Is this real life?
I keep catching myself thinking that this is somehow going to blow over and we’re going to look back in five years and say “What in the world were we freaking out about?! At least we got to prove we could work from home.”
Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case. I think Covid-19 is here to stay for the next couple of years in the best case scenario but most likely even longer. I think the lessons we’ve learned from this and the lifestyle changes we make might last forever. Can you imagine going to a crowded bar or concert? Can you imagine sitting on a plane for 8 hours to fly to Europe? I can’t.
Seattle was ground zero for the outbreak in the United States and we live right downtown. My knee-jerk instinct was to buy some plane tickets to a remote island and get the heck out of there and just wait it out in paradise. It became apparent very quickly that there wasn’t a remote island to go to. This virus was taking over the whole world. I knew that, but somehow my brain kept reverting back to that thinking when I started to panic. “Let’s just rent a beach house and escape. Let’s go to the Caribbean.” I could not, for the life of me, wrap my mind around the fact that there was no where to go to get away from this thing.
Life in Seattle changed so rapidly. There didn’t seem to be much impact until the first cases of community transmission were confirmed at a nursing facility in one of the suburbs in late February. From that day forward, it was like a movie. People whispered and everyone’s eyes were constantly scanning around them, as if you would be able to tell by looking if a person had it. A lot of doctors live in our building and I remember riding one day with a doctor that looks so exhausted. He was still in his scrubs with his name tag on. He was standing to one side staring at the floor, never looking up as the door opened and closed and people got on and off at various floors. I have no idea why he was so tired and so robotic, but in my mind, it was because of the Coronavirus. I remember feeling nauseous as I walked into my apartment and closed the door, wondering if it was about to get really bad.
We started to see masks and gloves everywhere. Rumors of shut downs and lock downs started almost immediately. People said the highways would be blocked and the airport shut down. Everyone was nervous and jumpy. The grocery store shelves were bare. By this time, cases of the virus had popped up in a couple of different states but it only seemed to be spreading badly in Washington. The news coverage started to talk of bed shortages and lack of ventilators. President Trump assured us it was fake news and one day the virus would just disappear.
I finished up my last day at my old job just as the rest of the country really started to panic. It was the strangest feeling. I had been pretty unhappy in my job lately and it was such a relief to find something I was really excited about. Life was normal through the interview process at the end of January and beginning of February. I went to Nordstrom to buy a new suit. I walked there, on the city streets. Imagine that! I flew to Ft. Lauderdale to interview. I cancelled a vacation to Morocco to make it to an important client meeting that was happening before my start date. Then it all just crashed down around us.
I tried to stay positive and be happy about the new job as I finished up the old one, but what if my new employer told me to go kick rocks? Brian and I lost about $70K in a matter of hours in one day. The predictions about the economy had become really dire. What would we do if my job told me they no longer had a place for me?
I’ve had scary moments in my life before but they were all fleeting. It lasts a few minutes and then it’s over and you realize you’re okay. The adrenaline fades and you deal with the fallout. This was different. It was like a month long adrenaline rush that never faded. If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know the milliseconds before impact are the slowest of your life. Time moves in slow motion and more thoughts than should be humanly possible race through your head and you can see it coming but you can’t stop it. That’s what March was like for me. I’ve never been so tired but slept so little. I would lay awake at night just listening to Brian breathing to make sure he was okay. He wasn’t sick, I had just suddenly become painfully aware of both of our mortality and my mind was completely filled with worry for him.
We had followed the rules and didn’t buy masks or gloves and didn’t hoard food but we came to regret it. There was nothing to be found in Seattle. I hadn’t stocked up on cleaning supplies recently before the pandemic so we only had two bottles of bleach cleaner and two canisters of bleach wipes. We had about ten travel size containers of hand sanitizer gel. We had three containers of hand soap. That was it. That was our defense against this virus, while having to ride shared elevators and go through public lobbies to get in and our of building 4 times a day to take our dogs out.
Leaders in Washington acted quickly and the people of Washington took it very seriously. I’m so grateful for that. As bad as it’s been, it could have been so much worse without compliant citizens and excellent leadership. Brian works for Amazon, and as soon as an employee had confirmed contact with a confirmed case, they sent everyone home.
After about a month into the outbreak in Seattle, I had pretty much reached my breaking point. I was sleep deprived and we were running out of cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer. It started to become difficult to get groceries. Items started to sell on Amazon for 100x their original cost.
I felt horrible guilt for the staff in our building because they were being exposed to SO many people due to the thousands of residents in our building hunkering down and not going to stores or restaurants. We were all ordering groceries and buying the things we needed or wanted on Amazon. But every single package delivery could have meant death for these people and for what? It seemed horribly unfair that they were required to continue to come to work. I needed groceries, but by going to the store I would potentially get sick and spread it to them while taking my dogs out. By ordering Instacart deliveries, I was bringing an unknown person into our building that they had to interact with. I didn’t. I got to sit in my apartment while they risked their lives for my groceries. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
We decided to leave town. We knew that was controversial. People in small towns fear people from the city bringing the virus to them. They fear their hospital capacity being stretched further than it already is. Before we left we decided a two things. First, we were NOT on vacation. We wouldn’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary. Second, wherever we went had to be within reasonable driving distance back to Seattle because if we got sick, we would go back to the city. We’ve stuck to that and because of it, we’ve reduced the possibility of getting or passing on anything by a long shot. In a normal day in Seattle, we would be within six feet of at least 20 people, if not more. Here, we go days and days without even seeing a person walk by in the street in front of our house.
We have a fenced yard for the dogs and plenty of groceries to last. There weren’t, and still aren’t, shortages here. We ordered groceries when we got here three and a half weeks ago, and are picking up our second curbside order tomorrow. We went to CVS one time to refill prescriptions. Aside from that, we’ve been nowhere.
I am so grateful to be in such a serene setting. We have ocean in our backyard and we can hear the waves when we open our windows. This morning it was foggy and we could hear ships blowing their fog horns as they passed. I think it has made a world of difference for the state of my mental health.
I would love to know what the future holds and what life will be like five years from now, but I just have to accept that no one knows. If you had told me five years ago “We’re going to need you to take your dogs and your husband and go spend three months in a cottage on the ocean, working remotely, wearing sweats and slippers, reading books, doing puzzles, and watching sunsets for your own safety.” I would have said “HELL YES, SIGN ME UP!” I’m reminding myself of that fact when I feel stressed or trapped or frustrated. This could be so much worse and will likely get worse yet.
But then it will get better.