A Year Living the Pandemic

Today is one year since I first reacted to the oncoming pandemic threat and made necessary lifestyle changes. A year ago, I flew back from the Baltimore Pen Show, somewhat nervous, yet conscious of a risk I might catch COVID-19 (albeit a low one at the time). I also had the odd feeling it would be my last flight, or traveling anywhere, for a while.

I knew when I flew to Baltimore things were getting real on the West Coast, but not yet in Michigan. That changed by the time I flew back. Indications were increasing that Michigan would mandate, if not the whole country, a lockdown.

I’ve always been wary of flying, since airplanes are essentially high-flying germ laboratories. That wariness combined with anxiety over whether anyone on board came from the West Coast, or worse, from the Far East, made for an uneasy flight. During those innocent early days we were not yet savvy on the science of this contagion, so masks on that flight weren’t the fashion statement they are now.

Nobody back then would believe we’d be here a year later knowing the virus rampaged our country killing over 500,000 Americans (20% of worldwide deaths) and infecting over 26 million of us (23% of worldwide cases). And who can estimate the extent of damage economically, socially, or worse, mentally, from the onslaught of COVID-19? We’ve crossed over into new, uncharted territory for certain.

It’ll Be Over Soon

We all likely thought this would be a short-term effort to avoid contagion, and like most flu-like bugs, would soon play out. Still is a matter of time, but the scale shifted from hoping for soon to realizing it’s now an open-ended, who-knows-when window for the foreseeable future. I think many Americans adopted the classic American attitude of NIMBY (not in my backyard) and went on with their merry, socializing lives.

When I got home after Baltimore, my housemate and I altered things to improve our odds of staying healthy and not impacting others. Common-sense steps soon emerged to limit outside trips and exposure to only essentials, mask up when outside, sanitize everything incoming, and of course, begin the pandemic two-step dance we’d all come to love: don’t touch your face, and wash your hands like a surgeon. We used up hand lotion quickly until our hands eventually acclimated to the abuse.

We continued grocery runs and library visits (they would soon shutter), but did more targeting of visits during hours with the fewest shoppers. Alas, my beloved and frequent coffee shop and library hauntings came to an abrupt stop. Another related banning ceased my all-day outings via bus to putz around downtown Ann Arbor. Oh, how I miss those coffee shops and downtown days! I took both for granted and didn’t fully appreciated them as I should have… obvious now in hindsight.

Soon we were in the trenches with the masses trying to find and buy masks, gloves, disinfectant, and toilet paper. Through all of it, we never lost our humor, nor did the Internet, forever a source of laughs and giggles from the deluge of memes around hoarding toilet paper at least. From that first taste of wartime-like rationing, it just got more fun. Months crawled by. We couldn’t name the day but could the date, sort of. And some months seemed to have not 30, but 60 days. Endlessness.

Rear-View Mirror

Looking back over the year, I coped well and progressed in many areas, aided by being a natural introvert. But I am cognizant many, many others suffered and were not in the stable mindset and financial place I was. To them, the pandemic was far beyond inconvenience into the realm of a deadly and life-altering plague. So many have suffered, many more than should have. Poor timing on the virus’ part to show up when our country was enduring the worst leadership in its history combined with a lack of empathy at the helm. Political ego, narcissism, greed, and lies remain high on the list of reasons we’ve suffered the staggering deaths and contagions.

It was also a year I was greatly helped by a kiss of serendipitous timing. At the close of 2019, several key events and decisions would set me up to better survive the year ahead in relative happiness and possibilities:

  • My housemate and I swapped rooms, and I took the larger one which helped me set up a writer’s studio for my expected work ahead. This room proved to be an ideal retreat to spend most of my days. Conducive to reading, studying, and writing, it would provide some solace over my loss of coffee-shop hopping. With most of the room devoted to these activities, lockdown was, and continues to be, bearable.
  • In the fall of 2019, I revived my online stationery shop, thinking it would embrace my stationery passions while providing a consistent, part-time activity offsetting the mental energies needed for writing. An added plus would be the online socializing and community building with like-mind stationery geeks through Notegeist, the shop I launched on January 2, 2020.

The two other planned efforts for 2020 would sadly not happen, namely writing leading to publishing (the shop quickly took all my focus and became full-time), and my beginning a multi-year, major travel effort enabled by stopping my full-time RVing and the selling the van in October 2019.

Forward With Renewed Hope

At the end of 2020 I was ready to shut down the shop and head into 2021, positioned (finally) to write full time. And travel? Still have to wait (maybe in 2022?), but do expect I’ll get some Michigan camping bursts in this coming summer.

Life under a pandemic eventually settled into a different “normal” than we’ve known, once again proving humans can be resilient creatures. While some of us suspected our “normal” would not return soon, few realized how long it may take to even partly reverse pandemic’s undeniable altering of what “normal” could look like.

Unfortunately, pandemic life also revealed shocking responses from too many Americans. From the stark, selfish actions of many who cared zero about others but only raged about their “rights” infringed by masking, to the weirder-still denial from educated (we assume) citizens about science and the virus, believing a “making shit up” President over science and virology experts. Many claimed (and some still do) that it’s a hoax, or a liberal conspiracy to swing the election. If it is a hoax, it’s a damn “good” one since the facts now are it’s killed more Americans than died during BOTH World Wars I and II. That’s one clever hoax! America is closing in on passing the totals for ALL wars except the Civil War (620,000 then). Let’s hope we don’t eventually eclipse that one too before this is over.

As a practicing Stoic, perhaps the credit for mentally surviving my first pandemic year should go to my learned resolve to focus on and react only to those things I can control. For those I do not, I remain aware but not react or freak out (mostly). That steering of my ship through troubled waters has been key to my keeping it together and healthy.

The reality of now is to stay healthy, avoid infection, and avoid affecting others if it happens. These should be everyone’s goal in the weeks, months, and yes, years ahead. There will still be deniers, and a growing concern that after vaccination many will unwisely toss their masks and distancing protocols thinking they’re immune now (and as has been shown, ignoring the risk to others around them).

I’m in the vaccination queue here now, waiting for the “lottery” to draw my name. The shots will not radically change my behavior until vaccinating the herd majority happens and data rapidly declines. Even then, I’ll continue wearing a mask when out and distancing from others. But it will certainly make me feel my risk factor dropped considerably. For the future me, inside dining is off the list indefinitely, as is being in large groups.

Experts now say we may be at the beginning of a continuous wave of similar, deadly viruses. Our annual Fall flu shot will likely now have an annual companion: a coronavirus booster or new annual unknown vaccine, ever morphing to handle the latest onslaught.

Despite the grim year, there is hope we’ll come out of this to be smarter and more caring about others than we have been. I’m betting we’ll continue to find ways to prosper, be happy, and enjoy life. It seems the final pandemic casualty is our labeling everyday life as “normal.” Our future reality may become one of ever-shifting “normal” du jours.