As I plod through my eighth week of quarantine, I find it hard to believe that we are all still here. Nothing has changed. We still have no answers.
I am reminded again of when I was newly diagnosed and going through active treatment. The fear, the uncertainty, the confusion and the unknowing were constants for such a long time, creating a sense that I had lost control over my life. I did my best to suppress the feelings enough to get through each day, letting the emotions bubble up in controlled doses so that I would be able to function. But I felt isolated and alone — no one else seemed to understand what I was going through.
Now, we’re all going through it, but it’s still isolating because we’re unable to truly be together. And with so many of us cycling through challenging emotions, it’s hard to know when someone is hitting a low point. So far, my family of four has managed to avoid simultaneous emotional crashes, but the anxiety is ever present and comes out at strange times — and in strange ways — for each of us.
As the weeks go by, that anxiety has become tinged with restlessness and frustration. Questions like “When will I get my life back?” and “What will the new normal look like?” are always there, and life feels very much out of control. As when I was going through treatment, I try to fill my days so that I don’t focus on the fact that there are no answers. And yet the weeks stretch out — ahead and behind — in an endless array of seaming sameness.
Sure, there was the week we honored the deaths of two friends through video-conferenced memorial services. And that was marginally different from the week we joined two holiday celebrations by video conference. And last week will always be remembered as the week I had emergency dental surgery. (That saga started with a “freshly-ground” peppercorn cracking a tooth in 1984 and hasn’t ended yet…) But mostly, there is no rhythm to the days, weeks and now months. There is no special event to look forward to, no surprise social encounter to reflect on, no random occurrence to remark upon.
There is so much that I miss. Hugging my children, quarantined so far away. Seeing my friends in person. Daily interactions with people. Playing tennis. Going out to dinner. The freedom to wander, to browse in little shops, to walk down the street eating ice cream.
As the weeks pass, the list of things I said I wouldn’t worry about for now become harder to ignore. How long will this virus be with us and when can we go back to thinking about other things? Will we ever be as focused and productive as we were just three months ago? If I’m going to be wearing a face mask for months to come, shouldn’t I have one that is a little more comfortable than the one I’ve been wearing? Can I drive 250 miles without stopping so that I can visit my 95-year-old mother two states away? And would that even be safe for her? Do I still need to stock up on paper and frozen goods?
I know I am not the only one struggling with these questions and anxieties, from the existential to the mundane. And I do take some solace in the shared experience, but that also adds to the challenge. My friends, family, colleagues and fellow volunteers all know me as strong, able to offer comfort and support. That can be hard when everyone needs it, so I am careful to reserve some inner strength for myself. But self-doubts trickles in, too. Am I doing enough? How else can I help? And how do I shake off the feeling of being paralyzed by the crisis?
As author Paulo Coelho once said, “Life always waits for some crisis to occur before revealing itself at its most brilliance.” I’m looking forward to the radiance of that revelation.