I’ve been practicing social distancing for over seven weeks now, and it’s been a strange experience. One on hand, there are peaceful moments where my world is quiet and calm. Life seems normal. My son naps. We play Lego. I stay up too late reading a really good book (Little Fires Everywhere By Celeste Ng, if anyone’s wondering). I eat too many Reese’s chocolate eggs over Easter weekend. We brew coffee each morning. My husband snores at night. As it does every year, the sun begins to shine for a little longer each day, and the snow finally melts. The geese arrive, honking loudly to announce their return home to Canada after a winter spent in warmer locales. One day, I see several trumpeter swans flying over an otherwise grey landscape, their long necks stretching straight ahead like arrows. A pair of mallard ducks make themselves at home in a large pool that’s formed in a low spot on our neighbor’s lawn. Spring arrives in a mess of puddles and mud. We start seeds indoors in front of the large windows in our living room – tomatoes, cucumbers and giant pumpkins – and eagerly check in on their progress, marveling at each tiny sprout as proof of the existence of miracles growing right here in our house, a reminder that even in the midst of a pandemic, there is hope for tomorrow, and plans are being made for the future. We will be here to enjoy this harvest. The “ups” on this journey are reassuring.
On the other hand, there are terrifying moments where the greater reality of the Covid-19 pandemic sinks in. In these moments, I’m abruptly reminded that my once busy, bright world has shrunk, getting smaller and smaller until the thought of its current size results in an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia. I’m suffocating. Life seems completely foreign. We order groceries online, avoiding actually entering the store unless we’re short on something essential, like milk, that can’t wait for the next “click and collect” pickup date. I buy a mask from a local seamstress and wrap it up in a sparkly blue bag with green tissue paper: a “Corona Birthday” gift for my dad. Hanging out with friends happens over Zoom, instead of over Eggs Benedict and mimosas like it should. I irrationally spray down my Mastercard with hand sanitizer (made with an isopropyl alcohol content of more than 60%, of course) after using the tap feature to make a purchase, even though it hasn’t physically touched anything that could be contaminated. My semester of teaching comes to an end without the opportunity to really say goodbye to my students, and without the opportunity to bring a pan of one-bowl brownies, topped with generous swirls of chocolate frosting, to the last class of the semester to celebrate their successes. I badly miss my daily commute, sunglasses on, smoothie in the cupholder, podcast playing. My son asks to go swimming. We tell him no. He shakes his head, repeating “Pool closed. Bad germs.” It breaks my heart a little each time we say no to an activity or an outing he once enjoyed. No day home to play with friends. No museum to see the “big dinosaur bone.” No arena to watch hockey. No weeknight dinner at the Green Pepper Cafe because no one feels like cooking after a long day. The “downs” on this journey are jarring.
There’s been a screenshot circulating around the internet lately that began as a tweet from @itsdansheehan. It says “The quarantine state of mind is having 3 solid days where you feel pretty well adjusted, followed by a sudden, unexpected dip into what we call ‘the hell zone.’” And it’s true. “The hell zone” during the down days is tough. It’s tough on my relationships; I know that I’m not very pleasant to be around when I haven’t had some quiet time alone to read and recharge. It’s tough on my sense of safety and security; I’ve always taken those things for granted, and learning to live with a continual fear of Covid-19 humming in the background of life is unnerving. It’s tough on my mental health; after months of winter, spring is usually the time when we Albertans delight in finally emerging from our houses, where we’ve cocooned ourselves for the cold months, to enjoy time outdoors. I want to celebrate the warmer weather by gathering around a campfire with friends, but that may not be a possibility. And it’s tough financially; I’m so thankful that my job was able to transition to work-from-home mode pretty seamlessly. I’m thankful that my husband is still working full time since his work is considered an essential service. Yet seeing those around me laid off – sent home to wait this thing out – breaks my heart over and over again. Hell zone. Hell zone. Hell zone.
I have no way out of those days in the hell zone except to plow right on through–and in this respect we are all connected–because every other person on Earth also has no way out of those days in the hell zone except to do the same. This idea, that we are all facing the same opponent and that we all must muddle our way right through the messiest parts in the middle of it, gives me strength. Armored with deep breaths, caffeine, and the hope that spring brings, I’ll keep giving myself, and those around me, a little extra grace. These hell zone days can’t last forever. This pandemic can’t last forever. Even in the midst of Covid-19, there is hope for tomorrow and plans being made for the future. The “up” days hold so much promise, and I’m thankful for their normalcy and the light that they bring. One day, I know that I’ll look back on this quarantine state of mind, and be darned proud that I made it through.