How has the pandemic changed you?

By Caitlin Kelly

I can’t recall a year recently — maybe the crash of 2008, 9/11 — that has so radically and permanently changed our world, and how we experience it.

I was an adult for both of these and both affected me deeply, as it did for millions of others, even those who did not lose a loved one to 9/11. I’ve never gone down to the memorial in Manhattan. I have enough memories of it.

This terrible and relentless year has shifted so much of how we think and behave and what we expect from government and one another.

Here’s some of how it’s changed me:

I’m more fearful.

I hate that! I’ve always prided myself on being bold and up for new adventure. But when everyone around you can be an invisible vector of disease? Not so much.

I have to calculate risk every single day, not just on rare occasions.

We live in New York state, where the current infection rate is a reassuring one percent. But for how long? I have eaten inside a restaurant a few times, with tables far apart and people masked when not eating. But a recent meal, even far from the table of eight, left me worried after they sang Happy Birthday, since singing spreads virus. Now I have to hope their celebration won’t sicken me.

I’m short-tempered and tired

Who isn’t?!

We don’t even have to home school children, but we are two self-employed workers sharing an apartment with no office space. Constant mask-wearing drives me mad, even while I do it and know it’s necessary. I’m sick to death of the political incompetence and lies that has killed 200,000 Americans and the fools who worship the man who made it happen.

If you haven’t read it, this is a smart analysis of how we feel and why.

An excerpt:

It was, as I’d soon describe in an emotional post in a social media group of professional colleagues, an “anxiety-tainted depression mixed with ennui that I can’t kick,” along with a complete inability to concentrate. I spoke with my therapist, tweaked medication dosages, went outside daily for fresh air and sunlight, tried to force myself to do some physical activity, and even gave myself permission to mope for a few weeks. We were in a pandemic, after all, and I had already accepted in March that life would not be “normal” for at least a year or two. But I still couldn’t work, couldn’t focus, hadn’t adjusted. Shouldn’t I be used to this by now?

“Why do you think you should be used to this by now? We’re all beginners at this,” Masten told me. “This is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s expecting a lot to think we’d be managing this really well.”

My social circle has shrunk

It’s minuscule. Gone are the friendly quick moments of banter in our apartment hallways and laundry room, at the grocery store or gym. I speak to a small handful of people by phone and restrict my access to others. We hosted a couple a few weeks ago for the first time in six months — on our balcony, with a breeze. When winter forces us all indoors again, I dread the isolation.

I don’t make plans for the future beyond a week or two

This is deeply unsettling. But who can?

My greatest pleasure is usually travel. Not now.

I went away for four days — planned to be six — to an inn in Pennsylvania but left early, bored and restless and alienated by Trump signs for miles.

When every encounter now carries physical risk, the reward had better be amazing! But because of COVID, so many experiences are smaller or diminished and altered in ways that are just annoying, that, for me, sap the joy and spontaneity out of the whole endeavor.

I’m even more reliant on my husband than ever.

When we’re now able to see so few people, our marriage has to be a source of daily sustenance in ways it never has. We’ve been together 20 years and really enjoy one another’s company. But it’s a lot to expect of one other tired, cranky human being!

Routines matter much more than they once did.

When the world is in such daily and mismanaged chaos — floods, fires, hurricanes, daily political malfeasance, racism, violence — even the simplest routines become deeply grounding and comforting. For me, it’s everything from two newspapers a day, in print, to Netflix binges at night or my 4:00 p.m. pot of tea. This is not a good time to feel untethered.

How has it changed you?

33 thoughts on “How has the pandemic changed you?

  1. Good for you for recognizing the losses and giving voice to the anxiety. For me, I was forced into isolation many years back due to illness, so the coronavirus has not affected our daily living. The greatest loss is seeing my children and grandchildren. Now that they are back to school, we have to weigh the risks in seeing them.

    1. Thanks. Only having some time in silence and solitude did these bubble up.

      Sorry about not being able to see your family…We are not close to our relatives, physically or emotionally, so no change in that regard. More emails and calls, actually.

  2. anxiety level has increased. I quit my job, fed up with clients coming in grumbling about the mask thing and even more fed up with the passive-aggressive face masks or in your face Trump masks, or political commentary that I, as an employee, could not respond to and just tried to ignore. I’m deep in Dump country down here, and it took weeks before I was comfortable putting a little Biden sticker on my car while Dumpers were rocking the flags in their yards and the backs of their trucks. The amount I drive by all the time is disheartening and feels more like an intimidation tactic before the polling places open up.

    More than that, I feel so certain that the majority of folks that are grumbling about the mask and distancing thing are doing the absolute bare minimum outside their homes, and probably having all kinds of social or family events at home, which could spread things. Then there’s the churches who insist they have to hold services, then seem utterly surprised when dozens get sick and some die… over and over again. I’ve decided to go shopping maybe once a week, usually on appointment days to get what’s needed at the store and head straight home. My main bit of socialization revolves around my dogs and chatting from 10 feet away when they introduce themselves, or my neighbor’s kid who I’m helping make sure he gets his schoolwork done instead of playing videogames all day at home. Considering we’ve got one family on the block confirmed with COVID (I live out county), one neighbor in my immediate area’s about all I can handle. Definitely going through the bleach more often. Not obsessively cleaning, but being mindful to wipe down door and sink handles more than I used to.

    I mentioned a couple days ago that if some clinical psychologists came out and diagnosed millions of Americans with PTSD due to 2020, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. Some don’t take it seriously at all, everything that’s gone on, and the rest are trying to compensate for that. We’re just getting hit with too many big and little things in shifts, and it’s too much strain. I finally got some decent sleep last night after several days of eye twitches, shakes, and complete inability to sleep. I’m forcing myself to not rush into online work, to decompress and work on chores around the house and stuff for exercise til I feel the brain fog clearing up. Hopefully I can keep that momentum going through the weekend, and if it dries up, use that energy on outside chores. As an introvert, I feel awkward being super close to people anyway, so that distancing thing doesn’t bother me so much. It’s just the griping and too much at once that bothers me the most.

    1. Wow.

      Thank you for sharing such detail — and I can’t imagine how stressed you feel.

      Every time I saw a Trump sign in Pennsylvania — and I saw a LOT of them — I was so so so so angry. I’ve lived in five countries, including two very different (France and Mexico) but never felt as foreign and unwelcome here in the U.S. as I do now — as a liberal/progressive surrounded (even at a distance) by people who loathe and sneer at journalists (another very specific stress for me) and whose values make no sense to me on any level.

      I see a lot of grief and anger among those on my side of things politically and I totally agree with you about PTSD — and imagine the 200,000 dead and every one of their families and neighbors and students and teachers and colleagues mourning those losses as well.

      The very real PTSD I see a lot is on #medtwitter in very candid conversations between ER and ICU MDs and nurses.

      1. It’s why I’m willing to help out my neighbor with her youngest kid (we’re probably the only two people who can make him do his work). She’s working at a hospital and has had co-workers come down with COVID and is pulling shifts while they rotate folks around to fill in the care gaps. Her son not getting things done or the school not being helpful about online questions is just too much to add to her plate right now, especially since she’s trying to keep herself safe and go through her disinfecting routine after a long shift before handling the home issues. He goes back into the building in a few weeks and I’ve got my fingers crossed that nothing crazy happens. He won’t be coming back in the house after that, that’s for sure.

  3. Having had this virus already–and having a few symptoms return a few months later–well, oy. It’s changed me a lot. I still struggle with fatigue if I exercise or try to really have an active day. I’m having to take it easy. I never want that shortness of breath again, though. I also believe in the aerosol bit–so I will not eat indoors in restaurants, etc. My words has shrunk, in other words. And I have friends who think they are being careful who so aren’t–so I really don’t see them. I’m sticking to the wisest among my circle. You’re not alone! And this is a season–we’ll get through it. I can say that today from sunshine and nice weather–but talk to me in January . . .

    1. So sorry to read this….I am so scared of it.

      I have been generally very cautious. I have eaten indoors but only in very large rooms with almost no one else in them — like maybe 2 tables, far away. It’s going to be really tough this winter. NYC is thinking of keeping outdoor dining going all winter and I hope it works!

      1. In the moment, I’ve had flu’s that were worse. It is just the after effect. I am frustrated that I struggle with the Teague. And of course they really don’t know what all of it is about yet. I’m sure we’ll look back in five years and have more answers but that doesn’t help now.

      2. Carolyn

        As I sit here, sick and waiting for the results my covid test, I find that I’m stressed about the idea that with all the care I have taken i might have this. Stressed that we were lied to and manipulated by the president who should have had the country’s best interests at heart. Saddened that our only option is another old white man who was part of this system, but hopeful that he can help. But terribly afraid that he won’t have the opportunity because of the idiots who think the fraud in the White House is doing a great job. So many feeling right now as I wait for my reults, especially as I work for huge Trump supporters who don’t believe covid is real, but don’t want me in the office until I have my results. Go figure!

  4. I don’t remember 9/11, and I was only fourteen or fifteen when the crash of 2008 happened, so I think I was shielded from a lot of the anxieties of that time.
    I am a little more fearful of people, but I’ve been handling it well. I worry more about ignorance and gullibility more than people in general, to be honest. It’s a scary time to be alive.

  5. it has killed spontaneity, lessened everyday human interaction, and upset many people around me. every move has to be planned and considered before doing even the simplest of tasks.

  6. I lived in Arizona (as a pilot) when 9/11 occurred and then I lost a chunk of money when 2008 happened, although I was back in Canada at that time and Canadians weren’t hit nearly as hard as Americans. I didn’t feel especially worried or stressed by either event, certainly no more than most.

    Covid, however? Good question. I’ve decided to retire, I think. Not written in stone yet, but definitely leaning that way. My retired-accountant husband has run the numbers and we’re doing the thinking part. My workload has increased considerably as I deal with all the extra requirements around covid and my staff has been very stressed. I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I think I’ve now done the field work since I’ve spent so much time counselling my staff. The bottom line is that I’m tired and I’m coming home exhausted. A vaccine or solid treatment of some kind would ease my workload considerably, but I don’t think those options will be available for at least another year. And even if they are, my reading indicates that covid is going to seriously affect us for at least two (it takes time to distribute vaccines to large numbers, for one thing). So this is likely my last few months as a professional; July is my tentative retirement target.

    Covid has a silver lining, of course. The environment needs us humans to slow down, and that’s certainly happened, but I wonder if it’s too late. Reading about critical desalinisation of the oceans is scary.

    1. Thanks for this.

      I am so ready to STOP work…my industry is just in chaos and everyone is now 12. But then what exactly would I DO all day? And am I prepared to live that frugally on Social Security (if I take it early, I lose some of it permanently) and investment income? Big questions.

      But I think you’re wise to go when it feels right. Jose and I are a lot more tired than we prefer, and glad we have work but also fed up with the cost of our health insurance…we may seek a much much less costly plan for 2021 which would free us up. Or me, anyway.

      If this terrible pandemic doesn’t seriously and quickly and permanently alter some of our most destructive behaviors, what is the point of all the loss and suffering?

      1. I have a couple of pensions, CPP and savings. I also have an additional medical/dental plan that will carry over into retirement. We have run the numbers carefully because we do want to live reasonably well, not worried all the time. I may teach a bit, not sure about that right now though.
        But yes, the question of what to do. Wouldn’t you work on the books you have planned? You take good pictures – maybe that’s something?
        I plan to pursue landscape photography, a little flying just for fun, lots of hiking, some travel and developing a really good wine cellar.

        Like you, my M is really worried about what to do as well. We have talked about it a lot. The interesting thing is that so far, he has found all sorts of things that are keeping him busy. It was a nasty adjustment for him though because he was so worried about it; he did get some counselling which helped a lot.

      2. That sounds good!

        Jose already has his NYT pension. I will have SS and savings but no pensions — and a fat $350 a month from CPP …and I think they carve 25% off the top for taxes as it is…so that’s maybe $250 U.S.? We will carry a MUCH lighter financial load w/o mortgage ($1,000 a month) and health insurance.

        Our biggest challenge is that we’re both (hah!) so driven and our life-long communities and friendships are within journalism….

        Neither of us really has hobbies.

        I do plan to start a website to try and sell my photos. The books…not sure. It is such an enormous commitment of time and energy.

        I’m just not doing a lot of work these days anyway, so it feels like semi-retirement and I read a LOT and enjoy that. My greatest desire is to travel very far away and for months at a time….Asia, Africa, maybe Latin America. So that’s just not possible because of this damn pandemic.

        If NYC truly comes back to life (opera, theater, ballet, etc) I can see that being attractive. Without that…suburban life without kids/grandkids/lots of socializing is quite dull.

      3. CPP isn’t much. I’m at the top of it and I’ll be getting about 1200.00. And they do take tax.
        I hear you about the travelling. M thinks that it will take a long time to come back and keeps cautioning me that I should lower my expectations. It’s one of the reasons why staying in the Okanagan is a good idea – lots to do there or nearby. I love the drive to Vancouver and spending weekends on Granville Island. Great art and restaurants and the I love the ocean, but you’re familiar with Vancouver, so you know. NYC is so great for all it offers; it’s a
        really great city’s city. Hard to know when it will be its old self again.

  7. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, I don’t know how many years away you are from age 65. And, granted, the cost of health insurance is not the only downside to living in the US. But if you can hang on till you qualify for Medicare, that will save you _many_ hundreds of dollars per month. If that morally-bankrupt cretin is re-elected to the White House in Nov, you may still want to leave for all the excellent reasons you (and others) have mentioned here. But I’m wondering if the enormous cost savings of getting Medicare would simplify your choices?

  8. kcjordan12

    Before 9/11, I remember being able to greet my family at the gate when they got off the plane. Now it’s a whole new life. I lost a lot of money in my 401k (turned into a 201k) when we had the crash of 2008. Never quite got back what I lost by the time I left the job I was at ten years ago. With COVID19, I’m scared. I do try not to watch the news. What helps to keep me sane is working on my cross stitch projects, reading a good book, watching a good movie. As I am unable to drive, I can only do as much as I can around my apartment complex. It’s a whole new world out there; one that is scary and also challenging at the same time.

    1. So sorry to hear about that loss….What a disaster for anyone who could not regain those amounts.

      We watch some news, but not a lot and I have very little interest in news/talk shows. I need to get away from the anger and toxicity.

      So true…

  9. Well stated. At age 75, a heart attack and three strokes, plus the loss of all next-of-kin, have left their mark on me. My life has been trending downward and the pandemic has drastically steepened the angle of the slope I’m sliding down. Hanging on is becoming harder each day.

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