My Pandemic Experience

When asked on a Collective Trauma webinar in February to share my experience with the pandemic, I paused. Literally where do I start. And how do I condense it into just a few sentences to share in the zoom comment box? I couldn’t reduce it to just that. But I had to write it out – so fair warning tl/dr!

It has been a year. A whole freaking year.

Friday, March 13, 2020 is when things started to hit home for me. The next week was spring break for my niece. We had planned a road trip to Louisiana and Atlanta for college visits. There had been word about some college campuses sending students home. I called the recruitment offices every day that week – no word on cancelling. But on Friday, amidst leadership meetings at work, planning for our inevitable remote work policy and process, I got two admission offices to finally tell me they were cancelling all in person tours. I decided the third I would cancel on my own – it wasn’t worth traveling 13 hours for one tour. After leaving work, I drove to pick up my stepson from school. I spent the entire time on the road (hour there and back) on the phone with hotels and car companies cancelling reservations. My heart hurt. We had just had parent teacher conferences for my niece, and she wasn’t doing her schoolwork, which was impacting her grades. We had a rough beginning of the semester. Her focus wasn’t on her schooling but rather the new boyfriend in her life. (Their relationship would collapse about a month and a half into quarantine – neither of them able to articulate what they needed from the other during this trying time.) Not only that, but in hopes to prepare her for the real world we put some additional responsibilities on her plate at home – cleaning the bathroom every weekend, doing her own laundry, managing her own $30 per week grocery shopping budget, taking the bus to school, and a new part-time job. She wasn’t happy about the changes and as any teenager would, let us know about it. She called during parent teacher conferences to ask if she could go to the movies with her boyfriend knowing she hadn’t done any of her chores or homework. I was frustrated with her and hopeful these college tours would get her inspired and back on track. I had another tour scheduled for April 10th in Memphis, surely we would be able to make the trip for that one! It was the same day as prom. We had yet to pick out a dress, we agreed to do shopping during the week of Spring Break. I can’t quite remember why we didn’t, maybe I had put it off until the weekend? Maybe I was waiting on confirmation on who was paying for the dress. As much as I had the money to spend, it was always a struggle to bring this up with her parents, and there had been too many times they promised to pay for something only to argue about it later. I felt taken advantage of. I was bitter – we already had her living in our house and instead of enforcing our reasoning and thinking they often gave her an out by complaining right along with her of our phone limitations and grocery budget.

The next Monday brought even more news – Her school announced that they would not be resuming classes for two weeks after spring break. Three whole weeks with no structure, and so much unknown. My stepson’s school would continue in-person classes until the end of the week, then distribute laptops, workbooks and plan for all students to work from home for the time being. Because my stepson lived on the other side of the river in another state, we had to pay attention to their rules and regulations. His state put a stay-at-home order in place first. Then ours the next day. Because we weren’t sure about if this meant we could drive back and forth getting him for our weekend, I asked him if he wanted to stay home that weekend. He said yes. His mom worked at a day care which was deemed unessential which meant she was laid off for an unknown time-period. I helped her manage community resources like applying for unemployment and calling our local resource center for additional support.

One of my best friends from college announced her pregnancy in January. The baby shower was planned for March. I was going to get an Airbnb and have an overnight visit with my two high school best friends. One worked for the government and kept saying we were going to have to cancel, I was holding out hope until the last minute. But she did eventually cancel. I hadn’t seen her in at least a year. My two high school best friends since the holidays. I was really looking forward to seeing and hugging them. Getting the much needed support from the three of them.

My niece worked at a company that was deemed an essential business which meant she was still working during the stay at home orders. It also meant constant discussions about the importance of wearing her mask the entire time she was at work. On numerous occasions though, I would visit her at work to find her mask on her chin. Her retort would be that she was behind plexiglass for most of the day, which wasn’t true as she had to walk around the plexiglass to scan customer items. We also fought about her wanting to hang out with her friends. Because it was spring we were open to the taking a walk in the park or hanging out outside, neither of which she was interested in, so instead she spent most days in her room. I attempted to put a schedule in place to manage phone time, physical activity, etc. things I knew were going to be important to manage all the changes that were impacting her mental health, even if it was unbeknownst to her. But it was a fight most days, and with so much else going on at work (I’ll get to that in a bit) I eventually gave up on the fight.

Her staying at work also meant that I turned my parents away when they wanted to come visit in April on their way back from Florida. There was too much room for exposure with my niece at work and I couldn’t risk it. Which means I didn’t get to see them for 7 months. My mom frequently voiced how much she missed us and wished we lived closer, that she speculated that this pandemic would make all the cousins who lived far away (myself included) consider moving back home just to have the village of support. I know she was expressing her own wishes and worries, but it pained me and made me feel extremely guilty for moving away, while also feeling super lonely and isolated.

Both my niece and stepsons school districts decided not to go back in person for the remainder of the semester, this meant no prom, or finals, and that my niece’s grades couldn’t go down but rather any work she DID only brought her grades up. Essentially giving her all A’s and one B. It was a fight to even get there. But nonetheless, we got there. On the last day of school I made banana pudding to try and mark the occasion with something different and fun. As we cut into the pie that evening, I checked in with her, asking how she felt about school and the pandemic. She said she felt good about the end of the semester. But she missed her mom and wanted to go home. My feelings we conflicted, I was exhausted from fighting over everything with her, but she only had one more year of school to go. At this point we were unsure if school would resume in person in the Fall. I didn’t want her to be just another unknown name on the roster at some new school. As much as it was a struggle to get her to do her work, she was doing it, she had built report and trust with the teachers and staff at her school here – I wasn’t sure if I was ready to let that go. But this is what she wanted and whether it be for the summer or for good, I needed a break. So I acquiesced. We asked her to give her two weeks at her job and we bought her a plane ticket. I later heard her complaining to a friend that we were “sending her home”, even tho she asked for it. I hated being made to seem like the evil Auntie.

In August, my stepson contracted COVID. He had started a job a burger joint in July, but was also participating in Band camp at school – the contract tracing wasn’t great and we still don’t know where he got it. The pro, or con, however you want to see it, was that we hadn’t seen him since the beginning of the month (our assigned visitation weekend was the first weekend of August, he didn’t’ get sick until the Wednesday before our next assigned weekend). His mom text that he was throwing up, I asked about a fever and she said no. I was sure it wasn’t COVID. But the test results came back on Monday and he was positive. Mom and her wife had to quarantine for 14 days and banished my stepson to his room. They considered sending him to quarantine with us (huh?!) but I explained why that wasn’t a good idea. After about 72 hours of aches and chills he felt better, but still was cordoned off in his room. We were lucky, I know too many people who lost family members to COVID.

I made sure to get a test that Tuesday. I stood in line for an hour and a half, and was lucky enough to get a rapid test. The result was negative. I tucked the results slip in my purse incase I needed to whip it out that weekend when I drove home. My family was having an outdoor socially distanced baby/wedding shower for two of my cousins. It would be the first time I saw my parents in almost seven months.

Two weeks after that I trekked back home again. This time it was to sing in my cousin’s wedding. I had signed up months ago to help with hair and makeup – my other cousin and I have become somewhat of a hair/makeup duo over the years. I usually prep and do the simple stuff while she puts a final fancy flair on everything – she’s brilliant. However, I was also recruited to sing at the ceremony. The first email had five songs, which wouldn’t be a problem. The next email had the music for the mass attached. I was confused. I checked in with the bride, my cousin. She explained that because of COVID the church would not be providing a cantor, and that was to be me…16 songs. I studied music in college, but hadn’t sang this many solo songs ever. Ever. Also, I didn’t grow up catholic, so I had NO clue where to plug each song into the mass. We definitely missed an entire song during the communion portion. All in all it went fine. My husband watched the ceremony on a live stream and gave me some much needed affirmation following the ceremony.

We decided to visit my parents the weekend before Thanksgiving. Although it was nice to see them there was so much anxiety around contracting the virus since cases were up in their state. When I returned home, I was sure to get a test, just so I felt ok about having my stepson and brother-in-law over for Thanksgiving dinner.

The week before Christmas was one of the hardest. My husband was working on a project implementation for work. They hit a snag and he was required to be up and on after hours to resolve the issue. The first night he was up until 6am. The next day he asked me to stay up with him. This was a huge step for him, since he’s Mr. Independent and doesn’t often as for help. I agreed and went to buy snacks for our long night. We were up past midnight the next two nights. During this time my Mother-in-law was the victim of an online scam. What made this even more scary/frustrating was that my Father had just had a similar experience but called me when the scammers asked him to go to CVS and purchase gift cards. Unfortunately, my Mother-in-law was so frightened by the scammers she didn’t call us until is was too late. She tried my husband first, but because he was swamped with work he wasn’t able to take her call. She called me and I spent 2 hours on the phone with her doing what we could. While I was dealing with all of this, I noticed a dull pain in my lower abdomen that got slowly more intense as the week went by. On Thursday I couldn’t handle it anymore and reached out to my primary care physician because I was sure it was digestive. After a series of tests, the doctors couldn’t pinpoint the issue and ordered an ultrasound. I got the results back on Friday and was told I had a cyst in my right ovary. Although it was a type of cyst that would correct itself over time, it was just too much for me to handle and I broke down crying. I’m sure the nurses were rolling their eyes at my perceived overreaction, but I just couldn’t be strong anymore.

Christmas and New Years were filled with zoom calls and Facetime. I think my parents really struggled being alone. And I was doing my best to manage the virtual element of the holidays with the in-person activities I was still able to have with my stepson and brother-in-law. I was ready to enter the new year and hopefully get back on track. But January was filled with cold weather and a deep, dark depression as I yearned to be surrounded by friends and family in person.

My 35th birthday was at the end of February and things have started to look up. I was very intentional in telling people what I wanted to do for my birthday and they delivered! I was so filled with love. Many of my family members have been able to get vaccinated and I’m hopeful our household will be able to soon as well.

I know this seems like word vomit, but I think we are all feeling a level of overwhelmed and uncertainty. I am not saying my situation is harder, or worse, or better, or whatever, from anyone else. But this is my experience and I needed to put pen to paper to express and better understand what my experience actually was. With the anniversary of the start of the pandemic just having passed, I’m reflecting and mourning all the loss. The college trips, the girl trips, the college applications, the dance concerts, the band performances, date nights, dance classes, workout classes, happy hours, hugs. Through all of this my counselor has been freaking phenomenal, my husband and I have been able to have a lot of down time and bond in a different way. I am thankful for the love and support we’ve been able to provide for each other and I’m looking forward to moving beyond the pandemic soon. But best believe, I will be wearing a mask for a while just to be safe! #MaskUp!

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