Photo of a pink neon heart, shining from an apartment window, by Valerie Gow.
Happy really belated New Year! It’s been a while since I posted here. Like many of you, I’ve been taking some time for self-care and reflection as we transition into 2021.
I celebrated the holidays this year, a year unlike any other; but also harkening back to holidays past, before my snowbird parents started heading south in November several years ago. After some careful planning and orchestration, I did a 14-day isolation period and visited my parents for a couple of days over Christmas, during which we wore masks and physically distanced. This was important for all of us, as I’d missed seeing them at Thanksgiving and my youngest brother’s 50th birthday; our case numbers were too high and I didn’t want to risk it, especially as they’re in their 80s and live in a lower-risk region. And, since I live alone, it was important for my mental health to have some in-person contact with loved ones after so many months of isolation—and who knows how many more Christmases we’ll have together.
As I rang in 2021 alone in my apartment, filled with cautious optimism about the incoming vaccines, but tired and frustrated over the significant numbers of individuals and businesses that were still not taking the pandemic seriously, I was struck by how quickly emotions can shift—or be felt all at once.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we were collectively going through the five stages of grief in our own individual way: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—and like any grieving process, the progress of these stages is not linear, and can often circle back on itself. During one of my daily neighbourhood walks in March, I overheard a small boy ask his mom, “Are we afraid of people?” He’d been noticing how we were all keeping our distance from each other, and this must’ve puzzled him. The mother’s reply began with, “No…” but I didn’t hear her full response, as I’d moved on by then.
Physical distancing isn’t done so much out of fear, but out of respect and taking good care; and is part of the public health arsenal for controlling, and hopefully stopping, the spread of COVID-19. It’s a simple, easy thing we can do to keep ourselves, each other and our health care system safe. So we wash our hands, we wear our masks, we keep our distance—at least, most of us are. But, yeah, I guess we are a bit afraid of people. At least, I am. And the fact that some people and businesses choose to flout public health guidelines and bylaws—putting friends and family, and employees and customers, and our health care system, at risk—makes those of us who’ve been working and sacrificing for almost a year, frankly, frustrated and angry.
Fear has definitely been a large part of the pandemic experience. When people ask me what I’m more afraid of—catching COVID-19 or giving it to someone—my answer is: both. When I’m out doing errands, picking up takeout or on transit (which, except for three round trips in early August 2020, I’ve been avoiding), I’m afraid of catching it. When I’m with loved ones, I’m afraid of passing it on (even when we’re all carefully washing hands, masking and distancing).
It’s deeply saddening to hear story after story of family members having to say goodbye over a tablet because they can’t be in the hospital or long-term care room when a loved one is sick or dying. Many of us empathize with health care and other essential workers, exhausted and putting their own health at risk, as they face this pandemic every day; sometimes separated from their families for safety, or going through rigorous disinfecting procedures in their garage when they return home from a shift. And we’ve all heard the wake-up call regarding longstanding social inequities that make the pandemic experience extremely difficult, and more deadly, for racialized and low-income Canadians—many of whom are essential service and health care workers.
Health officials warned us in the beginning that this pandemic would be a marathon. A marathon of resilience, determination and taking good care. A marathon of public health measures, bylaws, emergency orders and lockdowns. And, like the stages of grief, it hasn’t been a linear process. As predicted, the second wave has proven even deadlier than the first, with instances of illness and death mounting—and there’s a person behind every number we hear cited in the national, provincial and local updates. It’s also been a masterclass in radical acceptance. Accepting the reality of a difficult situation doesn’t mean you think it’s okay; but doing so can save you the pain of denial, and get you to a place where you can sort out what is and isn’t within your power to do about it. And, for some, that’s a huge ask. Perhaps, for some, denial is a more comfortable place to be—because to accept the reality of the situation is too scary to face. And it’s easy to feel totally helpless during times like these.
The COVID-19 pandemic has evoked all the feels. Right now, I’m feeling hopeful, impatient, frustrated and exhausted. I’m also feeling grateful for the privileges I enjoy. I’m not experiencing housing or food precarity. I have supportive family and friends; a cat for company and cuddles; freelance work coming in from appreciative, collegial clients; access to a public health care system that will provide free vaccinations; and Wi-Fi and cable that allow me to work from home, connect remotely and enjoy a variety of storytelling.
With Winter forcing us to be indoors more, it can be a particularly challenging time as we count the days till Spring. Wherever you are, I hope you’re okay; and doing what you can to keep yourself, others and your health care system safe. Reaching out to family and friends. Staying connected however you can. Help is on the way; we just have to hold on a bit longer. Keep taking good care, now and in the future.