Few people enjoy alone-time as much as I do. I can spend an entire morning alone in my sunny little office working on my blog. I’ll have a quick lunch while I catch up on FaceBook and then retreat to a shady spot in the back yard for an afternoon of reading. After forty years in the corporate world with stressful deadlines timed right down to the minute, combined with the aggravation of daily commutes, and little to no control over my own time, I’m loving being the sole arbiter of how I now fill my days. It’s an elastic resource that I can now stretch or contract however I wish. So, for the most part, I’ve not really minded the restrictions of self-isolation. But I must admit it’s starting to negatively affect me and I’m getting impatient. Thank heavens I don’t live in an extended care facility.
Every time I’m tempted to complain or rebel against the constraints of COVID house arrest, I remind myself how lucky I am compared to people like the family of Anne Frank and other Jewish families or individuals who were confined in small rooms for years without adequate food and provisions during the Nazi occupation of Europe. They also had to endure a nocturnal existence and were unable to access any fresh air or sunshine for the entire duration of their time in hiding. We’re so fortunate by comparison.
But that doesn’t diminish the fact that we’re all going a bit crazy being restricted from living our lives the way normal human beings were designed to live. We’re social creatures by nature (at least, most of us are) and we depend on each other for meeting our basic needs. Working, shopping, attending to ailing friends or relatives, socializing in large or small groups, expanding the scope of our everyday world, and hugging those we love are natural and necessary human behaviours. How can we ever forget those horrifying Harry Harlow experiments on rhesus monkeys in the last century. When baby monkeys in the lab were deprived of touch, they died.
It’s a waste of time to even smile at someone on the street or in the grocery store these days as they can’t see me smiling at them under my mask. I miss those little personal interactions.While I can keep myself busy reading, writing, doing a little bit of housework (as little as possible), preparing and eating meals, and making the odd phone call to a friend, I’m starting to feel starved of life. My husband has returned to golf, under strict physical distancing rules and is happy to be working again in his garden, but there are so many simple everyday experiences that we can no longer enjoy.
Some people may not regard shopping as a joy per se, but it has its advantages. I always enjoyed going to the mall for a hair appointment (another deprivation), then browsing the stores and treating myself to a nice lunch in the food court or restaurant, perhaps meeting a friend to join me so we can catch up on the latest news. I’ve always been comfortable chatting up fellow shoppers in a store or in the food court which is another social interaction we can no longer enjoy.
Last week, I made my first and probably last trip for a while to Costco to stock up on a few necessities. I had to line up outside the store according to pathways delineated by wooden pallets before I gained admittance to the store. Behind me in line was a couple in their mid-thirties with their two children, probably aged six and eight, none of whom were distancing or wearing masks. I felt my rage welling up as I wondered why it takes four of them, the entire family, to make a Costco run for toilet paper. Could the mum or dad individually not have handled the chore by themselves?
Masks were mandatory inside the store, so the family of four was issued masks upon entry but I noticed them not wearing them as I raced through doing my shopping. As everyone knows, it’s uncomfortable wearing a mask, especially if you wear glasses that keep fogging up and hearing aids that tend to pop out when you remove the elastics from behind your ears. Everything is a chore these days. But that’s nothing compared to what health care professionals have to wear and endure for entire shifts of eight to twelve hours every day. They’re trussed up in hot hazmat suits, face shields, caps, and various other items of safety gear designed to keep us all disease-free. Bless ’em all!
The stress of my Costco expedition demanded a treat. I know in a perfect world I should never eat hot dogs as all the nitrates, chemicals, and questionable animal parts they contain will kill me, but Costco’s hot dogs are literally to die for, and for a mere $1.50 I get a juicy dog and a bucket of Diet pop. Somehow that always makes me feel like I’ve “beat the man”. Eating a hot dog in Costco is now verboten but I did manage to buy one for take-out and stuff it into my purse for later consumption, adding my own toppings at home. Fortunately, the Costco staff were fast and efficient at getting us checked out and out of there. As soon as I got into the car, I slipped my mask off, drank some of my ice-cold water from the stainless steel refillable cup I keep in the console, and breathed a sigh of relief that I don’t have to do that again for a while. Whew!
Grocery shopping is similarly fraught with inconvenience, a lack of inventory, a few careless and thoughtless fellow shoppers without masks, and the threat of contamination. We’re all trying to reduce the number of trips we have to make to the store and we’re stockpiling basics to help us cope. When I’m confronted with the lack of flour on the shelf or the absence of my favourite dish detergent, I’m once again reminded to think of the deprivation in third-world countries or Russians lining up in freezing temperatures at dawn for a loaf of bread in the fifties, which often they could not obtain. That assuages my frustration somewhat.
Is there a Plan B or even an A-?
Now that we’re into our third month of this pandemic and the entire world is locked down, I’m beginning to wonder if our political leaders have a plan for the possibility this could go on for an indefinite length of time. The death toll and numbers of people infected continue to rise in most places around the world. I’m not advocating we line up like those idiot American rednecks in camo gear bearing sidearms and AK47s on the steps of the legislature demanding freedom, but pretty soon we are going to need a clear Plan B before we all go crazy. We could use some creative leadership here.
Most of us are obeying the rules: Minimal outside excursions, wearing a mask, constantly washing and sanitizing, and physical distancing. Our politicians line up in front of the television cameras at the same time every day and give us the same old line. I’m sure it’s difficult for their speech writers to rearrange the same words in a different way every day. I realize their job isn’t easy but there must be some positive information they can share that will help us get through this.
At least in World War II they offered suggestions beyond the obvious to help people cope. I bought a tea towel once at The British War Museum in London with recipes for mock goose and fake cake to help citizens cope with basic food shortages. Shouldn’t some of those highly-educated science nerds be advising us on how to build up and strengthen our natural immune systems? Sure, we’re eating a lot more meals at home, but are they healthy or are too many people opting for processed, prepared foods with little nutritional value thereby increasing their chances of infection?
I’m also concerned that all this sanitizing will weaken our natural immune systems. Now, more than ever, we need to pay attention to what we eat and put into our bodies to make sure we’re as strong and germ-resistant as we can be. Prevention involves more than masks and hand sanitizer. We can’t spend the rest of our lives obsessively avoiding germs. Human beings need exposure to certain good bacteria and some germs to build up immunity. That’s why young children born into homes with pets develop fewer allergies than children whose parents are constantly sterilizing and avoiding germs.
After more than two months, there is still no clear message from the scientists about the specific, confirmed transmission properties of COVID-19. We’re relying a lot on hearsay. Can it be transmitted on surfaces? Yes or no? Exactly how long can it live in the air? An hour? A day? We’d like some absolutely reliable facts on these issues to help us cope in our everyday lives. We’re still a little short on scientific facts. They must have learned something by now.
I know the beginning of the end starts with the much-anticipated vaccine and hopefully, that will happen before the end of the year. But I can’t help wondering how we’re going to cope with the next few months of isolation without a sign of relief. We’re doing all the right things, being good citizens. We’re self-isolating, physical distancing, dutifully performing all the recommendations we keep hearing on a daily basis from our leaders, but we don’t seem to be making a dent in the pandemic. The numbers keep going up, every day.
Sue Burpee’s High Heels in the Wilderness is one of the blogs for baby boomer women that I regularly follow. She had a bad day on her birthday last week and shared her frustration in her piece “On Lethargy and Spilling My Guts”. I can so empathize as I had one of those days yesterday. I absolutely could not get motivated. Spent far too much time on the couch wondering how and when this is all going to end.
In the olden days, B.C. (before CORONA-19), whenever I felt like I needed a little pick-me-up, a new nail polish or lipstick always did the trick. I could pick up a snazzy new nail colour at the drug store or grocery store but shopping for a new lipstick required a trip to Sephora, Nordstrom or Hudson’s Bay. The purchase required a carefully executed comparative analysis of colours, texture, depth of pigment, and an assessment of how much it would bleed. Their vast selection allowed me to test dozens of colours on the back of my hand, before choosing a final one to be sterilized by the sales associate and tested on my lips. Such a fun pursuit is no longer available to us.
I’ve been so desperate I’ve even contemplated ordering a lipstick online to see if it’ll give me the same high I get when I purchase one in the store, but I doubt it. There’s something special about selecting the final colour in person, admiring its glitzy case and popping it into my purse for later. Little luxuries like shopping for a new lipstick are no longer an option for alleviating our boredom and elevating our mood. Will playing with testers be a thing of the past when we return to living a normal life?
Then, yesterday as I was wallowing in self-pity on the couch, our air conditioning crapped out—a first world problem for sure. I spent more than an hour on hold waiting in the queue for the Enercare call centre to even take my call, only to be informed that I have to wait a further week for a service technician to come out and fix the problem—as if I wasn’t cranky enough already. But there is an upside. At least I get to see another human being.
We’ve given up our daily lives, routines and families to fight this pandemic. Many have given up so much more—their jobs, the ability to attend graduations, weddings, births and funerals, the ability to support their families. What more can we possibly do? Much as I enjoy my own company, I’m wondering if you’re going as COVID-crazy as I am? How are you doing, mes chères?