It’s Fine Until It’s Not

[A couple of months ago I felt confident enough about where I was, mentally and emotionally, to let my group chat with my sister J, A and M know I’d been blogging. M wanted to be able to read it, so I sent her the link. M, if you’re reading this, I suggest you stop and come back to it in a couple of weeks, at least, I don’t want you stressed out by the subject matter.]

Anyway, with that out of the way…

Yesterday morning I got a message that had been sent out to all employees by my boss via our scheduling app. An employee reported verbal confirmation of testing positive for COVID-19. Our boss assured us the last shift they’d worked was 6 days ago and according to state and CDC guidelines, nothing additional needed to happen at this time.

I wasn’t working the day that employee last worked, but unless that was the ONLY day they worked that week, I’m still exposed. I know how infectious diseases work. That person was contagious during the incubation period, before they would have experienced symptoms, which could have lasted 5-14 days. That means everyone that worked in the store for a week or more prior to that last shift could be exposed.

It means if anyone in the store has it and is in the incubation stage, they’ll likely start exhibiting symptoms anytime now to the end of next week. It means if -I’m- in the incubation stage that I could start exhibiting symptoms anytime now to the end of next week.

Yes, I’m not in the high risk age category.

But I’ve experienced sleep deprivation for 16 years, pretty severe sleep deprivation for 8 years, I’ve had years of depression and anxiety wreaking havoc in my systems, am prone to inflammation, and my immune system isn’t functioning properly, probably thanks to stress and the aforementioned sleep deprivation. Someone’s gotta be the statistical outlier, right?

And it probably wouldn’t matter if I had no particular reason to worry about how bad COVID-19 could be if I catch it, because this taps into a long-established thought pattern. Since my teens, I’ve secretly feared dying young, before I could ever live.

My mom was obsessed with the End Times. She was sure that the apocalypse was nigh any day now, and was excited that Jesus would be coming back. She didn’t believe in the Rapture, though – she believed that Christians would live through the Tribulation – at least some of them. All would suffer, some would be martyred.

I hated the idea of Jesus coming back. I just wanted a chance to live without suffering and experience some of the things other people got to experience. I felt guilty for being selfish that way.

I reached 18 without an apocalypse, reached 21 without an apocalypse, got married without an apocalypse, got pregnant without an apocalypse – and yet, the fear remained. Sure, I was living a life doing things other people got to do, but having kids and spending my life on domestic chores was not what I’d had in mind. The fear remained – I would never get past this stage of childcare and domestic drudgery. I’d be one of those sad cases of a dead mom leaving her young children orphaned.

I would never get back to a life where I could focus on and spend time doing the things I wanted to do.

I’d been surprisingly calm about the pandemic. It felt a little like the apocalypse had finally arrived and when the worst case scenario materializes, what’s left to feel anxious about?

But the news from yesterday sunk claws into me. It brought back that long established thought pattern, that long established fear that I’d die before I got the chance to live.

It’s grimly funny to think of the possibility that my life could resemble a modern Victorian tragedy. Woman tries to flee patriarchy so she can be free to live her life how she wants… and dies.

It’s a lot less funny to think of the fact that if I do get shuffled off this mortal coil by COVID-19, my mom will probably think it was God’s divine will – loving punishment for my unrepentant waywardness. Bad enough I outed myself as bisexual and walked away from the faith (but I would have been forgiven for those). The unforgivable sin was voting for Hilary Clinton in 2016 and judging the Christians that voted for Orange Jesus.

My husband would probably be relieved but act sad, in order to keep up the appearance of being a decent human being. He was out at the time, so I texted him to give him a heads up and his first response was to ask if my manager had told me.

No, fool, I made it up. It’s a belated April Fool’s Day joke.

I didn’t say that, just responded ‘yes.’ I guess he realized he sounded like an asshole because his next text was to inquire as to how I was handling the news. The last thing on earth I want is him pretending he gives a shit about me, but I kept my response distant and professional.

I need more than verbal confirmation. I need to know for sure. Yesterday I didn’t go out even though it was a beautiful sunny spring day, because I was afraid the trails would have too many people and I might be exposing them. I waited and took a walk late at night, instead. I want to go up to Potter’s Bridge and walk my favorite trail along the White River now, in the spring, but the same problem applies there.

I want this to just be some thoughtless employee trying to get paid time off.

I didn’t feel free to vent about it in my group chat with J, A & M – I vented just a tiny bit in the group chat with A & H, and felt bad for that, too, because of how much stress A is dealing with and how much enforced isolation is intensifying her loneliness, depression and anxiety. H didn’t even say anything. That hurt, even though I know he’s silent when he doesn’t know what to say, and he generally doesn’t know what to say when it involves emotions. He hasn’t said anything in response to A’s venting about the stress of isolation, either, even though I know he cares about it because I’d struck up a private conversation expressing my worry for her, and he’d acknowledged being concerned, too.

I ended up talking to C about it, and that provided a little bit of balm – he instantly expressed concern and made it clear he didn’t want anything to happen to me – but he was also obviously worried and freaking out a little and that made me feel kinda bad because I had just wanted someone I could talk to about it without feeling like I was adding to their stress.

We both commiserated for a bit about how we both feel like no matter what we do or how hard we work, we can’t get anywhere in life. Just endlessly slogging through a swamp while other people get a dry path or don’t have to be in the swamp at all.

Later I went on my walk. It was a beautiful night but the hurts and aches in my psyche made it difficult to truly appreciate the beauty. I felt very alone again. No way to relieve my stress without adding to someone else’s stress. No man is an island, and yet I feel I have to be. I can’t get what I need without harming someone else in the process.

I woke up this morning feeling like my chest was in a vice. I couldn’t slip into daydreams and fantasies, immersing myself in a pretend world where I can get the love and kindness I crave without feeling like I’m draining the people I care about in the process.

Instead I thought about hope, and how asking H out had been a last ditch effort to add something positive to my life. Until I said something, there was at least a chance I’d get the result I wanted, a chance I’d get to experience something good.

Now when I’m looking over my life I don’t see anything left to hope for that could be achieved any time soon. Everything is years away or just an ephemeral hope to win some kind of lottery for random chance. I can’t even see how I’m supposed to make the logistics of basic life work.

How am I supposed to find a second job so I can afford 50/50 custody when millions of people have just ended up unemployed? How am I supposed to arrange my availability around my kids’ school schedule? Will my current employer keep giving me hours if I can’t go in early? Will they keep giving me hours if I have to do split shifts?

Watching the economic fallout makes me wonder if we’ll even have a social safety net left or if we’re just going to go screaming off a cliff into a depression that will make the Great Depression look like a walk in the park. This administration couldn’t respond appropriately to a pandemic affecting everyone, they sure as hell aren’t going to respond to an economic crisis in a way that favors poor people. They’ve made it clear they hate poor people and want to see them punished for being poor.

So where’s the hope that doesn’t feel like it requires lying to myself? Telling myself ‘some day I’ll get X that I need in the amount I need’ feels like it’s about as useful as telling myself someday I’ll win the lottery, or someday I’ll find a portal into another world. Sure, it could happen. Being hit by a car or having a turtle dropped on my head could also happen.

I’ve never been one of those people that could believe without seeing.

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