While the world is experiencing COVID19 together, each country, state, city, family, and individual is seeing it from a different perceptive. For my family and me, COVID19 has been a lovely gift of time tightly wrapped up in fear and vulnerability. It has created anxiety I have never experienced, yet given me more down time than I could have ever dreamed of having with my family and myself.
March 12, 2020 was a game changer for me. This may seem naive or silly, but standing at a conference that day was literally the first time since my diagnosis that I saw the connection between my body and the destruction outside influences could have on me. I was panicked and had to find a way out of there quickly.
Before this day, I was pretty much of the mindset that my body has been on immune suppressant medications for years and despite a few awful flu experiences and of course all of the lovelies that come with living with an autoimmune disease, I was a strong healthy individual. COVID19 changed all of that for me. For the first time since my diagnosis in 2004, I was truly frightened about what and how this virus could affect me.
When I returned home from the conference, I, like most of the US, imagined working from home for two weeks. Ha! Such an innocent time, right? Since that day however, my family and I have made every effort to reduce my exposure to other people, which has left us at home a lot. With all four of us being extremely fortunate to still be working our jobs, we have been given the gift of anxiety free downtime. We sit at the table talking more as a family. We are able to share our days as they happen, not at the end of the night when we are exhausted. I can ask for hugs all day long. I take my coffee outside in the mornings and take breaks from my job to work out, meditate, or read in the hammock. Plus, I have become the Queen of Bundt cakes! There is no doubt that I am working long hours at home because moving a 100% face to face program completely online takes a lot of team planning and implementing. However, I mentally and physically feel much more relaxed without the long commute, packing of a lunch, and having to look professional every day. While many post about how awful social distancing has been for them, I have to embrace the knowledge that we are fortunate and because of that, we have been given a gift of time that we would otherwise have never experienced.
But, no matter who you are, my guess is that fear and vulnerability have been part of this pandemic. Will the economy survive this chaos? Will I have a job in a month? Do I send my children to school? What will happen if I get this virus? Tough questions we have never been asked to struggle with. My children are seriously tired of me reminding them to keep safe and not bring COVID home and I want to stop worrying, but I just cannot. I recently started going with my husband to pick up carry out food because initially I feared being in a car crash and having to go to the hospital. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. These fears are not me. Well, they weren’t pre-COVID me.
The community college I work for full-time has done an amazing job of keeping us home and preparing for staff to return at 50% to the office. However, I applied for an ADA (American with Disabilities Act) to remain at home 100% since I can currently do my job remotely. This was a tough decision and one that I battle with every single day. In fact, I sent my rheumatologist the ADA form, then called and told her to hold off. However, she made the decision for me. It was best for me to continue social distancing while we see how things play out as more businesses open up and people begin returning to somewhat normal lives again.
I have never been one to hide my RA. Years of limping into work made that impossible. However, I have always had the option of sharing what I wanted, when I wanted. So, having to email HR to get the process going and then to share my personal medical information was a lot. However, it was when the acceptance came in an email that it really hit me. The fact that my rheumatologist believes that my health situation should allow for me to have accommodations that my coworkers don’t have and HR approved it, really hit a chord with me. It made me feel vulnerable in a way I have never viewed myself.
While parts of my brain feel a Zen never experienced before, the other part feels like a chaotic mess. Accepting an ADA is not one that I am truly comfortable with for myself. I have a strong work ethic and I am a team player. One moment my brain is telling me that if everyone else can return to the office, so can I. It asks me, “Are you putting more work on others?” (“Brain, you know this isn’t true. You are seriously a hard worker.”) Then, my brain reminds me that everyone is not taking multiple medications a day and injecting themselves once a week just so they can lift their coffee mug or put the car in drive to get to work. That not everyone had to wait for their orthopedic doctor to have office hours again to get a gel injection so walking without a cane could be my normal again as my knee got pretty bad in April. It reminds me that while my immune system seems to be fairly strong and balanced, there are still too many unknowns with this virus. I battle because in my heart, I feel strong and capable. Asking for an ADA not only forced me to have to share way more of my medical history than I ever hoped to do, but it has made me seriously think about the fact that I live with a pretty serious health condition.
There are few events in life that are a shared experience among so many. As the length of this craziness continues, I can see that how we are each working through this is quite different. For me, I want to take advantage of the extra time I have with my young adult children, husband, and aging border collie. I want to soak up the quiet of early mornings on our deck. I want to use this time to read books and meditate. I don’t want to look back and realize that I wasted this gift of time. But I also want to stay safe. I don’t want to experience this virus. So, for now, I will continue staying home and surviving the best that I can. I hope the same for each of you. May you be well. Be you be happy.