I hate the way this pandemic has made me feel about my fellow humans. My neighbours. The people on my street, the people in grocery stores doing exactly what I am doing—trying to feed their families. The people jogging by me as I walk my dog, and those trying to keep their young children busy outdoors, as I attempt to check my mail at the communal mailbox. This was once just the way life happened.
I hate the intense, sudden feeling of panic that creeps up into my throat, choking me ever so slightly, as I watch another human approach. I am starting to hate myself, and that is not what anyone needs when learning to adapt and find peace in an ‘adjusted normalcy.’
Note that I didn’t write ‘new normal.’ I hate that too.
I personally struggle
We’ve been instructed, for months now, to stay at least six feet away from other humans when trying to go about our days within the confines of this pandemic life. If we can’t manage that, we are to wear some sort of protective face covering: a mask, a scarf, whatever.
This is said to protect others from our ‘moist particles’ that could be carrying this ugly virus. But you know as well as I do (if you’re honest with yourself) that those of us donning face masks are, in fact, scared of contracting this virus and are trying to protect ourselves.
We’ve been asked to stay away from our loved ones. The people we feel most safe with, outside of our own ‘family bubble,’ the bubble that is filled with folks we reside with. So while our mental health is fighting to cope with that being ripped away from us, alongside the frightening daily barrage the media forces upon us in order to keep us updated on where the globe stands in this fight, how do we not fear others?
We’re literally told we can be carrying, for all intents and purposes, a viral bomb within us—whether we experience symptoms, fall sick or feel nothing. And then we are advised to try and survive, shop for essentials, work from home or try to work safely at our place of business, and so on.
How is it that we are continually faced with what others are carrying inside them, which could sicken us or our loved ones (through us), yet we should not be afraid when approached by another person?
Since this lockdown began, I personally have struggled. Likely more than many, as I already suffer from anxiety and depression. My health anxiety has greatly heightened, as it does when I feel I’m under threat. Well, there’s not a much greater threat than a global virus tearing its way, at warp speed, through every single country on Earth!
I have switched to mostly delivery for my grocery items. And then there’s the long, exhausting process of washing down and sanitizing those essentials as they enter my home. We have a clean-up protocol for our family when we return from the outside world, or when my husband returns from work. It’s very ‘hazmat’ in its setup. I joke that when I do run out for short-list grocery items, I’m doing a ‘death-run.’ Dark humour at its finest.
But I digress. It is hard on me. It is hard on all of us.
But in the last few weeks, as I have ventured out more—masked, and supplied with sanitizer in the car and in hand, I have experienced a few instances that would be deemed absolutely normal in our previous non-COVID world. These now literally wreak havoc on my mind and send me into panic and tears.
I was grocery shopping
A grocery trip a few weeks back had me feeling confident and ready to go, masked and properly planned out. That was, until someone came down an aisle the wrong way (but does anyone really understand the stickered arrows on the ground?), and nearly walked into me. We were face-to-face.
I could feel the rage begin to take hold of my throat. He casually went on his way. I snarled and seethed under my mask. Anyone daring to walk near me down an aisle got a nasty glare. And when an elderly person did so, I felt sick inside at the mere thought of making THEM sick by MY presence. I reprimanded myself silently to do better.
I was grocery shopping.
Last week, I proceeded to walk by a parked vehicle while trying to enter yet another store for a few items I had been unable to find for weeks—again, masked, and at this time overheated, as we were experiencing a sudden change in temperatures. As I walked by this car, (not six feet away, as I was also trying to avoid getting hit by cars as they passed, trying to find parking spots) I heard the loudest, most juicy sneeze I have ever heard.
Now, here’s where I feel I am losing it. I went numb. I assumed that this guy sitting in his car, windows down, likely bored out of his mind while waiting on his wife, had targeted me specifically by watching in his side mirror as I approached, and had timed that sneeze to hit me with his ‘infected gunk.’
Yup. I have all but lost it.
Sure, he could have been doing that. We’ve seen the media videos of folks coughing at others to make their ugly points in arguments. But, in all likelihood, he just sneezed. The windows were down, we weren’t confined. Air was flowing. And while I live by assuming everyone is infected, and walk about as such as to protect myself, who’s to say he was?
I’ve had experiences with walking the dog and having folks walking by, too close for my comfort, only to walk away holding my breath and shaking my head, upset.
Recently, while checking the mail at our communal mailbox, a mother and daughter from a neighbouring townhouse survey approached. I was incredulous as I stared them down, while they continued to walk towards me. In my mind, I was screaming, “SIX FEET, PLEASE!” They came (into my bubble) and also checked their mail, not without a smile and the Mom saying hello to me.
I won’t lie. I was filled with rage AND tenderness. What the actual F!^&!?
I was livid when they entered my space, when the rules have clearly been ingrained into our brains that we MUST stay SIX FEET APART. Yet, here they were. Sure, it was a matter of mere seconds, and I left immediately, huffing under my breath that they likely were infected and now I would be. But simultaneously, I was disheartened by my thoughts, because the smile and the hello they gave me (likely because they knew I was put off) were stuck in my mind. My heart. These were my fellow humans, and I was aghast that they … said hello to me?
I hate that I react this way. I hate the panic. I hate THINKING SO MUCH about so many stupid little things that I never would have prior to this nightmare. I’m working through these emotions, and I’m also trying to be kind to myself, knowing that my mind is already fractured and I have to go through these motions to cope.
I resent this virus for what it is creating in me, a monster that was already hiding there due to my mental health issues. This monster seems to be growing and getting uglier.
We have to BE better
My point in all of this is that we have to choose how we react. You’ve heard the saying ‘happiness is a choice you make.’ Well, I am learning that this is no different during a global pandemic. And you still can choose happiness. At the very least, through this growing self-hatred I am feeling, I can redirect my mind to choose compassion. For myself and for others.
Yes, I have to be cautious and protect myself and my family. And I am reminding myself—especially every time a new ‘scary moment’ happens—that as the world slowly opens up and starts to live again, albeit in a different, more structured way, these moments will happen all the time.
We will again be side-by-side, if only through error, as we all timidly dip our toes back into the proverbial viral-waters and begin to prosper again.
I want to feel less frightened by interactions with my fellow humans, and feel more ‘human’ again. It’s definitely a job for me, as this anxious mind isn’t going to adjust very quickly, to that I can attest. But as a start, I feel good knowing that I can openly acknowledge how I feel, and that it is likely how many people feel.
Maybe this ‘new normal’ (sorry!) can be a way for me to change my reactions and feelings overall. Adjust myself slowly and try to be a better person. I believe that starts within a person’s mind. I think that is what is meant when we hear how our global situation can never go back to what it was.
We have to do better.
I believe we have to BE better.