On March 19, 2020 – just a little over a year ago – the governor of my state enacted a “shelter-in-place” order, in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic exploding out of control throughout the world. It wasn’t long before then that I’d first heard of the coronavirus, and I had no idea what shelter-in-place even meant.
Since that time, it has become a way of life for me – and for many other people worldwide. In some respects, I can’t believe an entire year has passed, yet in other ways, that March day feels like a lifetime ago. In today’s post, I reflect back upon the past year and share my feelings about life in this radically changed world.
Swept Up in a Panic
Before the pandemic, I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the news, so it took me longer than most to become swept up in the panic of the virus’s impending global threat. As a society, we’d lived through multiple previous viruses that were predicted to infect and kill masses of people, yet those diseases either didn’t rise to such heights or didn’t reach the Western world. They were indeed serious and deadly, but they didn’t impact our lives much beyond learning of their devastation and feeling sadness for those who had been afflicted. I fully expected the coronavirus to be much like those other infections. I scoffed at the people filling their grocery carts to the brim, shaking my head at how gullible they were for believing the media hysteria.
But this time, I was wrong and those who were panicking were right. This virus was indeed something to fear and guard ourselves against. The shelter-in-place order was like a bucket of ice-cold water being dumped over my head. I knew we were in trouble this time around, and I knew I needed to take things seriously and heed the warnings. My husband and I purchased extra provisions – food, water, cleaning supplies, toilet paper – and got used to staying inside our home, with the exception of evening walks and periodic grocery runs.
Suspended in Time
Soon after the shelter-in-place started, I began to feel like we were all suspended in time. Life as we knew it had been placed on hold – indefinitely. I don’t think anyone expected this alternate way of life to last longer than a few months at most, so we did what human beings do during hard times. We adapted…. It didn’t take long before we settled into a sort of quiet rhythm, and one day blurred into the next, and the next, and the next.
Early on, some aspects of the change were actually welcomed by many, as the lockdowns allowed us to slow our pace of life way down and reconnect with what was truly important to us. Last spring and summer, I remember more frequent interactions (virtual) with family and friends who had previously been too caught up in the busyness of their jobs and lives to keep in touch.
I also recall strings of days speeding by rapidly, with little to show for the passage of time. Like many other people, I thought I would accomplish more with fewer distractions from “normal life,” but instead I got far less done. I had the best of intentions, but I found myself zoning out, as my mind drifted toward existential questions for which neither I nor anyone else had the answers.
Masking and the “New Normal”
I started paying increased attention to news, both online and on television. The virus numbers kept increasing, and soon my country topped the infection and death rate charts. For the first time since 9/11, the eyes of the entire world were on the United States, as tragedy mounted and compounded. Despite having the largest economy on earth and the most sophisticated medical system, there was little we could do to stem the tide of this unstoppable force.
In an effort to reduce viral spread, mask orders were enacted across the country and we were forced to cover our faces whenever we were inside businesses or in close proximity to other people. I could appreciate the necessity of face coverings, but it took me a long time to get used to breathing with a thick layer of paper or fabric over my nose and mouth. I’ve grown accustomed to wearing a mask when I’m around others, but I doubt I’ll ever stop feeling sad about the disappearance of smiles and warm greetings. I don’t think I’ll ever not feel heartbroken that instead of loving our neighbors, we now fear them. I don’t think I’ll ever be okay with looking out into a sea of faceless individuals where I once saw the variety and texture of human expressions.
I railed against the term “new normal” for a long time. I didn’t want to accept that our previous way of life was “gone with the wind.” I didn’t want to believe that the new way of living was here to stay. It wasn’t all bad, though. There were some aspects of the changed world that I didn’t mind so much. I didn’t miss the handshakes, as I’ve always wished we would instead adopt the Japanese custom of bowing to greet our fellow citizens. I also welcomed the lessening of pressure around social gatherings. As an introvert, I often have a love-hate relationship with such occasions. On the one hand, I crave human interaction, but I also have to gear myself up for it and spend abundant time alone afterwards to replenish my energy.
At first, I didn’t miss having to figure out what to wear when leaving the house. Since all I was doing was going for walks and braving masked essential shopping, I simply wore exercise clothes every… single… day. I initially enjoyed the respite from self-consciousness around my appearance, but a few months in, I longed to get dressed up and do something “normal” again. I missed going to restaurants, coffee shops, the mall, and the movies. I also missed having errands feel mundane and stress-free.
Counting My Blessings and Feeling Both Sad and Numb
Even as I railed against the inconvenience to my life. I knew that I should count my blessings. After all, my family and friends were all still okay. I hadn’t – and still haven’t – lost a loved one to the deadly wave of Covid-19. I also didn’t have to risk my life as an “essential worker” or wear an uncomfortable and stifling mask for eight hours or more each day. I had the freedom to choose to stay at home most of the time, where I felt safe and could breathe freely.
As I saw the death toll rising exponentially, I felt a deep sadness for those who had succumbed to the virus – and for their loved ones who either didn’t get to say goodbye to them or had to settle for a phone or Zoom farewell. It was heartbreaking to even ponder the deep pain and grief these people were experiencing.
After many days of crying for the thousands of dead Americans and their loved ones, I simply went numb. I could no longer bear to experience the pain of the senseless loss and destruction, especially when there was virtually nothing I could do to help. Sure, I donated to charities as I could, but I felt so helpless to do much of anything in the midst of such tremendous agony and loss.
All most of us could do was watch and wait, as the days plodded by, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly. We slipped into essentially a time warp, in which some days seemed interminable and others felt like they passed in the blink of an eye. And so it went, for months and months on end – and here we are, a year later.
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
I haven’t seen most of my family and friends since before March 2020. I’m sure many of you can relate…. For much of the past year, I feared for the safety of my aging parents, but I was recently able to breathe a sigh of relief after they were both vaccinated. Several younger family members have also been inoculated due to their professions (teaching and medicine), but the rest of us will have to wait our turn for our “jabs,” which could still be months away here in California. It’s weird to think that at age 54, I’m actually too young for anything, but that’s currently the case with the vaccine.
Things are finally starting to open up where I live. Just two Fridays ago, the movie theaters opened their doors for the first time in over a year. I can finally see a film on the big screen again, but of course it won’t be the same as before. As is the case pretty much everywhere, masks are required, and theaters will only be filled to a quarter of their normal capacity. I haven’t decided yet if I want to continue to enjoy movies from the comfort of my own home (on a much smaller screen but with no mask) or assume some level of risk and discomfort in order to view the Oscar-nominated films and performances as they were intended to be seen.
Growing Accustomed to a New Way of Life
Against my own best efforts, I’ve become accustomed to a new way of life. Rather than feeling upset at not being able to visit certain places or do certain things, I’m now used to spending almost all of my time at home. Granted, I didn’t exactly have a rich social life before Covid and I was still at home the bulk of the time back then, but I did appreciate getting together with friends a few times each month and attending movies and visiting restaurants with my husband most weekends.
Now it feels like it will require a Herculean effort to muster the energy to do those types of activities. I also wonder if I even want to do them in a way that’s still so different from the “before times” (which sometimes feels like a thousand years ago). I can brave the dreaded mask for grocery shopping and other errands, but I’ve generally chosen not to do non-essential tasks if I have to don a face covering in order to do them. I rarely go shopping anymore because it’s just not fun and comfortable to browse clothing racks and try things on with a mask on my face, and forget about hiking or similar physical activities. I just don’t want to do it. We recently cancelled our long-on-hold gym membership after it became apparent that working out in a mask (and until recently, outdoors) would be de rigueur for the foreseeable future.
When Will This End?
How long will this go on? Now that the vaccines are here and are being rapidly distributed across the country and around the world, will we finally be free to return to our previous way of life? Or will the doomsday predictors be accurate about the need to mask up until 2022 – and beyond? Will we reach herd immunity sometime during 2021, or will the variants lead to yet another surge that will set back any progress that has recently been made?
Will the great divide that stretches across our country, in which a mask has become a political statement – or even a weapon, ever end? Sure, I don’t like the masks, but I don’t view them as a form of political oppression or a symbol of anti-Americanism, as many others seem to. I feel despair that people are so on edge and angry at each other. What happened to “we’re all in this together”? Or was that just an empty cliché?
I hope we can continue to weather the storm and soon emerge on the other side of this mess. I hope the doomsayers are wrong and 2021 will indeed be the year when the pandemic ends. I hope I won’t need to write another essay like this one six months or a year from now. I hope to instead write an uplifting post declaring my elation at the return to “normalcy” sometime before the end of this year – and perhaps even prior to my birthday in August.
Keeping Hope Alive
I do my best to remain positive, but this year has challenged that perspective more than any other in recent memory. But I’m still here…. And those who are reading this are all still here – and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for my life, I’m grateful for the vaccine, I’m grateful for hope, and I’m grateful for the triumph of the human spirit. We may be beaten down, but we will prevail.
I’ll close this essay with a few empowering quotes from historical figures who eloquently expressed the importance of hope for the future. I hope their words will provide you with some comfort, and I wish you all the best in the coming months, as we as a society – and as a world – work to defeat our collective enemy and rise like a phoenix from the pervasive sea of despair. Many blessings to you, my virtual friends.
“We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu
16 thoughts on “Pandemic – One Year In…”
Another powerful and thought provoking post Debbie.I love how you write!
We have been so lucky here, in that we only had 2 lockdowns, one that lasted for 6 weeks and the other a full week. We have been back to normal other than those episodes. I was wary at first, but to be honest havent minded the hiatus from normal life. Of course not people getting sick or anything just the nice break from the crazy we had befor,e the endless shopping. running around etc. It did make me stop and think and I liked what I saw. I saw home in a different light, peoples behaviour and more. I still would not go to a cinema and other things like that that involve crowds even though I think we dont have any threat here. A lot of people are rushing back to ‘normal’ too prematurely I think, they are booking holidays etc and when another wave hits they get angry and annoyed. Pandemics and diseases were something that poorer countries had, but not us in the west. It should open our eyes and learn the lessons that we as humans need to learn. Maybe there is something more out there than the old normal, but I fear all that will be swept away as soon as everyone gets back out again and this period in our lives will just be seen as something we got through and nothing more than that. Just a few of my thoughts on this topic.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Krissie. I’m glad you liked this post. I don’t remember where you live (I think you mentioned it before?), but it sounds like Covid hasn’t been as awful there. I like the healthy perspective you have on this whole episode of life. I agree that there are some positives of it, including increased gratitude for some of the simpler things in life, as well as the people we hold most dear. I agree with you that some people are rushing back too quickly to “normal” activities, when there is still a lot of virus out there (especially in the U.S. and many parts of Europe). I do hope people will learn from this, but I know a lot won’t. Maybe it will lead some of us to slow down more, though, and count our blessings. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts.
For me there were a few outstanding features in this pandemic experience. The way I have perceived the element of time seems almost bizarre: As I empty the dishwasher after our main meal every afternoon, so many times I think, “Wow. I feel like I just did this an hour–not a day–ago. Time is going by so fast in this new routine of isolation.” then, on the other hand, some days and nights have seemed soo long, especially early on when we went NOwhere due to my husband’s lack of immunity from medicine he was on at the time. How can it be both ways? Whole seasons flew by, yet some days never seemed to end.
Also, like Debbie, I am an introvert with a very active inner landscape. I replay conversations from elementary school still, and I am 74! With all this freed-up pandemic time at home, I am thinking about the past way too much for it to be healthy. It sometimes feels almost like a replay and review of my life before it picks up again.
The other phenomenon is my extreme disappointment in the human race, fellow Americans in particular. I cannot comprehend why people are so resistant to masking up, to staying out of crowds, to patiently waiting. I, too, want to see my kids and grandkids; I, too, want to choose my own produce; I, too, want to eat food someone other than myself has cooked. And now that many of us seniors are vaccinated, why can’t more of us wait a bit longer and make sure we are not carrying viral particles to unvaccinated people?
Here we are on the precipice of another possible surge, with Spring Break and overly eager business people opening up with the encouragement of government officials in some places. Come on, people, think!
Thanks to Debbie and other intelligent bloggers, novelists, journalists for providing us all with reading materials and thoughts and for making us feel less alone. I hope there is hope.
Thank you for weighing in on this topic, Gail. I relate to a lot of what you wrote. The perception of time is one of the strangest aspects of this whole episode. I wonder why that is… I’m sure someone has written about it, so maybe I just need to Google it. Yes, having too much time on our hands can be dangerous for us introspective introverts. I’ve always been a deep thinker, but there CAN be too much of a good thing where that’s concerned! I share your disappoint with much of the human race in all of this. I hate that there is so much of a political element in a health crisis, but that seems to be the way things go, sadly. I hope the vaccines will be able to outrun people’s rush to get back to gathering in large crowds. It’s scary to consider another surge, and I hope it doesn’t happen. I miss doing a lot of things, but I continue to be careful and wear the masks even though I don’t like them (does anyone like them really?) I do think there’s hope and I do believe we’ll get past this. I hope a lot more people don’t have to die before that happens, though. It’s such a tragedy… I’m glad my writing helps you to feel less alone during this challenging time. I’m happy that I can do at least some good in all of this.
This a beautiful meditation on the last year, the changes, and the sadness. I still feel guilty about being so perfectly comfortable with the situation, when people all around are either dying or working around the clock to prevent others from dying. But I can’t deny the joy I felt each morning last March when I went outside and there was no cloud of smog, or the incredible peace of hearing only birdsong – no cars, no planes, no gas mowers or blowers, nothing. It made think of what our world could be like, if we could only remember all this in the future. I would like to keep that hope for the future, but unfortunately people are already crowding the freeways and restaurants, with 16% of our population vaccinated and the mask order lifted. Maybe it’s just me and the other 1% of the population that thrives on complete solitude and quiet, who have really enjoyed this year-long reprieve from “normalcy.”
Totally agree with you
Thank you for your compliment on my post, Katrina. No need to feel guilty with being comfortable with the situation. That of course doesn’t mean that you lack compassion for those who are dying or the medical professionals who are working to prevent deaths. You have outlined some of the positive points about the “pause” we’ve experienced over the past year plus. I wish we could find some sort of “happy medium” in terms of the busyness of society and being locked down and not able to do many of the things we love. I see people going back to the way things were prematurely, too, but I suspect this situation is much worse in other parts of the country (and maybe other parts of the world, too). We still have a mask order here in California and I rarely see anyone disobeying it indoors (but I sadly do see some who have their masks down below their noses). I do hope people will learn something from this interlude, but I know that some will and many won’t. I try to keep hopeful for recovery and improvement, but it’s not always easy…
Nearly twenty years ago, after September 11th, in addition to feeling rocked in terms of security, I never felt more connected to my fellow Americans.
Over the past year, I have often felt the opposite.
Thankfully, I usually stick pretty close to home, rarely watch the news, and am able to avoid much of the friction outside my cocoon. But every three weeks or so, my husband and I stock up at the grocery store, like we did this Wednesday. There, we saw several people who had ignored the scientist’s warnings, signs on the door, brazenly walking the aisles of the store bare-faced.
I take it personally.
Last March, my sister was undergoing chemotherapy for her recently diagnosed metastatic breast cancer. Her immune system was severely compromised. If she had come in contact with the wrong person during that time, she quite possibly would not have survived it. Today, she is cancer-free, and her doctor has estimated less than a 15% chance of her cancer returning. Her immune system is near normal, and she’s been vaccinated. But there are other loved ones out there who are immune-compromised, as well as the people who live with and care for them. When I see people (presumably) intentionally defying scientists’ recommendations, I make all kinds of assumptions regarding their character. Their apparent lack of concern and compassion for others angers, disappoints, and saddens me.
But on Wednesday, after all those negative feelings set in, I tried on a different way of thinking. I tried to focus on the far greater percentage of shoppers who were wearing masks, and for the first time in a long time, I felt some of that connectedness I experienced all those years ago.
I’m going to try to keep this in mind the next time we go to the store!
I’m so happy to hear that your sister is cancer-free, Jenn, and I hope she will remain that way. I can imagine that you were very scared for her during the height of the pandemic and before she was vaccinated. Yes, there are many people out there who are still in danger and are being placed at risk by those who ignore scientists’ warnings and state and local mandates. I think the situation is better here in California (at least near where I live) than in a lot of other places, as I rarely see what you mentioned about the grocery store. But like you, I’m usually in my cocoon and don’t interact that much with others, except for the errands I need to run, so it may be going on more than I realize.
I like the new way of thinking you have adopted! It’s true that there are far more people who DO heed the warnings and rules and do express caring and consideration for others. This is like a “glass half full” way of looking at things, and I think it will lead to more peace and less frustration. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and new perspective with us. Best wishes to your sister!
Thank you Debbie for this reflection. Kind of what I needed tonight as I sit here missing family and spending a second Easter in our respective homes away from each other. I get my first vaccine shot on Monday – many other family members (mother in law, brother in law’s, etc..) have received theirs. My husband will get his second shot on April 10th. We are hoping that we can finally see our granddaughter for her second birthday – we all had to miss the first birthday. I get so frustrated with the lack of unity in trying to come to a better outcome with all of this. Today, I went to Macy’s just to return some dresses I had bought online. We have a very small gathering this summer for our daughter (whose wedding has been postponed twice). Anyway, I was looking for a dressy cocktail dress so I ordered about 20 dresses and it was so nice to try everything on at home, have someone there to zip me up and not have to wear a mask the whole time. As I was standing at the counter, another woman came up to the second register and the clerk asked her if she had a mask since she did not have one on. She seemed surprised that he would even ask ….she said, ‘do I need one’. I stood there in disbelief because literally every door and sign at the entrance indicates that masks must be worn. I counted at least 13 signs at the entrance. She then said – oh I am immune, I have the antibodies??? I seriously had to hold on to the counter so that I wouldn’t turn to her and smack her in the head (and I am a very peaceful introvert). The area I live in has a lot of idiots like that but I still shake my head every time I encounter this kind of situation. I applaud those businesses who refuse service to those who refuse to wear masks. Unfortunately, most of these workers don’t make a lot of money and simply aren’t going to be confrontational with customers (in fact, in some stores – they told me they are not allowed to confront). I feel like it drives the rest of us deeper into isolation because there is even a higher chance of transmission. We have not seen our mother (mother in law for me) in over a year. Her physical and mental decline has been disconcerting. We hope to go out in May to see her but we don’t know if she will know us. Last time my husband called, she told one of the nurses or helpers that it was her brother… Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts. As usual, you highlight perspectives that many of us are also feeling. Wishing you continued health and peace as we move towards a more hopeful horizon. Susan L.
Thank you so much for your comment, Susan. I hope all went well today with your first vaccine shot! At the time when I wrote this essay, I thought it might be a long time before I could get the vaccine, but then California opened it up to ages 50-64 last week and my husband and I are booked for Wednesday now. I’m sorry you’ve had to go so long without seeing family, and I really hope you’ll be able to see your granddaughter for her second birthday. I also hope your mother-in-law will know you and be happy to see you when you’re able to visit (hopefully soon). I can imagine that seniors in care facilities are hit the hardest by what’s going on, not just physically but mentally as well.
Your experience in Macy’s sounds awful. I’m sure it must have been hard not to go off on that woman, even as a peaceful introvert (which is what I am, too, but all of our patience has been tried over and over again lately)! I feel for the store employees who have to deal with trying to enforce mask policies on top of the already difficult situation of working with the public during a pandemic. Some people can be so difficult and it makes me both sad and angry.
Sending positive wishes your way, too! I’m glad this post was valuable to you.
My husband and I have been on lockdown sinc last Febuary. I am a dialysis patient and have many other medical issues so I am very high risk. ere told by our physicians not to go anyhere. My husband does the grocery shopping and almart shopping. I am a introvert ho has become much to comfortable staying at home. My shopping has really increased during this pandemic. I guess that’s how I deal with stress! I have almost given up controling my shopping at this point but I do stay ithin my alotted budget!
Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Natalie. I can imagine this must have been a very difficult and scary time for you as a high-risk person. My mom is in a high-risk group, too, and has struggled with compulsive behavior and depression more during this past year. I deal with stress by shopping, too, so I get it! For awhile after the lockdown started, I wasn’t shopping much at all (I think I was just in shock and living in total survival mode), but then when everything kept being extended and getting worse, I shopped more, too, especially last fall/winter. Good for you for staying within your budget even if you’re shopping a lot. That’s still a big accomplishment, especially given all of the stress! I’m glad you have your husband to do the shopping. I hope that things will improve for all of us soon. Best wishes to you!
Debbie, thank you for a thoughtful, well-considered post. Sadly, my temperament is one that isn’t very patient with BS – especially of the kind that Susan observed at Macy’s. Fortunate is the one that has no relative or friend that has contracted the disease. My previously healthy 57-year-old first cousin, who served as an assistant DA in San Antonio, contracted the virus. He almost died. Silver lining was he got married (over Zoom…no less); he’s still on oxygen 24/7 and it’s been five months. He’s 57. No telling when his lungs will be back to normal. My entire great niece’s family – including her 2-month-old newborn contracted it, and he 20-something husband was very ill. Did I mention that the mask-wearing in that north Texas city is minimal? It is difficult, especially as a liberal, to be sympathetic. And the medical professionals and essential workers in Houston – the largest medical center in the world and, arguably, the most prestigious – are taking their lives in their hands every day they go to work. (My husband is one of them.) I’m done with it – with their excuses and their willful ignorance.
I appreciate your sharing your thoughts and experiences, PR Gal. That’s awful about your cousin, but I’m glad he pulled through (as well as your great niece and her family) and I hope his lungs will eventually be back to normal. So scary to still be on oxygen full-time five months later. It’s a blessing that he was able to get married even if the midst of such a great struggle. I feel for your husband and all of the medical workers and essential workers. They are all heroes in the midst of this and they deserve all of our respect and gratitude. The fact that this pandemic has been politicized is tragic, as well as divisive and dangerous. I can imagine that many people are fed up with others’ behavior. Where I am, we don’t see the types of things I read about (and that you and others have shared about here) and I’m grateful for that. I wish there weren’t so many mixed messages and infighting going on. It can be hard to remain hopeful, but it’s encouraging that the vaccines are being rolled out so quickly. There’s still a long way to go, though. I guess we all have to just hang in there and do our best. We can’t control the behavior of others, sadly.
By the way, it’s me Catherine. I changed the moniker on my account recently!
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