right now these numbers are messing with our minds. I think the fixation stems from our collective state of shock, but also from a desperation to see the numbers to go down, to swing back in our favor sometime before next week so we can “go back to” that elusive time/place called “normal”. In times like these when up is down, and toilet paper and hand sanitizer are about to become the new currency, “normal” is suddenly foreign. We are disoriented the moment we wake up because, as it turns out, it wasn’t a bad dream after all.
Clay and I have had unwanted front row seats to this bad dream since January when a friend told us he was in Wuhan as the city went into lockdown. With that connection we have had our own personal pair of binoculars, and we watched as this ‘storm’ rolled in from China. Days later the first known case in the U.S popped up in Snohomish county, less than an hour away from Seattle. Case after case began multiplying across the area, and we Seattlites began to hold our breath, waiting to see how this all would play out.
Here in Seattle we have friends in quarantine, friends with fevers, friends of friends that tested positive, not to mention the one friend who is still stuck in Wuhan. Then there are the dozens of other heartbreaking stories Clay brings home from work. One dear woman told Clay that her brother passed away from a virus-related chain of events and she cannot make it to Taiwan for the funeral because of all the required quarantines. Let alone get that time off from work.
At the end of the day Clay and I literally collapse on the couch from the emotional and mental exhaustion. All day we are perpetually keyed in and alert: disinfecting, hand washing, distancing…constantly being virus-vigilant, if you will. The weight, and tension in our shoulders feels unshakeable at times. The stress of it all is chipping away at our ability to remain resilient.
Last week was especially rough. For virus-related reasons Clay had almost no employees left to keep the place running. A friend’s husband’s co worker tested positive for the virus. Then Michigan (where all our friends/family live) started to report it’s first cases. A handful of businesses here announced they are closing permanently.
The hows, whys, what ifs, and what abouts kept coming. Too many uncertainties. Too much anxiety. Later, when the radio host at KEXP also broke down for a minute, on air, I realized that we can not keep operating like this. We can not let fear and exhaustion and stress get the best of us right now. We have got to figure this out.
So what do we do?
To start…while all of this is fragile and fresh, let’s give ourselves gobs of grace. So much has changed at an unprecedented pace. We are all just trying to catch up to real-time and wrap our minds around each of our own personalized obstacles the best way we know how. We are all experiencing different combinations of shock, denial, panic, grief, fear, anxiety, depression, etc. Furthermore, everyone is expressing it differently. We need to be okay with that. Now is not the time to be critical of the way these emotions are surfacing in others (not that there’s ever a time for this, but now especially). I need this sermon too. I’ve been side-eyeing all the toilet paper hoarders this whole time.
So I think it would help if we quarantined the numbers (and the news) for now. Let us, the non-experts, distance ourselves from the statistics and the case counts for a while so as not to add ‘mass panic attacks’ to our list of complications. We need to trust history, which has taught us that this too shall pass. When? …It’s impossible to know. Probably not in time for the NCAA to renege it’s decision to “close” but eventually we will find the footholds and scale this pandemic-sized obstacle. Someday.
I have also begun to scale back and take things day by day. When I feel my brain teetering towards a freak-out, I’ve been telling myself to “dig deep” which is another way of saying “we can do this…we can make it through hard things.” I’ve rediscovered that impactful self-care doesn’t need to be fussy. It’s actually the basic, almost patronizingly simple things that help keep us the most grounded. Right now it’s 30 second meditation sessions, 5 minutes of fresh air, a cup of tea, a walk around the block, or good old fashioned exercise. Remembering/committing to follow through is the hardest part. But now that I’m breathing more moments of calm into my day…and disregarding the occasional paranoia, and emotional outbursts …I do believe that we can make it through hard things.
And for those days when bad news is all that sticks, remember what Mr. Rogers’ dad said… “look for the helpers” in times like these, because “there are always helpers.” While some people are already stepping up, and some people have been doing it all along, let’s consider the possibility that we are the helpers. Maybe you and I are uniquely equipped to help in some way. When we read a bit of depressing news, maybe we can flip it on its ear and create our own opportunities by asking how we can redeem this, how can we help? Elizabeth Gilbert said it perfectly, “sometimes giving is the best way to convince your terrified mind that you actually do have enough.”
The last nugget of cheer and hope I’ll offer is this: stock up on humor. Watch Schitts Creek or Parks and Rec. And if you don’t have Netflix, I’ve got you covered. Out of love I’ve been jotting down all the absurd things Clay has said in reference to the outbreak. As usual, these sound bytes are dramatic, and they are gold. One of my favorites is when he looked at me in total seriousness and said “I wish I was a robot.” …And another time he curled up into a ball and mumbled something about issuing a vat of CBD oil to everyone, everywhere. But until that bill gets passed… Inhale. Exhale. Dig deep.