Back on March 19, when I first started keeping track of the numbers on the Johns Hopkins site, regarded by those in the medical profession as the most comprehensive, just 1,300 were diagnosed. My blog posts between now and then are a mix of vacillating emotions. I want to write about hope and faith and quote scripture, and for some time I have felt inadequate, unable to really do so.
I feel like I’ve been failing you, dear readers.
But today, I’ve decided to write to you anyway.
Part of this journey is not only that we are all in this together, but that we are all struggling. We are all overwhelmed. We are all trying to get through each day, each minute, without crumpling and curling into fetal position for the duration, even if the duration is months, which it appears by all indications that it will be.
I can’t promise you Psalms and rainbows and butterflies, but I can promise that I’m there in the seat next to you riding this struggle bus.
I’ll try to share a little as often as I can, good, bad and ugly. A little from a nursing perspective. A little from a writer perspective. A little from a poor excuse of a Christian perspective, and whatever else pops up in these extraordinary days.
Today is Saturday, a welcome reprieve from the hospital, where updates and warnings come to us in rapid and constant succession. A pause from watching as beds fill with the virus and push out every other diagnosis, as if cancer and heart disease and strokes and broken bones require band-aids and a pat on the head. A chance to reset and brace for whatever unimaginable awful this beast has waiting for us on Monday.
So today I’m doing my best to escape and pretend like this isn’t real.
I will turn off the news and paint the rest of our upstairs hallway and plan out a big board and batten project and make frames for my barn paintings.
I will walk my dog even though it’s cloudy and count the daffodils blooming in my garden (three to be exact).
And I will try to pray. Spindly threads of frayed faith tossed Heaven-ward where maybe a low-hanging angel will catch one and weave it into something more, save me from unraveling altogether. Save us.
…buds on trees and people walking their dogs and riding their bikes and setting groceries on the stoops of shut ins and dads playing with their kids on front lawns on sunny spring days and seamstresses sewing masks and the camaraderie of nurses and doctors and RTs and PTs and OTs and techs and social workers, best of friends bracing for all we trained and live for.
It was the worst of times…
…numbers tripling, front lines failing, ventilator rationing, health care workers dying, jobs disappearing, shelves emptying, spirits falling, and ice rinks converting to morgues.
It was the age of wisdom…
…people listening to experts, families staying at home and washing hands and honoring others and nodding at each other from across the street in the name of humaneness and humanity as scientists hunch over lab tables and doctors trial hope and administrators shuffle beds and recycle masks and try to do no harm to their very own.
It was the age of foolishness…
…sacrificing loved ones in the name of beaches and bikinis and sex and selfishness and helplessness and saying efforts are exaggerated and overblown and it’s all a farce and all partisan and parties like 1999 with utter disregard for life.
It was the epoch of belief…
…that a Sovereign is bigger than a disease, that a Savior is in the midst of our feverish terror, that waters recede and oceans part and stones eventually roll away.
It was the epoch of incredulity…
…that our invincible selves and invincible lives and invincible stocks and bank accounts and high falutin’ stuff means absolutely nothing after all in the face of an invisible monster.
It was the season of Light…
…candles still burning on birthday cakes, stars all the brighter in still, cool nights, porch lights beacons testifying to resilience surviving behind closed doors.
It was the season of Darkness…
…masks unable to hide the wide-eyed dread health care workers feel facing patient after patient gasping for air, lungs filling with fluid, kidneys failing, hearts clinging to life, praying for miracles, all the while praying they aren’t the next ones to get the virus and end up being the ones who are turned and cleaned and suctioned and assessed and treated in vain.
It was the spring of hope…
…daffodils blooming and hyacinths cheering on the arrival of green and growing life, nature blissful in ignorance and all the while eager in its pursuit of tomorrow.
It was the winter of despair…
…nurses wearing trash bags and patients draped and dying and families watching from screens, only watching, via (face)time as their mothers and brothers and fathers and daughters lives slip away, alone, behind impermeable (im)personal protective equipment, no one to touch them, no one to hold them, no one to tell them it’s okay to go, the rest of us will carry on. Alone. But for the nurses. Who help them leave.
We had everything before us…
…weddings and tournaments, graduations and bar mitzvahs, play dates and class projects and concerts, baptisms and golden anniversaries and last trips to the beach, and new jobs and new homes and all the reasons to live as though the world would never end.
We had nothing before us…
…no end in sight, no cures, no answers, no end to the rising numbers of patients, no slowing of fibrillating Wall Street and rising unemployment, no toilet paper, no rice, no bread, no break.
We were all going direct to Heaven…
…at least we hoped so, the ones who lay in ICUs with unwanted tubes breathing for them, and unwanted machines replacing their kidneys, and nurses and doctors and aides and hospital workers not quitting because we don’t quit and won’t quit and we never, ever quit.
We were all going direct the other way…
…the ones who blame and shame and hoard and elbow through restrictions because they deserve to and don’t care and don’t try to understand this is not a hoax even though it feels like a great big huge one, and even though we want more than anything, in the middle of the night, to wake up and be able to laugh at what a ridiculous nightmare, what a strange and ludicrous joke the brain is playing on us because this can’t possibly be real.
*Lines in bold from the first paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
But, she had built a nest in the bushes under our tree, so I considered her mine.
She was a delightful mama mallard, all dappled brown feathers and chocolate chip eyes. My sons were tinies at the time, so we would carefully inspect the nest from a distance, waiting excitedly for the day when the ducklings would start breaking their way out of the eggs and into the world.
Sometimes when we checked Pricilla was there, sitting on her precious eggs.
Sometimes she wasn’t.
Either way, the eggs seemed safe there, under the tree, tucked between the bushes, in our yard.
Then one day I went to check on Pricilla and the eggs were crushed.
All of them.
Cracked open, contents splayed all over the nest, not a one spared.
And Pricilla was nowhere to be found.
I stood there sobbing for quite some time, and for days I could not talk about it without choking up.
Now, Indiana’s mallard population was not then and has never been at risk. No doubt such an attack on duck nests is a regular occurrence in the wild. So in hindsight, this was a slightly over-the-top reaction. Breaking the news to my young boys was difficult, but they recovered in minutes, eager to get back to their imaginary dinosaur worlds or Matchbox adventures.
Also at that time in my life, I was in the early stages of working through trauma processing of the childhood sexual abuse I endured for many years, and so I asked my counselor about it.
He studied me with his ever-kind eyes, nodding empathetically as I relayed the horrific duck egg attack. Tears streamed fresh from my eyes. “What is wrong with me? It was just a duck?”
“Could it be,” he said with same sage seriousness he always offered, “that the unwanted attack on Pricilla and her eggs’ ‘innocence and vulnerability resembles the unwanted abuse you survived?”
All at once, my seemingly melodramatic and excessive emotions made all the sense in the world.
Fast forward to the pandemic we are all facing.
As my other recent posts have conveyed, I have been having a terribly difficult time processing this virus and the necessary world response to it. The depth of anger and dread and ambivalence I’ve been feeling are as much of a battle for me as the situation itself, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. Maybe I haven’t shown it much on the outside, because I learned to fake it a long, long time ago, so much so that I am often able to fake it to myself.
But then I remembered Pricilla.
As survivors for whom PTSD is a lifelong battle, it makes perfect sense that we would have an extraordinarily strong response to COVID-19 and all its ramifications.
We didn’t ask to have our freedom and joy stripped from us as children then; we didn’t ask for freedom and joy to be stripped from us today.
We didn’t ask to be attacked by abusers then; we didn’t ask to be attacked by a violent virus today.
We didn’t ask for the lifelong aftereffects of abuse that cause overwhelming anxiety and dread whenever something real or perceived threatens us; and we didn’t ask for that same ingrained response to overwhelm us in the midst of this threatening pandemic.
We were as innocent as Pricilla and her sweet eggs underneath the shade of that tree before our innocence was stolen and all normal boundaries annihilated; and the same is true today as we learn to deal with a microscopic annihilator of our life was we knew it before COVID-19.
Maybe your abuse was not childhood sexual abuse. Maybe you’ve survived domestic abuse or narcissistic abuse or rape as an adult, or any other unsolicited, extreme trauma.
The PTSD is the same. The PTSD is real. And the struggle you are having to processes and find balance in these awkward and indeed dreadful times is real, too.
So what now?
To be quite honest, I’m still trying to figure that out.
But I’m trying.
Decades of hard work with my counselor, as well as dear friends, have taught me to reach for “my tools,” those things proven by research as well as my own trial and error that help me cope with I’m feeling especially triggered. Here are some of mine:
Get outside at least once a day. Even though we must respect social distancing, we can still walk to the mailbox, walk around the block, or take a walk in the woods. Fresh air and moving our bodies is always good medicine.
Make the bed. Maybe that’s all you feel like you can do right now, and that is enough. You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something (and you have), and your room will look better, too.
Take up a craft you’ve set aside. It’s been a long time since I painted just for fun, and the other day I decided to paint barns, because barns make me happy. Today I intend to get in my workshop and build frames for them. And after that I’m going to paint the upstairs hallway.
Go to God, even when He’s the last person you want to talk to. I didn’t want to go to church (online) today, but I went anyway, and I learned just like the times I’ve done that in the past that I’m always glad I did. He is quite big enough to handle our anger, our dread, our fear, our ambivalence. He is also quite ready to swoop in and meet you right where you are, to hold you as you kick and scream, to whisper hope to you as you cry, and to love you in the midst of your unbelief and beyond.
What about you, dear friends and survivors?
How are you feeling?
How are you taking care of your souls?
Also, if you need extra help right now, please visit my dear friends at RAINN. They have free counselors 24/7, and so many expert resources and links to connect you to people who know and understand.