I have always been the type of person that’s good in a crisis situation. I have a very analytical mind. Things are very black and white for me all the time, so too in a crisis. Its usually pretty clear to me what needs to be done and what needs to be prioritized in the middle of a disaster and if ever there was someone good at damage control, it would be the type of person that doesn’t quit until there’s no more breath in one’s body. The problem with people like the one i just described is that once the crisis has passed or the immediate threat has been handled, the come-down from that type of go-hard energy can be devastating. I let it debilitate me for many years. In the past i dealt with the blanket of darkness that followed each period of high-energy go go go by self medicating with vodka and wine. When i bought the property i promised myself alcohol would never cross the driveway. If i wanted to relapse and screw up my life, i would have to do it away from home. This rule proved to be rather effective at keeping me sober as i was a staunch introvert and i really wasn’t interested in obtaining alcohol if i had to socialize to get it.
As the weeks ticked on i felt that familiar dark blanket creeping over me. My patients at work were dying. There was nothing i could do to keep them alive. All of my favorites but one were gone. I spent every day of my new life wrapped in whatever ppe i could find to purchase myself. It cut into my face. It bruised my cheeks and nose. It made it hard to breathe. As the co2 built up in our masks we had to remain calm and know that the immediate breathlessness that we were feeling was due to the mask, not covid. I watched as colleagues panicked and hyperventilated over the sensation, ripping the mask off their face. I knew never to do that. I knew never to panic so much that i ripped my ppe off in an unclean area. However, the conversations i had with myself inside my head were similar to the ones my overwhelmed colleagues had demonstrated outwardly. It was hard to function and guide patients in therapy treatments and self care tasks while silently panicking about the pain in one’s face, the difficulty breathing, and the feeling of suffocation under all this stuff one had to put on just to get out of the car and go to work. As the company began to put restrictions on the breaks we could have, the feeling of panic became louder and more frequent. We could no longer go sit in the car and take the mask off for a couple minutes just to have a moment to blow our noses and breathe normally. If we were heroes, it didn’t feel like it.
Many of the patients didn’t understand why we were wearing ppe at work. Others did and just enjoyed the opportunity to cause torment. Every day as i walked down the halls patients called to me, asked me when i was going to take all that ridiculousness off, asked me if i had converted to islam because my head was covered and suggested if i had i was going to hell. One patient told me daily what a shame it was that i had decided to wear all this on my head as i used to be so pretty and now looking like this what man would have me? I realized, i was working in a small town and these people were used to sharing their opinions in a way that people don’t feel comfortable doing in such a hurry in the city. However, it was draining dealing with certain people i was charged with caring for who only had the same negative and critical statements to repeat over and over. I almost wished they would come up with something new, even if it happened to be more biting or hurtful, just to escape the loop of monotony i was in.
The ppe had pressed against the frames of my glasses and the lenses had cracked. So i took my glasses off and the world became blurry. It didn’t matter. I could still see enough to write, type, and walk. Life went on without them. However, it was a physical manifestation of what had happened to us as a country when all this started. There was so much misinformation out there, some purposeful, some not. Nobody knew what to believe. What was once clear was now blurry, for me in several senses.
My hands were filthy. I was struggling to grow my own food, repair my own disasters and appliance breakdowns, and forage food for myself and the chickens at the homestead. There was always either dirt, oil, or tar under my fingernails. The patients at work told me my hands were dirty and i shouldn’t be working in the healthcare field if i couldn’t keep my hands clean. I knew they were right. I would be in trouble if corporate could see the state of my hands. I stood at the sink every evening scrubbing and digging underneath each fingernail, trying desperately to remove the evidence of the work i’d done on the homestead so the patients would feel i was clean in the morning. In actuality, the dirt on my homestead was quite visible and the deadly virus we were combatting at work could not be seen. I felt that peoples’ understanding of the word “clean” was somewhat misguided.
On my days off i did chores. When the chores were finished i tucked myself into the rocking chair my grandmother had passed down to me, hung my knees over the side, and rocked. I stayed like this, rocking in silence for hours. I knew there were projects that should be done; trees that still needed planting. I remained glued to the chair, rocking back and forth. I just wanted to be still in the silence. Over the next few weeks many things would happen. I learned to never say the words “how much worse could it get” because the devil would hear them and view it as a challenge. Once the governor got on the television and told everybody it was healthcare workers that were the main carriers of the virus and that we were infecting all of our patients and people in the community, we lost our human rights. I found an alternative last minute, after weeks of feverish prayer, and i took it. Then i watched as my colleagues lost control of the right to make decisions regarding their own bodies. We didn’t belong to ourselves anymore. We belonged to companies. We belonged to state governments. We were not viewed as people but potential threats and mainstream opinion was that the ends justified the means. I called a therapist who i’d known for 7 or 8 years. She let me call 2 or 3 times a year to schedule a phone session whenever i had something really heavy to work through. I knew nothing about her. She’d kept her life private and separate from our sessions. I liked it that way. 1 hour with her was always a cathartic experience and for a week or two after, i felt the lingering notion that the weight of a thousand elephants had been lifted from my shoulders. It didn’t change what was going on, but it did change something from within me. That night i slept 5 consecutive hours when for the past two months the most i had been sleeping at night was 3.5 with an average of 2. The following night i slept 5 hours again and the night after that i slept 6.
Sili tried her best to cheer me up. She was so sensitive to anxiety and depression. She could pick up on a mood change from across the room. She buried her head in my neck and tried to insert herself into my lap. She got as close to me as possible during any opportunity that arose. I loved both Cashew and Sili dearly and cherished Sili’s cuddles, but most of the time what i saw when i looked at them was mouths that were my responsibility to feed. It reminded me that i was running this fort, i was driving this ship, and i needed to constantly find new ways to go out and get the bacon and bring it back. At present, i wasn’t bringing home a steady amount of bacon and that scared me.