Last week we went to the grocery store for the first time in five weeks. FIVE WEEKS. Wow. It’s pretty wild when a mundane chore like grocery shopping becomes the highlight to your day/week/month, because it’s one of the only things you can leave your house for these days.
Not going to lie, the whole experience made me a bit nostalgic about those spontaneous trips I used to take just to pick up a few things (ya know, the impromptu baking endeavor at 10pm, the “just because” bottle of wine to go with dinner, or the ever-elusive ingredient you thought you got for the recipe but 100% forgot to get so you’d have to go back).
How about all of the times you’d just pop into a store to browse? I miss walking around the mall and feeling inspired by pretty window displays. Heck, I miss shopping with reusable shopping bags . . . something that took me forever to adjust to because I’d always forget them, and now stores aren’t even allowing them because they could potentially carry the virus. I get it, but still, it’s weird.
WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE, AM I RIGHT?
Anywhoo, shopping these days is a whole different kind of experience now. Instead of going in with an idea of what we want and loosely shopping off a list, we spend time making a list of essentials we need before we go in and we don’t dawdle once we’re inside. It’s all very matter of fact to limit our exposure (to ourselves and to others).
I knew we’d have to go shopping at some point, but I didn’t anticipate the panic attack that would happen next.
It was bad. Like, crying on the floor of our kitchen, curled up like a little ball, bawling my eyes out, bad. I think a number of things brought this on. It was a culmination of weeks cooped up inside the house, having little to no interactions with other people (family, coworkers, friends, etc)., and this overwhelming fear that one or both of us could catch something in the air, on a door handle, etc.
I spent several hours trying to talk myself out of going, because we didn’t neeeeed to go, we were just out of essentials like bread, milk, and veggies . . . and I didn’t really want to see how creative I could get with a can of cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving and some unidentified freezer meat.
So we went.
I calmed down a bit once we got to the parking lot and I covered my face before we went in. Even then, it still felt weird once we were inside the store.
The aisles were all marked as “one-way” only, likely to limit the number of people in any given area. There was a giant sign at the front that said you had to have your face covered or you couldn’t enter. The checkout stands had sneeze guards to give distance between customers and the cashier. There were decals on the floor indicating how far away you had to stand from the person in front of you to check out. It all made me feel very safe that the store was taking social distancing so seriously.
Despite the precautions, there were still people who couldn’t be bothered to cover their faces. Many didn’t adhere to the single directionality of the aisles. Some weren’t there shopping for essentials (looking at you, girl in the college tank who came in just for red cups and alcohol). I understand there are people who think they’re above government mandates, but to see people so flagrantly give zero fucks about protecting themselves or others really made me feel uneasy.
Precautions like these don’t work if some people opt out. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of thing. It reminded me of high school and how there was always a smartass who’d keep talking back to the PE teacher, so everyone would have to keep doing more pushups/laps/miles/etc until that person shut up.
Once we got home, my anxiety eased up a bit, but there was still work to be done. We still had to clean off our groceries, wash our clothes, and take a shower (ya know, just in case a little bit of something latched onto my precious locks). I know all/some/none of these things alone will prevent us from catching what’s literally in the air right now, but my hope is that the collective act of doing things will hopefully keep us healthier than had we done nothing.
I know I’m not alone when I say the last five weeks have been rough. Many of us are in the throes of unemployment or some amalgamation of job insecurity. The landscape of our communities is changing by the day and for many of us, the uncertainty about making plans for the future is unnerving. Like, hello, I have no idea what’s going to happen with our wedding . . . and friends of mine are postponing or cancelling theirs left and right. What’s going on has jeopardized the mental wellness of many, even with resources like telehealth and other kinds of support. There are still shortages of basic necessities like toilet paper and frozen meats. Couple all of this together and you’ve got a perfect storm of anxiety, fear, and discontent.
I understand why many cities have had protests, but from a logical point of view, literally protesting in the streets and purposely availing yourself to an invisible contagion kind of defeats the point of these last five weeks of quarantine. Maybe I’m wrong, but I know the staff at your nearest hospital isn’t eager for you to become their newest admit. Sure, many hospitals haven’t reached capacity, but that doesn’t mean we should see what happens if they do . . .
I guess what I’m trying to spit out is it’s okay to be anxious right now. It’s okay to have fears, even when they seem irrational. It’s okay to be restless.
Sure, it’s all well and good to say we’ll get through this. We’ll be okay. But as reality starts to take hold for some of us, people we know and care about are being affected.
I found out this morning that a new bakery that was just about to open in town had its loan cancelled because the bank now deems it high-risk, so the chef lost everything she’d put into the business (building permits, subcontractors she’d paid who were building things inside the space, equiptment purchases, etc.). Without the loan, she can’t open the business, and on top of everything, she already signed a lease, which she’s hoping the landlord doesn’t hold her to (because legally he potentially could).
Other businesses I’ve patronized over the years are struggling to stay afloat, and many have closed their doors (at least temporarily, but for some, the closures are permanent).
A good friend of mine had her law school graduation on Zoom the other day. She doesn’t know if the bar exam will be held this summer (delaying her post-grad plans to work at a firm that requires bar passage by the fall). This hit home for me, because my law school graduation a few years ago was the culmination of so much hard work, not to mention time, money, and tears invested into that little piece of paper . . .
Another friend of mine lost two of his relatives to COVID last week. They were both healthy, under 40, and neither had preexisting health issues. One was even well enough to get discharged from the hospital, only to die hours later at home. Like, dude, when someone you know dies from this and healthcare professionals you know are vocally afraid of balancing their skills to help others with the reality of their own mortality, it’s something else . . . meanwhile other people I know are complaining about working from home with less than stellar wifi. Oh the inconvenience . . .
I’ve found the best way to look at all of this is like a pendulum – some days you’ll be super productive and positive, other days will be rough and the weight of everything won’t let up. The two can coexist and THAT’S OKAY.
If you find yourself in the throes of a panic attack (at the grocery store, or elsewhere), know you’re not alone.
If you’re mourning the loss of something (job, special event, or something more serious like a loved one battling this), know you’re not alone.
We’re all so connected through our screens, but now more than ever, I think it’s important to remind each other that getting through quarantine and the ensuing months of social distancing will not look the same for everyone.
At the end of the day, we’re just humans doing our best and that’s all we can ask of ourselves.
From one person whose life is hanging on by a bobby pin, to another, take a deep breath.