COVID-19 pandemic

Some of us – either our for health reasons or simply because our risk tolerance levels are lower – are still limiting our behavior in significant ways. For example, I’m keeping on my N95 whenever I go inside public spaces and I’m not gathering with people indoors or even outdoors if there is not room to socially distance.

As my friends and peers are joining the movement to unmask and “get back to normal,” a lot comes up for me. I’m going to share about my experience because when I’m deeply grounded and spiritually connected, I know I’m not the only one feeling like this.

So, dear people who are “getting back to normal,” when you talk about getting together for meals, making travel plans, or even when you suggest that meetings might start happening in person, I feel like I don’t belong. I feel unseen and unheard. Disregarded. It hurts, and I feel lonely (not just alone). I question my own judgment, too, and that is distressing.

As you begin expanding your lives back out into the public and maskless sphere I would like to invite you to consider starting from the standpoint of someone who can’t (for whatever reason) do the same.

It would be so helpful if, instead of suggesting we hold these meetings in person, maybe start by acknowledging that not everyone is ready or able to meet in person. If you begin with that, then, to me, the suggestion to meet in person feels less alienating.

Having received several “let’s start meeting in person” suggestions and “masks optional” messages in the last week, I’m realizing how callous it feels. If those invitations were preceded by “I know some of us aren’t ready to meet in person/take off masks” they would sting just a little less.

Thanks for considering it.

There’s no reason I should have to explain to people why I behave the way I do when it comes to COVID-19 precautions, obviously. That said, there are a lot of times I want to explain them.

Most people I know are vaccinated, wear masks in crowded public spaces and/or indoors, and are generally led by the science that tells us about the layers of protection we need to keep ourselves and others safe. But, most people I know (not all, for sure, but most) have higher risk tolerance levels than I do. And I want to just write a little bit about my “why.”

Why am I not comfortable meeting people in person (unless it’s just two of us and we’ll be walking outside among the trees), going to my 12 step recovery group in person, attending Meeting for Worship in person, and other activities that might be slightly higher risk but generally speaking are not super-risky?

First of all, I’m still of the belief that if I *can* eliminate chances of picking up COVID-19 and passing it along to someone else, I should eliminate those chances. So, if there’s a risk I can skip, I skip it. But it’s not only about protecting other people.

Every day, I live with an autoimmune disorder (rheumatoid arthritis) that has a frustrating and often overwhelming range of symptoms; it is emotionally exhausting. My immune system is attacking healthy parts of me. Add to that gastrointestinal issues like diverticulosis and IBS, menopausal brain fog, continued recovery from a traumatic brain injury… my body hasn’t been all that dependable for me. That sucks. So, the prospect of “long COVID” — even if the odds of my getting it are miniscule — feels like the straw that would break this camel’s back. Another health issue with mind-fuckery as a symptom? No freakin’ thank you.

Then, add to that the fact that the pandemic has brought out my tendency towards anxiety. With a strong spiritual life I had been living in a place of relative peace and serenity regarding those things that I can’t control. It was lovely. Well… now I’m someone who if I get a little cough for a moment or two (despite having been essentially nowhere and knowing full well I’m allergic to cats and we have a cat so of course I deal with sinus/chest nonsense) I will worry. I will worry I have COVID-19. This worry does not have to be born of fact, but the worry will simmer under all I am doing even if it “shouldn’t.” Most of my immediate family has these tendencies, too. So, again, if I can eliminate a risk, I’m going to eliminate it.

Thanks for reading this. I’m not even sure why I’m posting it, but I keep wanting to explain why I’m not participating in even relatively safe activities that so many people have resumed. So, I’m getting the explanation out of my system. 🙂

Like everyone I know, the reality that Tr*mp may continue to encourage violence, that COVID-19 will continue to rage, that people will have to risk their lives if they want to vote, that Biden/Harris might not change things all that much and… and… and…
…the list is too, too long and massive to do it justice.

I am scared. Some of that fear has to do with my children, some has to do with feelings of helplessness, but most of it has to do with all of the people whose lives are directly at risk. I say “directly at risk” because I believe the system of racial capitalism and white supremacy is killing all of us in different ways. But Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and all people of color, plus LGBTQ people, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, disabled people… this list also goes on… have already faced violence in this country. All poor people, even those who are white and even those who are Tr*mp supporters, are being killed directly by the current systems and can expect to have harder lives in the coming years. No healthcare, poverty, underfunded schools, the criminalization of everyday life… All of it.

On twitter, I’ve seen many Black and Indigenous people (white people, too) talking about having plans for surviving these times. Plans include staying away from the Internet, or sticking to joyful content.

As a white woman from a background of socioeconomic privilege, sharing photos of joyful moments risks seeming oblivious to what’s going on. As I sit here, I’ve decided that letting the pain and despair I’m feeling on behalf of all of us overwhelm me doesn’t help anyone. For this moment, I’m thinking that being of service might sometimes mean sharing small joys. What I want is for everyone to have joys like this (I mean the kinds of joys you want). Everyone deserves to be so lucky. And those of us who already are so lucky need to keep working to make sure the luck is shared.

From the mountains of Maine: this morning there were lovely tiny snowflakes over the garden I tried to capture (I can’t see them in the photo). A cast iron stove warming the room. (Not seen: butternut squash roasting, piles of papers finally sorted, a cup of Earl Grey tea with a splash of heavy cream, a full bird feeder with frequent Goldfinch and Pine Siskin visitors.)
cast iron stove with fire inside next to stacks of cut wood
view of mountains, leafless trees, garden of soil, blue sky with grey clouds

How do I title these posts that are essentially train-of-thought? Today I’m writing the title based on some thoughts I had in the last couple hours and I’ll see what comes up as I write.

Ah-ha! My groceries are being delivered. I can see the helper bringing bags to the porch as I sit outside “working” (writing this post at the moment) in the sunshine. I love (and can currently afford) to tip really well. I am so grateful for the risks she just took for me!

If I was someone who bought stock, I’d buy stock in the company that sells computer domes. I love mine so much and I have been telling everyone about them. We’re all so tired of being on all these video calls, but if we can at least sit outside to do it? Tah-dah!

Topic change! On the bird feeder so far Ive seen one chickadee, one goldfinch, and many appearances of house and chipping sparrows. I haven’t walked with intentional birdwatching as the focus since I posted last. But I do know there’s a starling pair (I assume? though I only ever see one at a time) with babies in the gutter of our neighbor’s house. WOW. Those parents work hard!

Changing topic again! Talking with a White friend about the concept of White supremacy culture today was lovely. We were on a call for topics not obviously related to racism, but I shared with her how what I’ve learned about White supremacy culture has me stretching my concept of “how things are done.” Time, especially, as it loses and morphs meanings in this pandemic.

Relationships with BIPOC have had challenges for me and for my (very few, as is typical for so many of us White people) BIPOC friends. For me, anti-racism is sometimes just doing things differently than I have “always done them,” following the lead of other cultures, and learning as I go. I’m grateful to have a couple friendships deep enough to process the miscommunications and biases together when they come up.

I won’t speak for my friend and our private conversation, but she and I have also worked on finding the courage to speak honestly about racism. She comes from a much more conservative framework, and I’m grateful we’ve practice saying what we’re really thinking from a loving and non-judgmental place.

Listening is a bigger part of bird-watching than I knew until I started it. Now I hear bird calls and songs (I’m still not clear on how those differ) all the time. Some I now easily recognize. Most blend into each other like they used to always do. (I knew I’d find analogies or metaphors or teaching moments in bird watching and the rest of my life! Listening, hearing differently, is a big part of my anti-racism work.)

I’m tempted now to stop typing because this is getting long and I don’t want people to associate LONG READ with what I write, but I do want to get out a few more thoughts.

I’m not sure if I’ve written on here before about the fact that I have an autoimmune disorder? Well, I do. It’s most likely rheumatoid arthritis (that’s what I call it for the shorthand) or possibly psoriatic arthritis. Both diseases have similar prognoses and treatments, so which one it is doesn’t really matter. We caught it early, so I’m lucky.

But, living with this disease has been challenging on many levels. This past week I had what I now recognize as a “flare.” I think it was the worst one I’ve had (though my brain tends to minimize/forget previous pain so I can’t be sure). I was close to tears on and off throughout the day for a two or three days. If I stopped moving, starting to move again was excruciating (words fail). I was weak in ways I’ve never experienced — holding my coffee mug made my arm tired? Anyway, my rheumatologist is wonderful and accessible via the patient portal. I’ve started a short burst of prednisone and found relief almost immediately (within the first day).

The medications I take regularly to treat this disease impact my immune system. It’s not that I don’t have an immune system, my doctor assures me, but there is a pathway that isn’t there at the moment. A different pathway will be knocked out and the current pathway will be back up when I change medications in a week or so as part of our years-long exploration of what treats these symptoms best. (I did take Tr*mp’s favorite, Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), for a while but it didn’t resolve my issues.)

During this pandemic, having an even slightly compromised immune system adds to my daily awareness that we all need to look out for each other. You don’t know who might be high risk, so we need to assume everyone is. You don’t know for sure that you don’t have COVID-19 (so many are asymptomatic) so if you care about people other than yourself, you need to wear a mask. Please.