How Samantha Copes During The Corona Virus
I need to get off this video chat. The sun beats down through my apartment window and onto the back of my jacket, as I am all ready to go outside. Who’s talking now? What are they saying? I nod my head to show I’m listening, but I doubt that I am fooling anyone. The clock on my computer screen hits 4:37pm and I give in to my impulse, unmuting my chat, “Hi! I think everyone’s ideas are great and I need to go.” I was not the only one with an itch, and we all rejoiced with permission from the boss to sign off – sending smiles and wishes to enjoy the weekend all around.
With my shoes and sunscreen already on, I snatch my keys and phone and fly out the door, down the elevator and outside in a minute flat. It’s Friday afternoon on March 20, 2020 in New York City, marking the end of the most abstract and unfamiliar week of many people’s lives. The new Coronavirus, which causes Covid-19 – the respiratory virus that spreads from person to person with ease and leaves the elderly, immunocompromised, those at-risk and perhaps just the unlucky in critical medical condition – is sweeping the world. 627 people died from the Coronavirus in Italy today alone, and the United States is projected to catch up in two weeks’ time if our rate of infection and access to resources doesn’t change, like right now. But here is the catch that I find confusing – while nothing is changing, every day is different because I have no personal point of reference experiencing anything like this.
As a perfectionist prone to social anxiety and panic attacks, I have conquered my fair share of anxious weeks. However, that electromagnetic fields exam in college and my graduate school thesis presentation, oh and that Halloween party one year with the popular kids, were all experiences that I knew I would make it through. And maybe even with success! When I used the therapy strategy where I ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?”, the answer for each was not so bad. Now I admit that I did not spend this entire week anxious. If you are a fit 20-something year old with no underlying conditions like I am, this virus is not that scary. I may have had it a week ago when I spent the day in bed with a mild fever and sore throat (although I’ll never know because there is such limited access to testing here). The point is, I am not that scared, but instead I am concerned. The morning after President Trump got elected, I overheard someone on a NYC street exclaim, “It feels like everyone’s grandmother died.” Now it feels like they actually could all die.
Therefore, there is a period every morning where I do get a rush of anxiety, usually after breakfast and my morning NPR podcast, but before my day really begins. Eventually it subsides and I just feel like I am navigating a maze inside one of those dreams where every step is fuzzy and I never figure out where I actually am or what I am supposed to be doing there. I am being told to adjust to “the new normal”, and logistically I understand what that means. Stay 6 feet away from any person you don’t live with, don’t go anywhere you don’t have to and work from home (which by the way, I normally do anyway and I am fortunate enough to not be out of work during this time). I am being told that this is the new normal and that we do not know how long it will last, so just get used to it.
Walking outside on this Friday afternoon through North Riverside Park, an observer from another world would see a normal day. With the sun peeking through and the temperature reaching 70 degrees, everyone is outside, and I can hear laughter travel through the Springtime wind. However, upon closer look, many people are sporting face masks and surgical gloves and I swear there is a nervous shakiness hidden inside that laughter. I can feel it when my eyes meet with a stranger passing by, life is not normal. We are all outside because there is nowhere else that is safe to go. The world is imploding, hospitals are overrun, our national leader is an incompetent fool, I am afraid to see my parents and through it all I am supposed to find a new normal. My favorite vintage store, on 12th street and Ave B, where I usually go for a couple hours of mental therapy, is closed indefinitely. *Sigh* what good would it be anyway, now that all my clothes except for pajamas and workout attire are sitting in my closet collecting dust. Life is not normal.
I take a turn up a steep side street and ponder whether to phone my mom. I can tell her about my most recent therapy session (conducted over the phone) and how my medication and cognitive strategies have gifted me brief moments of calm throughout the week. As my mind begins to wander though, my eyes catch a bright yellow flower bursting from a clean-cut tree stump on the sidewalk. It’s most definitely just a weed, but for some reason I am overcome with metaphoric thoughts. All week I was trying to find positivity, hope and serenity, but I was not sure where to look. Turns out, it was growing out of this tree stump, and in this moment, I spot it growing inside my mind too. I realized this afternoon the only thing I know for certain right now: I have the power to calm my mind. My metaphysical “center” is my normal.
Everything that everyone once had control over slipped away this week like a loose piece of paper catching the breeze off an open window. While my mental state teetered on the heels of that piece of paper all week long, a snapshot of beauty reminded me that I hold the paper weight and the ability to gently rest it on top of my wriggling mind. I can ground myself inside my own head no matter what is swirling around me. I am OK. I can check on my family and friends anytime, I can set productive goals and actually get them done, I have food and shelter and I have excellent company in my roommate (Aunt Jayne!). Without losing my connection to reality or cutting out my daily news sources, I can build a boundary around this world and send my mind across to the other side. If I want to take a moment to feel sad and afraid, but still allow myself to find happiness in each day, my complex mind can handle both. Since it helps to engage in a positive and creative outlet, I might even sew masks for my local hospital. Finally, every morning during that nervous time after my breakfast and Up First news report but before I take on the day, I vow to spend fifteen minutes either walking outside, moving through gentle yoga poses or standing on my head, which is my version of sitting in meditation. Here I grasp the calm spot in my mind and spread it out to reach every inch of my body because it is a time like this when we need to find our mental normal the most. I found mine and I know that you can find yours too.