I’m not sleeping well, friends.
All this past week I’ve been receiving thoughtful messages asking how I’m doing. And honestly? I feel like I’m losing, embarrassed of how afraid I am, how anxious I feel. There is a tightness in my chest that is not from the novel Coronavirus itself, but the fear of it. The fear of all that’s coming.
For months now I’ve been following the growth and spread of COVID-19. Each new development prompting more investigation. And while increased knowledge did not decrease my anxiety, I remained (mostly) level headed.
When the emergency department where I work began preparing for our first possible cases of infection, I felt on edge, but was sleeping at night. As shelves were emptied of toilet paper, sanitizer and non-perishables, I trusted that restocking would come. We might have to live on beans and rice for a while. But I was still sleeping at night. And when spring break began, our family escaped to a rustic cabin beside the sea to self isolate in style. With little to no cell service, we would receive only sporadic updates on our phone of the reality outside our oasis. Each new update confirmed that I would be heading back to a different world than the one I left. But I was still sleeping at night.
When we had internet, we posted pictures of hikes by the sea, of fire pits and wood stoves. And from all accounts, it looked like we were doing everything right. We looked like we were okay.
Over a week later, a lot has changed. Daily updates by our Provincial Health Officers and the Prime Minister (I’m Canadian) outline the latest numbers and restrictions. New businesses shutter their doors. There are new masses of soon-to-be unemployed and new stories of diminishing protective equipment. My anxiety has reached a fever pitch.
And I started having trouble sleeping at night.
I know that I’m not alone in carrying this anxiety. It’s there with the elderly locked away in a facility, unable to visit with family, praying that staff do not inadvertently bring the virus to their home. It’s with the parents of a child with asthma. It’s with the grocery clerk whose checkout counter places them within two meters of their customer. It’s with all healthcare workers who know that they will be face to face with the sick and scared and infected. And it’s with each and every person who is already beginning to wonder how long they can live like this.
Because truthfully, unbelievably, it has only been 14 days since the province I live in announced that the virus is a Public Health Emergency. It feels longer.
That’s less than two weeks of markers on the grocery store floor showing us how far back to stand from the customer in front of us. Less than two weeks of attempting to set up workplaces from home. Less than two weeks since we could sit down in a restaurant. Less than two weeks of feeling like each cold or flu symptom could be something much worse.
READ: Could a Revived ‘Theology of Hope’ Restore Faith in Hopeless Times?
In these past two weeks, we’ve seen a lot of responses to this crisis. We’ve seen a lot of brave faces. We’ve seen photos of hiking excursions, home gym routines, baking projects, home office set ups, chore lists and bribery reward charts intended to allow parents a few minutes of uninterrupted work time. We’ve seen hearts in windows and residents banging pots and pans in appreciation of front line healthcare workers. And we’ve seen a lot of heartwarming pictures of families cuddling up together, in peace.
We’ve seen a lot of people who look like they are okay. Like they are thriving in this new, bizarre way of life.
And if this is an accurate depiction of your day to days these past weeks, I’m genuinely happy for you. In my own family there have been beautifully mundane moments of board games together, of punching down homemade dough, and even surviving a few math lessons around the table.
But I’ve also had to lock the door to my room and barricade myself away for fear of screaming at my kids. I’ve read accounts of the war-like conditions in hospitals in New York State and felt chilled. I’ve wandered my house, lost. Picking up my phone to refresh a feed I just looked at 5 minutes ago. Searching through cupboards and fridges I’m nervous about not being able to restock.
I don’t think I’m an outlier. I think many of us are tired and scared. Some of us have given this new life it’s best possible start, and two weeks in, we’re wondering how long we can keep this up. We’ve seen the cracks begin to show in our best intentions of staying positive and productive. We’re running out of shows to distract ourselves with. We’re sick of playing Monopoly. Our home office is no replacement for a real one. We’ve seen a 40% increase in alcohol sales. We’ve contributed to these sales. We watch the exponential rise of cases in our province and country. We wait and we watch, unable to move, unable to escape it. We’ve felt the end of this crisis become more and more elusive.
Many of us are frantically searching for lessons, looking for silver linings. Often as believers in and followers of the Divine, we feel the pressure to always remain positive. We hide ourselves from God when we feel naked and afraid, and lie to ourselves that we are naked and afraid in the first place. We equate anxiety with mistrust. As if our knowing parent could not see through our posturing. Let us be as Thomas, brave enough to be honest with his doubts, and invited in to touch the very wounds of God.
Let us be patient, with ourselves, as well as with others. Perspective will be developed in time. Hope can be our greatest ally, but it can be hard to come by these days. It’s okay if it’s illusive right now. In these hardest of moments, these initial weeks, it’s okay to be honest. It’s okay to admit that we are struggling.
One day, we will see how this has shaped and taught us. One day, we will be okay.
That day doesn’t have to be today.