The week of April 5, 2020.
Stay home. That’s the directive, and that has been the directive for almost a month. The coronavirus continues to change the ways of the world. It’s a life in limbo.
My family is staying home. My husband still has his job, and he is working from home. The boys still have school, with classes taking place online. And I am – well, I am home and unemployed. My pet-sitting/dog-walking business is closed until people are able to return to offices outside the house, take family vacations, embark on day trips, and/or have the need to hire a pet-sitter/dog-walker.
My husband and kids are doing fine. Their routine looks different, because it is being done at home – but they still have their routine. And while my anxiety seems to be thriving with all my idle time – I am not.
There was a time in my life when I would seek to escape the stressors of my day by getting in my car and going for a drive. Rarely did I have a destination in mind. Sometimes I would head straight for the interstate, so I could keep moving at a good clip and avoid traffic lights and stop signs. Other times, I would take the slower route found on back roads, encountering solace through the hills and bends.
During this pandemic, I’ve tried to ease my anxiety by getting in the car and driving around town, but I find that my anxiety level only increases, because I see way too many…
I see way too many people out on the roads. I see way too many full parking lots. And, I see way too many stores with way too many people going in and out of the doors. It doesn’t go unnoticed by me that I am one of those ‘way too many’ people I see. But, because you are always the exception to your annoyances, I know that I won’t be getting out of the car. I know that I won’t be going into any of the stores. I know that I am remaining isolated and socially distant, unlike those I see through my driver-side window.
Then there are the essential trips. My anxiety likes to accompany me on my essential trips, too.
Earlier this week, I took a letter to the post office, slipping in the slot of the drive up mailbox. No human contact. No metal contact. No contact of any kind. And from there I drove to my church to drop off an envelope. My plan was to leave the envelope leaning up against the sanctuary door. I contacted the church in advance, and they knew to look for the envelope.
When I arrived, the door was open, so I pulled up to the door, got out of my car, and walked into the narthex, and placed the envelope on the first table I noticed. As I was placing the envelope on the table, someone came out of the sanctuary and into the narthex. She was a friend, she was part of the church staff, and I have known her for years, but that didn’t matter at that moment.
My heart rate increased, and I started to step back. I felt like turning around and running away. I didn’t want to interact with anyone, and I didn’t want to risk getting sick or making someone else sick. I could feel my body shift into panic mode, and my anxiety was taking the wheel.
She greeted me with a big smile and a welcoming “hello”. I smiled, returned an awkward “hello”, and started to back away slowly, like one might back away from an aggressive dog or some other perceived threat. She didn’t rush me – she didn’t push boundaries – and any anxiety she may have been feeling at that time was far better masked than mine.
When I returned to my car, I exhaled and sat there motionless for a minute. A wave of sadness overcame me. The anxiety that was walking with me into the narthex had moved on and left me feeling silly and rude. Social distancing is a real thing – and it is something we should all practice. Still, I wish I could practice it with a little less anxiety.
As I started to drive away, my sadness grew. I pulled over in the parking lot and sent a text to my friend. “Hey [friend]. Love you bunches. I apologize for being short just a few minutes ago. Anxiety reigns when I am away from home. It’s hard to hide. Bu know that my heart was very happy to see you.”
Later that day she replied, “I totally get it. Really glad to see your face!!”
She got it. And, she got it – because I’m not the only one walking – er – driving around in this pandemic feeling anxious. I’m not the only one missing the faces of friends and family. I’m not the only one missing a friendly greeting that leads to a hug, when you see someone you love. This is a wicked tough journey we are all experiencing together. And isn’t it ironic that we are in this together, but we are having to remain separated?
At the end of this week, I received a surprising request from one of my dog clients. She asked me if I would be interested in taking her dog for a walk. That was surprising, because I generally just visit with her dog. She lives close to a busy main road, and it’s not ideal for walking – with or without a dog. However, the traffic has dropped significantly, giving her pup a chance to explore beyond her fenced backyard.
I live less than 2 miles from this client’s house, so my husband and I planned to ‘pick up’ and ‘drop off’ the pup during our normal daily walk. The owner had the pup in the backyard, with the leash draped over the fence. It was a safe – socially distant/no human contact – transaction.
The pup, my husband, and I enjoyed a 40 minute walk down a tree lined two lane road, passing a large pond, and a horse farm along the way. The weather was absolutely perfect. The temperature was in the high 50s, the sun was shining, and there was a constant light breeze. Our journey, which totaled 6.35 miles, was literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air.
My husband and I have been walking M – F around noon, since this craziness started. The walks help break up my husband’s workday, and it helps ease my seemingly endless anxiety. It’s a planned diversion; a wellness plan, if you will. It doesn’t always lessen the anxiety – but it keeps me moving, which is better sitting around nervously watching this stay-home cycle continue. But the walk with my client’s dog? That was an unexpected and unplanned diversion. It was organic. And to top it off, as I mentioned earlier, the weather was gorgeous. It was an answer to a prayer.
Another prayer was answered when the walk was completed, because my client asked if I would be willing to walk her dog twice a week going forward. Her request means that I will be bringing in a little money again. And though two walks a week don’t add up to a significant amount of money, it is significantly more than I was making without any scheduled jobs. I’ll take it, I’ll consider it a gift to find employment during this wicked hard time, and I’ll enjoy the breath of fresh air these walks will allow me to experience, mentally and emotionally.
My anxiety and lack of sleep will likely continue until peaks are met, curves are flattened, and people can, once again, safely gather together in the same room. For now, let’s be socially distant – together, while holding on to hope for tomorrow.
I wrote this post back in April, as indicated, and for various reasons I didn’t publish it. I knew I wasn’t alone with my anxiety, and I knew I had many things for which to be thankful. But, the funny thing about anxiety, even when you know others are battling bigger wars, anxiety can still make for difficult times.
Since April, many things have changed and many things have stayed the same. My dog sitting business is back up and running. One school year ended, and another school year just started – 100% virtual and at home. My younger son’s swim practice is in full swing under strict COVID prevention guidelines, and my older son’s cross country season is slotted to start next month.
Aside from the boys’ activities, our lives remain very similar to how we were in April. I’m still the sole shopper, always wearing a mask and carrying hand sanitizer. We are still not eating out in restaurants, and friends and family visits are rare and socially distant. So far, my husband has avoided being laid off or furloughed, though as the economic toll from the pandemic continues, so do the layoffs and furloughs. And finally, my anxiety is still with me. It’s not as front and center as it was in April, but it’s still present.
That’s it. I’m not sure what else to say. Just like life seems to be stuck in limbo during this time of COVID, so to does this post.