What We Can Learn from America’s Mishandling of the Coronavirus Pandemic

This essay was originally published on Medium.com. View it here.

The other day, my best friend and I were discussing the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. I rhetorically asked why this is all happing right now, which is to say during the pandemic, and she made a great point: Because most Americans are spending a lot of time at home, reflecting.

By calling it a hoax (before calling it terrorism and encouraging xenophobia), neglecting pandemic instructions left by the previous administration, ignoring warnings from and silencing experts, demonstrating against mask-wearing, and failing to invoke the Defense Production Act to acquire ventilators and PPE among other myriad issues, the current presidential administration has failed to control Covid-19. As a result, over one hundred thousand Americans have died — a steadily rising number — and millions more are spending the majority of their time in their homes.

Reflection, especially self-reflection, isn’t often regarded as a major social skill, but understanding yourself is a crucial aspect of understanding others, and understanding others is a crucial way of understanding the world and how it works. The continued threat of the novel coronavirus has given many Americans time to reflect, myself included. I’ve learned that:

a. Working remotely truly has some notable upsides. Aside from not being able to be in the same room as animators, designers, and other creatives with whom I’m working alongside on projects, my remote-work journey has been relatively smooth. As a freelance writer, producer, and resident millennial (aka, social media manager), I’ve been lucky enough to continue to work part-time since the climb of Covid-19 began. Because most of what I do is digital, I’ve been able to communicate with my clients and coworkers and create the same quality of work I would have created had I been in an office. If anything, I work more efficiently (and more frequently) in my apartment because it’s easier to focus without the burden of office politics and a depressing commute to midtown Manhattan. Also, my dog lives here, which is important, because my lifestyle preference is to be next to him at all times.

b. There are no innate differences between weekdays and weekends. Every day is the same, and this is a good thing; The sun rises and sets, the tides rush in and flow back out, and the flowers bloom and die. Spending so much time at home has offered me the freeing perspective that our jobs, deadlines, and everyday problems don’t need to rule our lives. This realization comes from a place of privilege, another thing I’ve been able to reflect on. While many people are complaining about having to stay at home (I am not excluded from this demographic), I’ve learned that it’s a blessing to be able to do so while many others are working essential jobs like taking care of sick and injured people, carting away our trash and recycling, stocking shelves in our grocery stores, and so many more that us non-essentials don’t even realize.

c. I haven’t been appreciating my loved ones enough. My boyfriend and I moved in together in early March of this year. Before that, we primarily saw each other on weekends because of our schedules. Quarantine switched our relationship to hyperdrive, forcing us to iron out every minuscule aspect of our relationship from how to build the Ikea couch to where to put the Ikea couch to Should we allow ourselves to eat on the Ikea couch? Just kidding, here’s your Indian food. We joke now that we have nothing left to argue about because we’ve had the time to smooth everything out. I realize that not all couples have had this experience, and I feel lucky to have been stuck with him all this time. I’ve also learned that, despite my social anxieties, I can call my maternal grandmother any time I want to be in a good mood. A New Yorker who grew up in poverty in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with her seven brothers and sisters, she is now in her eighties and living in Delray Beach, Florida with her beloved, freakishly intelligent cat, Gia. She spends a lot of her time on her own, reading novels, cooking delicious depression-era recipes, and watching everything on television from Impractical Jokers to CNN. She is one of the most politically-engaged people I know, always calling Trump a “lying son-of-a-bitch” and a “schmuck,” and she doesn’t mind when I use the F-word. I mailed her a copy of my not-yet-published novel and two days later she called me to discuss it and review the grammar. I will admit that I didn’t realize how special this woman was until this year, and for that, I am grateful.

Most people didn’t foresee Covid-19, and even fewer foresaw it wreaking havoc on our country as much as it has and currently is in the Sun Belt. However, through our outrage and frustration over the deaths of loved ones, the blatant misinformation spread by the President of the United States on live television, and the permanent socioeconomic damage to our country and its people, we as individuals still have power. We have the power to call our family members and friends, especially those who live alone, and ask them if they need anything, even if that thing is nothing more than another conversation. We have the power to donate to causes we feel passionate about, whether that means donating money to Get Us PPE.org, donating time by volunteering to deliver groceries to elderly folks, or taking action in another way that incites positivity. We may not feel like we have much control right now, but we do have the power — and the opportunity — to take a step back from our own lives, observe the bigger picture, and create change. And you don’t need to go outside to do that.

Oh, and by the way, kids are still in cages.

Featured image by Tyler Gardon

Me and My Body, Together in Quarantine

The state we’re in doesn’t define our state.

This essay was originally published on Medium.com. View it here.

It’s April, two-thousand and twenty, and we have been in quarantine for about two months, we being me and my body.

At the beginning, we were doing okay.

We were healthy: no sign of the global emergency burning up our forehead or being shot dryly out of our mouth. We were eating well — most of the time, going on walks with the dog, and sporadically jogging through the spacious, grassy graveyard near our new apartment in a less-congested part of the city, Brooklyn to Queens. We had just moved in with our boyfriend, and we are so glad. We feel safer.

Our head, overall, was good. Stimulated from professional work — thriving on the work-from-home schedule — and creative projects; our mind could be happy as our brain was confident where and how we would get antidepressants; we were anxious, but just the normal amount.

We were using the computer more than usual, but our eyes were doing fine, unstrained by regular breaks outdoors.

Our lungs were doing well, too, occasionally partaking in recreational marijuana use, but not going overboard.

Lastly, our heart was full. The mornings began at the dog park holding hands, then making oatmeal and having coffee at the Ikea table we built ourselves. Then, we would all work and work, finally lazing on the couch or in bed in the evenings watching British television or reading.

But now.

Now, we’ve learned that vomiting randomly, even just once (not pregnant), and having nausea for a month and full-body aches the day we arrived at our boyfriend’s aunt’s house in suburban Ohio that hasn’t been lived in for three months (they’re staying at their summer home) actually are symptoms. We couldn’t exercise at all, let alone do the work for our only job (part-time) efficiently or converse or cook or do really anything for longer than a few hours to a few minutes, depending on its level of rigor. When our aches, fatigue, and general indifference to life peaked, we wished we had known that, yes, we can still have that same thing people all over the world are dying from even if we don’t have a fever and a cough.

After recovering from what we are sure was COVID-19 despite the impossibility of actually getting tested anywhere in the United States (even in the midwest where refrigerated trucks aren’t being used to store piles of dead bodies that have overflowed out of hospitals), we are able to exercise again in the form of short runs, which has proved a nice break from the strong bouts of depression that shut us down several times a week. But, hey, we downloaded a calorie counter app on our phone and are maintaining our weight, so that’s something to mention over Zoom when my parents ask if I’m okay.

Our head, overall, is not great. We’ve begun attending a weekly webinar for body-focused repetitive behaviors for fear of reigniting this flame that has been carefully, systematically, agonizingly extinguished: if not knitting, we will pull out our hair, pick at our skin, bite the insides of our cheeks, or just tightly hold the insides of our lips between clenched teeth until it starts to hurt and we notice we’ve been doing it. Now, we sit in adi mudra when we feel revved up, prone to pulling/picking/biting/etc.

Our mind, after recovering from the thing we can’t even complain about legitimately without a test we can’t get, is finally able to focus and maintain clear thoughts during conference calls, and we’ve regained our sense of humor. Living without laughing is very strange.

Our brain, though, is incredibly nervous, as it’s unclear how to get prescription medication since we’re out-of-state and our psychiatrist is wholly unhelpful. Even before the pandemic, it was nearly impossible to find one who was accepting new patients, even in NYC.

Our eyes, too, are permanently strained from reading thrillers in low light and watching too much telly. Sitcoms, reality and game shows, and crime dramas are burning holes in our retinas from desperately needing a distraction from the crumbling, bubbling, frothing mess of America, with Pence traipsing around a fucking hospital without a mask as the radioactive cherry on top.

Nearly destroyed are our lungs, which are being continuously brutalized by multi-nightly joint breaks after our realization that we had likely survived Miss Rona, phlegm aggressively stalking up to our throats and making us cough while our boyfriend looks frustratedly on.

And then, our heart, slick and chewy and beating too hard. We desperately long to be in our own space, frequently reminded of our homesickness by small inconveniences like not bringing enough socks, even though we’re currently living in a gorgeous Tudor with more rooms than we need and a lush yard and a fireplace of marble and wood that is constantly flickering and warming and comforting. We are getting annoyed with people whom we cherish most, including ourselves, and trying not to spend too much time on Instagram, which we are failing at.

Now, it’s May.

Still no chance in sight of getting tested for COVID-19, and homesick to the point where we’ve noticed we’re talking less.

We haven’t been able to taste or smell anything for about three weeks, maybe a month. When it started, it was less frustrating and more weird. We just stopped eating things we liked and only ate garden salads (lettuce, carrot, tomato, sometimes avocado) because they were healthy and spicy ramen because we could taste it (feel it). Now, as smell and taste both slowly creep back to our repertoire of senses, it’s less remarkable and more irritating. We’ll be reminded of the losses multiple times a day when we start to make a meal before remembering that we can’t smell it and won’t be able to taste it. It’s odd to have to still eat food without being able to enjoy it, which also completely negates food’s romantic comfort. Unfortunately, it doesn’t negate hunger.

We skipped the last mental health webinar, the third out of four, and we’ve been picking at our skin more than ever. Usually pulling out our hair strand by strand is our go-to, but there’s something about peeling the same regrown scabs off of our legs that serves as an irresistible reminder of a semblance of consistency that was once present in our life.

We figured out a way to get antidepressants, so at least we have the relief of gained access to the thing we need to ingest daily in order to be able to function at the absolute bare minimum level, without an iota of assistance from our psychiatrist, the one near Union Square, who is an unbelievable dickhead.

What our eyes prefer now is scanning the suburbs for the biggest leaves, tallest trees, and brightest flowers. The joy of television has almost fully disintegrated, most programs losing meaning or at least significance, except for The Midnight Gospel, a show viscerally reminiscent of an acid trip, which has become the only thing that can keep our attention.

Throat clearing and coughing have increased, but it’s our own fault. We purchased a one-hitter box handmade from spalted cherry wood and were miraculously able to procure more weed to smoke nightly, and, now more often than not, daily. At this point, we need to get high in order to get out of our head and remain sane. Alcohol has lost its charm; it only makes us sadder.

We are attributing a lot of our pain and confusion to the new place in which we are living. Suddenly, we’ve left our cozy apartment in the most bustling––and infected––city in the world and entered a quiet, suburban home in the midwest. This house isn’t mine, we say. We can’t stay here. We want to go home.

We love this house that has been so graciously offered to us with big rooms and a dining table and appliances that work and the yard wherein our dog can run around and chew on the kind of grass he likes and a fancy couch with down pillows. But these worldly pleasures are equally rivaled by our extreme loss of independence and inescapable need to rely on our boyfriend and his family for things for which we haven’t relied on people since high school: the house isn’t ours to smoke in, so we are constantly stepping outside through the doors, each of which is rigged with a loud beeping notification when opened or closed to which the dog reacts noisily; delivery of mail to the Tudor has been rerouted, and we are guiltily relying on another relative to collect our packages and letters and notify us when they arrive; the loud, ticking clocks aren’t ours to temporarily take the batteries out of, so we write articles exclusively in noise-canceling headphones streaming white noise; the car isn’t ours to drive around in. Our boyfriend insists it’s fine, but it’s not our vehicle, and it just doesn’t feel right to use it.

Even if it did, where would we go?

But, when we leave our physical location behind and speak to those we love, they remind us that it’s not the where, but the when. That house sounds like a dream, even though it’s not yours, they say. I’m glad you’re not in Queens right now.

And we know they’re right.

My body and I are hurting. Our back hurts more than usual, we are having vivid, scary dreams, sometimes our eyes cry in the morning, and we eat almost exclusively at night. But, right now, it’s likely we would be this way no matter what.

Right now, everyone is experiencing the whole world as a new place, and it’s going to take some time to get used to it.

Featured image by Oscar Rodríguez Amado