1. How do you attempt to write about something so surreal, so incomprehensible, so yet unknowable yet scientifically predictable, so unfathomable yet so universal? Day by day, journaling seems to be the way for me, for now. Or numbered lists. Nothing that attempts to predict how I will feel tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. Just an attempt to record and witness: right now. Just an attempt to say: here I am. There you are. Here we are. We are living this. What is this? It is happening. All around us. Suffering. Compassion. Hope. Despair. We are living this. Interconnected. One organism. This has never been more clear.
2. Today might be a good day. Or it might be a bad day. It is hard to predict. Good days are ones where I can forget what’s going on for a while, sink into my body, soak in the sunshine. Soak in the presence of my ten-year-old son. Have a spontaneous dance party. Binge with him on The Amazing Race while eating his leftover birthday cake in bed— and not feel one bit guilty. Snuggle with him. Enjoy his presence. Play basketball with him in my parents’ driveway, while talking to them from six feet apart, or wave through the window. Good days are ones when I remember that, despite all of this real, scary, overwhelming heartbreak happening in the world, in Seattle, in Italy, in India, in New York (oh, my heart goes out to New York right now), I have an ability to be in the present moment, in my body, in the sunshine, pulling blackberry brambles from my yard that I rarely have the time to pull, reading books or watching shows, telling friends and family I love them with greater frequency and urgency, remembering that life is always happening in the now. And that no matter what, I need to tend to what is happening in my body.
3. A “bad day” might be one where my body is tense and sore beyond recent recollection. Where my shoulders ache and cause my head to ache. Where my heart aches. Where my mind fears I may have the virus because of this ongoing, very minor, yet nevertheless ongoing, slight chest congestion and shortness of breath that I’ve felt on and off for a month now. Where my mind worries about how I wasn’t being as careful in that first week, second week, third week, or fourth week, as I am now about washing hands, washing groceries, observing the six-foot rule, or wearing a mask. Where I snap at my son out of stress, and then snap and yell again. Where all I want to do is cry and wail, but I don’t want to frighten him, so I can only let it out in little bits. Where I worry about the lack of hospital beds and ventilators, worry about what it would feel like if my parents get sick. Worry about how it is only a matter of time before someone I know gets sick. It’s already happening: the degrees of separation are getting closer. More and more obituaries. For now, they are friends of friends, or distant celebrities. For now.
4. But in truth I don’t really believe in “good” and “bad” days. In truth, I am not afraid of crying because it almost always makes me feel better to let it out. In truth, some of the hardest days are the ones where I don’t have the solitude to do so. And I know that “good” and “bad” days will continue to cycle through me. Mourn; reckon; grieve; check in with the latest sobering news and try to let your body absorb this. And. Let go; don’t dwell; play; delight—remember how you can still experience joy in this moment. Having a child helps me with this. A child who loves music and dancing as much as I do. A child who is old enough that I can try to share with him the stark truth (that a lot of people are going to die; that there will be a shortage of supplies; that yes, I am scared; that we don’t know when school will start again; that the virus will peak and recede but then come back, especially if we are not vigilant in our efforts; that it may be a year of watching this wax and wane and taking corresponding action), but a child who is young enough that I still want to protect him from the most sobering details (that at peak, around mid-April, the U.S. is projected to have 2,607 deaths a day, and over 93,765 deaths total by August 4th; that for WA, that translates to 23 deaths a day at peak, and 2,233 deaths total, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Data at the University of Washington). Details that are hard to grasp for any of us, children and adults alike. And statistics that change daily.
5. My heart goes out to New York. Their peak resource use is predicted to be April 9th. They are predicted to then have a shortage of 62,214 hospital beds, and 10,903 ICU beds. And 845 deaths a day. (If you want to see the projected stats on any state, go the IHMD link above and it will break it down.)
6. Governor Andrew Cuomo says that New York needs 30,000 ventilators; they only have 11,000. Hospitals are starting to experiment with controversial practices of sharing ventilators. Doctors are creating “ventilator splitters” with initial positive results and plans to share their design online with open-source designs others can copy and a GoFundMe page for us to support. Right now this feels like the most critical frontline to support: how can we get crucial supplies into the hands of the nurses and doctors. How can we save more lives. Later we can talk more about the extreme mishandling of this crisis by our government. Right now, every last thing each of us can do is crucial: donate money, share resources, stay home. If you are privileged and not on the frontlines (and right now, the frontlines includes those people delivering/picking up our groceries, our packages, our mail, our garbage), stay home.
7. I know that so much of this still is not comprehensible. And our minds and bodies can only take in so much before we shut down, fail to compute, become immobilized. We need to take care of our bodies. Trust and regulate for ourselves how much we can take in on a daily or weekly basis, and otherwise, put down our phones, press pause on the news, breathe deeply, sit outside and enjoy the sun. This is not out of apathy or denial. This is self-regulation. This is befriending our own inner resources. This is getting to know our own physiology and trauma-responses and coping mechanisms and mental health: intimately. This is you, and this is me, and we are different. We each have our own limits. And we each need to do what we need to do to stay healthy, to not become overwhelmed, to manage our stress, to regulate our bodies. This is also practical: a stressed-out body more easily becomes sick. We need to protect our immune systems. If we are not on the frontlines, we need to do everything we can to help and to stay home. And sometimes that just means taking care of yourself. Not clogging up the system with more unnecessary online orders, illness, or stress. The whole “put on your life mask first” thing? It’s practical. You can be the most helpful to your family and friends if you, yourself, are doing okay. I can be a voice of positivity and resolve, only when I’ve taken the time I need to preserve this core of resilience in me. For me, hot baths have helped a lot. Conversations with friends. Journaling. Stretching and deep breathing. For you it will look a little different. Regardless. Take care of yourself. And know this to be essential.
8. Having a child forces one to live more in the moment. It becomes immediately clear to me when I need to take measures to care for myself—when I snap at my son, or yell, or otherwise feel on the brink, like I’m not being a good parent. The stakes have never felt so high. I want to be a helper, I have always wanted to be a helper, and I’ve often bemoaned myself for not doing more. The stakes have never felt so high. And the struggles will be ongoing. The need. The myriad ways to help—those will never go away. So let yourself feel the urgency. And: take your time. Do not deny or push away the suffering. But know that you can only take in more when you have the resources to do so. This means: trust your body. Let yourself feel your grief, and trust that it won’t overwhelm you, that you can let yourself cry for hours if you need to, and it will pass through, it will feel like a release. Or send yourself loving compassion, even if, or especially you can’t let yourself feel all of your feelings yet. Because we can’t just ignore the pain. We need to somehow release. We need to self-regulate in cycles. And when we are restored, and reaching more of an equilibrium, we can ask ourselves again: how can we help? We can take turns, in cycles, being strong and being weak. We must.
9. It’s never been more apparent how we are all in this together. The poignant beauty of this shines through every day. I love you. Every last one of you. You are me. I am you. We will get through this. We will reckon. We will learn to love and live more fiercely. We will not be the same. There is no “old normal” that I wish to return to. We will be changed, and this will ultimately be a good thing. We will awaken to how every single one of us relies on each other. I pray for this to be so.