Finally taking a breath

“This means so much to me,” I said to the sweet nurse administering my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine back in January.

“Living through this pandemic as a high risk person has been… a bit stressful.” I chose my words carefully, not wanting to regurgitate my many personal frustrations onto her unsuspecting lap.

What I didn’t say was:

This has been so scary.

I absolutely hate the way we’ve been treating each other throughout this pandemic.

I’ve been shocked at the ease with which so many were willing to sacrifice the safety of the vulnerable for their own comfort and convenience.

I’ve been enraged by the politicization of medicine and science and human lives.

I’ve been saddened by the way this last year has forever changed some of my relationships.

I’ve been enraged and heartbroken by the massive amount of preventable loss we’ve experienced.

Those were the things I didn’t say, but as we talked a bit more, it became evident that I didn’t need to. She understood and shared some of her own frustrations and experiences with me.

For a moment, right before she gave me the injection, we looked each other in the eyes and smiled behind our masks (you don’t even need to see faces to feel genuine smiles; the eyes are always a tell).

“Well, maybe now you can take a breath, honey,” she said warmly.

• • • • • •

I was lying awake in bed last night and this conversation came flooding back into my mind.

When I hear or read people talking negatively about these vaccines or still debating the necessity of taking precautions (which, let’s face it, happens on the regular) I just remember this conversation and the peace it brought me. Her kindness and the moment of connection we shared made an exciting experience even more memorable.❤️

The way I see it…

“We just see things differently,” is something I’ve heard a lot recently. And I suppose that’s true.
Where some see oppression, I see an accessibility tool. I am able to navigate the world more safely when both myself and others are wearing masks.

Where some see a violation of rights, I see concern and kindness for others. A person’s willingness to wear a mask for the protection of the people around them is, to me, an incredible act of love.

Where some see “fake science” and biased information, I see sound evidence coupled with years of personal experience. I’ve worn masks for decades (with lung function as low as 27%) without ever experiencing complications. My team of care providers and dear friends in healthcare have safely and effectively worn masks throughout their careers, sometimes for the duration of entire shifts or lengthy surgeries. (Spoiler alert: they’re all fine.)

Where some see “sheep” blindly complying and following sinister orders, I see community, love, unity, and a combined effort to care for one another and combat our common enemy.

If the way I see things turns out to be wrong, I will have unnecessarily worn a mask for a few months. No biggie. But if the way I perceive things is correct, and people have refused to take precautions, we’ll experience a tremendous amount of preventable loss and heartache.

I’ll wear the dang mask. This is something I’m willing to be wrong about.

I am not expendable

In recent weeks, my faith in humanity has been both shattered and rebuilt more times than I can count. I’ve seen people coming together, supporting one another in ways that make my heart sing. But I’ve also witnessed some of the most selfish behavior and disheartening discourse surrounding all things related to COVID-19.

Something that has really stood out to me is the inherent ableism in the way we talk about this pandemic and how we’ve been treating the most vulnerable among us.

There’s something I need to get off my chest in regard to all this, and I really hope my able-bodied friends are listening: I AM NOT EXPENDABLE!

Every time a news anchor prefaces a COVID-19 story by emphasizing that it mostly affects the elderly and immunocompromised, it sends the message that the well-being of vulnerable populations is secondary.

When friends say that this is “only” killing those with underlying health conditions or the elderly, it feels as if my entire existence is reduced to “only.” Something expendable. Nothing worthy of concern.

When considering the very real possibility of having to ration healthcare, and the decision is made to prioritize the young and healthy over the elderly and disabled, once again the message is that certain lives have more value than others.

It’s both saddening and elucidating to see how quickly employers and educators have made accommodations that would have greatly benefited disabled folks in the past— things like increased work-from-home options and distance-learning curriculums.

Throughout all this, the message (whether intentional or not) has been that the lives of disabled people are less valuable. I emphatically reject that!

I have a genetic disease that makes me more vulnerable to the effects of this virus, but that does not mean I am less worthy of accommodations or life-saving care.

My life expectancy may be shorter than that of others, but that does not make my life less valuable. When people debase the worth and value of folks like myself, quite frankly, it makes me mad as hell

Disabled lives have value. Immunocompromised lives have value. Elderly lives have value. We are worthy of concern and respect.

We are not expendable.

Quarantine Log: Day… Whatever

Is it just me, or have you also lost track of time entirely? It feels like it’s Frensday the eleventeenth of Marchtember. Time is a construct that has no relevance to the way we currently live our lives, except for the fact that Randy is an essential employee so he’s still going to and from work (more on this later). Other than that, clocks and calendars might as well cease to exist.

We’ve been social distancing since the first week of March when Morgan came down with a mysterious virus. You can read more about that here, but long story short: she was sick for three weeks with what we think probably definitely maybe wasn’t coronavirus. I kept her home from school for a week, then as the COVID-19 situation in our state progressed, I decided to pull her out of school for a while. That same day, the governor announced that all K-12 schools were closing anyway, so we’ve officially been homeschooling and social distancing since March 5th.

The first couple weeks, my mental state was, quite frankly, a mess. My underlying anxiety decided it was time to shine and I was in a constant state of panic. Panic cleaning. Panic eating. Panic cleaning some more. (My house has never looked so good, but it’s kind of a bummer that it takes a global pandemic to make it look this way.)

I’m used to being “high-risk.” I’ve fit into that category my entire life, and I live my life accordingly: taking extra precautions, always being aware of my surroundings and the risk they present, making my health my top priority. But those words — “high risk”– seem to carry extra weight when we’re talking about something like COVID-19. High risk of serious illness. High risk of complications. High risk of death. Those aren’t things that sit well with me. Hence… anxiety and panic.

But I think that’s okay. In fact, I think whatever a person is feeling during these times is okay. I’ve run the entire gamut of emotions from angry to sad to hopeful to upset and just about every other feeling imaginable. Sometimes I experience all those feelings within a few hour time period. And that’s okay! The point is, these times are completely unprecedented. None of us have experienced anything quite like this. The feelings we’re having are bound to be as complex and complicated as the situation we find ourselves in.

As I mentioned before, as a corrections officer, Randy is an essential employee. This adds a layer of complexity as we are incredibly grateful his job is secure and income is steady, but going to work puts him (and subsequently our whole family) at risk. We’re taking extra precautions here in the home, and if our geographic area starts seeing more cases or we know of potential exposure, he may end up temporarily moving out to our camp trailer.

I feel for every person who is an essential employee, putting their lives at risk during this time. Our country is currently seeing how essential some jobs and people are, and I sincerely hope that some changes will be made to benefit them as a result of this pandemic.

We are trying to get outside as much as possible. Our state has a “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive, but we are encouraged to get outside for fresh air and exercise, as long as we are able to do so without coming into contact with other people. I’m so glad that we live in an area that allows us to get outside and explore pretty freely. Here are a few pictures from our recent outdoor adventures.

Here in the home, we’ve tried to stay entertained by crafting, creating, and just taking this opportunity to appreciate our time together. We have a standing date for family movie night whenever Randy is off work. We’ve baked. We’ve made jewelry. Morgan made a shelf. We’ve painted on canvas, paper, rocks, windows, and Easter eggs. We’ve planted grass in a terrarium and flowers outside.

Oh…. and we did another (absolutely crazy) thing…. we welcomed a new puppy to the family! We suddenly have plenty of time on our hands to spend potty training and loving on a new little pup. Plus, we can use all the extra laughs, loves, and snuggles we can possibly get these days. His name is Harlo, he’s an 8 week old chiweenie, and we are so in love with him.

So, that’s where we’re at. We miss our family and friends, but so far, social distancing hasn’t been the worst thing. So often throughout Morgan’s life, I’ve wished that I could pause time. In a way, it feels like that’s what’s happened right now. We’ve got all the time in the world to spend together with nowhere to be, nothing that HAS to be done, and there are no distractions. At the end of each day, I keep reminding myself that we did it — made it through another day! We’re together. We’re safe.

I don’t know what tomorrow or next week or next month will bring. But if I focus on each day, on the moments we have together as a family and the many ways in which we are truly fortunate, I can keep the anxiety at bay. Amid all the uncertainty and unpleasant emotions, there is somehow still a sense of peace and calm.

The other night while watching a movie together, Morgan looked up at me, smiled and said, “I’m glad we’re quarantined together.” Me too, sweet girl. Me too.

I want to know, dear reader… how are you? How are you managing during these crazy times we’re living in? What is your mental state? What are you doing to keep busy? Are you homeschooling kiddos? Who is your quarantine crew? Did you also eat all your quarantine snacks by day three?