Quarantine: Month 1

Posted: April 20, 2020 in real life
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As a writer (specifically in the horror genre), I have imagined many diverse situations and places, written numerous scary and fantastical scenarios. I have dreamed up what I think the apocalypse could look like in more than one way. Yet I never imagined a global pandemic or living in quarantine, and even if I had, I don’t think I would have painted it like this.

When the quarantine started, I told myself that I would capitalize on the confined time, that I would force myself to finally finish editing my novel, catch up on this blog, do all the writing and authorly things. Those things have not happened. Lockdown has had a strange paralytic effect on my motivation. While I have cleaned all the things (more than once) and have creativity climbing the sides of my brain, I seem inept in expressing and channeling it lately.

While my creative writing has temporarily abandoned me, I do find myself falling back to journalling. It makes sense since I only turn to that page to unravel my mind when it is confused or contorted. And it only seems right to document what this looks like and feels like for later.

So, instead of stories, here are random streams of consciousness that I have been processing through…

One month in quarantine. It is strange to say and even more weird how it has become a new normal in that time. Life has stopped for this. It is surreal, unprecedented. The entire experience is so bizarre that it is difficult to wrap my head around at different moments.

Quarantine did not begin very smoothly for us. Our home revolted against having its residents inside so much. A pipe broke and flooded the basement. Then as we rotated towels through the dryer trying to deal with that, the dryer broke. Then cleaning a bathroom, a pipe under the sink started leaking. Repairing that, the adjacent pipe cracked and also started leaking. That pipe was not standard so took multiple attempts to fix (ultimately in another nonstandard way). The dryer belt had to be special ordered, and Amazon delivered a motor before delivering the correct belt. Our dog pounced on a window and cracked it, so it had to be taped together. For a while, I was scared to breathe too hard or touch anything, lest a wall just fall down or something else start spurting water.

The first two weeks were the hardest. They always are. It is amazing how much about myself I learned in my very brief time in Iraq. From how fucking miserable I was in Baghdad, I knew I would be OK after two weeks–and I was. That is my adaptation period. Then I slipped into some kind of acceptance, some kind of complacency.

I haven’t really left the house at all in these weeks. I have run an errand or two, taken my kid to a doctor checkup. That’s it. I stopped running. I haven’t seen anyone except my parents through the front window. Every day is the same, except some days I don’t work or fail at homeschooling. We have deep cleaned the entire house. This is the exact opposite of my pre-COVID life. While I did want to simplify and reign in everything, this is the exact opposite of the life I want. And yet global pandemic offers such an overshadowing perspective. It is bigger than me or my wants or my inconveniences.

True to humans, the stupidity in our reactions eclipses the danger in the actual situation. Despite the fact that the vast majority of the species will survive the virus, people have decided this is the end. They have panic bought all the toilet paper, meat, bread, and eggs. They ransack the stores and stand in endless lines to buy things that make no sense and will spoil before they consume them. Our comfort is showing when we fall apart at the mere suggestion of tragedy. We don’t even have to see it. We won’t know what to do when it’s real. I feel all the same disgust I felt after Iraq, the same disillusionment and disappointment.

Most Americans have enjoyed a very comfortable, sheltered, and entitled existence for generations. Most of us have never felt discomfort or fear like this before so insulated in our decadent comfort. Wars have raged for decades so distant that we have been able to live on as if they were never happening at all. At the slightest rattle, we are willing to fight for toilet paper that won’t save us. I can’t shake the perspective of how much worse it could be, how much more real and awful the world has always been for other people.

So I, the whiny depressive perpetually discontent, am strangely acceptant and complacent in all this. As others around me complain about the end of the world and mourn the nonessential things they are losing or delaying, I just haven’t. It’s uncharacteristic of me, this zen perspective. I hate staying in; I hate when plans change; the kids being home stresses me out. I should be freaking out. I distantly worry about what will ultimately happen with all of this, but otherwise I am satisfied with this being for the greater good.

What the fuck? That’s not me.

I think about my grandfather losing his mother and siblings to the influenza epidemic in Chicago in the 1920s. I think about all the reports I read in Iraq where that was people’s daily reality. I want to save the panic and despair for where it belongs, which is vividly ironic since I had been pinned under depression for months right before this. Unwarranted and beyond characteristic depression. Three months unrelenting, unheard of since I was a lost teenager drowning myself in depressants. I could not figure out what triggered it or how to get out from under it. Yet it dissolved in the face of this global pandemic. In the face of this global pandemic, I snapped into this calm perspective.

Yet, it is not as simple as awkward acceptance. My emotions are never so simple.

There is also such a feeling of derailment. Prior to quarantine, despite the lies my depression tried to whisper to me, life was going very well. My children, in particular, were honestly in such great places, moving smoothly along such fantastic trajectories–and now that’s all gone. It’s a touch heartbreaking, but that is how life goes sometimes. You can’t rage against a global pandemic.

My paranoia grows legs sometimes and begins to walk away with me. I swing between it being an inevitable virus we will all endure and become immune to and agoraphobia to keep my husband out of the hospital until after the theoretical peak.

I stumble across such pockets of rage in my complacency. I am fine until something tips me off balance. If I feel like shit or get overwhelmed or another pipe starts leaking, the entire house of cards implodes in my head. The flash fire rages over me, and I feel alive again before settling back into this flatline of complacency.

I miss life. I miss everyone and everything. If I really consider it, it rips my heart out. Doing everything over a computer screen or through a glass window or six feet away is terrible.

However, I know from previous unpleasant chapters, that life does not miss me. It continues on unaffected, as if I never existed, and will welcome me back when I return, as if I never left. Because just as my problems do not matter to the pandemic, my absence does not matter to the world. But I know (or so I tell myself), from my own past chapters and from my grandfather surviving the influenza epidemic, that this will pass. It may be a long and messy chapter, but it will close, and life will be on the other side, waiting.

That life from before March is GONE–for now. And for a long while. As much as I can (and probably will) grieve that, I just don’t right now.

Instead, I worry constantly about what this will do to my children. How this will scare and shape them; how they will interpret, process, and internalize this; how this will affect their social development and education; on and on. But this is their chapter to live. I know I can’t choose it for them or shield them from it any more than I could change my parents getting divorced or the Twin Towers coming down or the car coming into my mother-in-law’s lane. I never wanted to shelter my children from life. Instead, I need to keep my shit together and teach them how to deal. This all will be so formative, and I can make that better or worse as their mother.

I hope there is normalcy and recovery on the other side of this. I know normalcy is never promised; I know life is never promised. But I also know that humanity and society persist after so many varied catastrophies. Right now, it is the unknown, and that’s terrifying. In truth, every day is unknown, but they all look deceivingly safe and familiar. Once that veil is pulled aside though, we are so fundamentally shaken. I am fundamentally shaken right now. For many reasons. Which leaves everything around me feeling surreal. And I fear the longer we shelter (hide) alone in our houses, the more distorted things will become.

I am quite curious, assuming things return to normal, about the psychological/sociological/cultural effects of all this. What weird ticks will my kids develop from this experience? Compulsive hand washing? Paper goods hoarding? Will people interact the same after or will there be social distancing echoes? After going more virtual, will we come back to the physical? Seeing all the flaws in our systems, will we make changes or just be complacent again? I want to be on the other side asking these questions, not here in the shadow of the incoming wave.

Yet I cannot complain about our individual quarantine. I acknowledge that I write this from a place of privilege where I am still fully employed with access to all the things I need. I haven’t lost my job yet from the shutdowns or the economic response. I am not a healthcare worker or other essential employee that has to be out dealing with people. Our only exposure scare turned out to be false. We are, at worse, currently inconvenienced.

If you took our situation out of context, you could assume it was all deliberate. We are both still fully employed. We have food, shelter, internet. We could be seen to be homeschooling our children and living that simplified life we set intention toward this year. However, it is the causality that changes things, everything that is happening outside this house. It is the involuntary disconnect and isolation that makes this different. It is the big, scary unknown looming out in the world that makes this different.

“Live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” is what I have been quoting to myself for years, what I have tattooed into my wrist. I told myself I would not waste days or minutes because there was no guarantee on how many I had or how many of them would be good. While I have always manifested that mantra by going out and doing all the things and filling every second of my life, it doesn’t mean I can’t extract value from the quieter times I’m experiencing now. Just because quarantine is not what I want does not mean it has to be all bad.

All of this quiet family time is not a bad thing. All of this forced simplicity is not a bad thing. If we have to be here, we might as well find good things about the time. We might as well use it to our advantage rather than be miserable. It doesn’t work every day; some days, the cards fall, and I’m a fucking mess. But some days, I listen to the kids play made up games for hours in a way we never had time for before.

I will edit my novel, if it kills me. I will find my way out of the journal and back into my fictitious writing. I have a couple other projects in mind to outlet the writhing creative energy. If I can keep my mind busy, perhaps I can keep it calm as this situation unfolds.

 

Christina Bergling

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Comments
  1. This has been disorienting for so many of us — even those of us still working as “essential” … the guilt of getting to keep a job, the worry of what it would mean if “essential” is unsustainable… the daily assault of tragic information… My moments of peace come when I recapture memories of my pre-technology youth…where sitting in a room with no sound and a print book in my hands, with a spiral notebook and pencil slows the pace of panic or paranoia. Who knows where this will end? How it will end? Maybe I should read more science fiction to decide for myself the options out there. But I DO know that unless we spoil it, we still have it better in this country than so many. Question is: will we see that in time to stop the bad stuff hiding on the horizon?

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