When I lived in Boston, it became a running joke that I was an accidental trend-setter. Every neighborhood I either lived or worked in became popular as soon as I left.
In 2008, I lived in an absolute dump of an apartment on Boylston Street, right behind Fenway Park. (It sounds cool on paper but trust me, it was a dump.) A year later, I moved out, and almost overnight, luxury apartments and restaurants popped up out of thin air.
In 2010, I was working for Thomson Reuters in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood. At the time, the building complex I worked in, a cluster of 100+ year-old brick buildings, was surrounded by lifeless parking lots. There were only two or three bars nearby. I left to go to another job, and once again, a new neighborhod pops up out of thin air, and is now one of the busiest places in the city.
Same thing with Oak Square, Brighton and Central Square, Cambridge.
Why am I telling you this?
Because once again, it seems that I have set a trend. Unfortunately, this is not a trend to laugh about in retrospect. It is one that I wish no one followed.
Being stuck at home.
In a non-coronavirus world, I don’t leave the house much. I do get to travel for work, which gets me out and about, but from week to week, I am home almost the entire time, with occasional errands here and there. I don’t drive anymore, so if I am to go anywhere, it has to be with my dad. Which is fine, but it cuts down on the frequency of going into town. I’m used to it. I don’t mind it too much, although I do long for a more spontaneous life. But that ship has sailed.
But with the virus, everyone is now living my world, only it’s even more pronounced because we can’t go anywhere. Not the trend I wanted to set! I feel for everyone who is new to this reality. Being stuck at home is no fun. Especially when you don’t know when you will be able to safely go outside and resume normal life again.
This is a difficult, tragic time. And we have no idea yet the full scope and magnitude of what we are up against. It is frustrating and depressing and scary. So very scary. It will change the course of history. It will change (and has already changed) our attitudes towards so many things – money, social interaction, security, toilet paper (seriously, who will ever look at toilet paper the same way again?). And PPE.
What increases the anxiety is how, no matter how bad you know the news will be, you can’t not watch. I’ve tried to turn away, but every few minutes I find myself checking a news site for the latest. Every night at 6:30, I tune into the national news, dutifully informing myself of current events while getting gut-punched repeatedly. Thank God that they now show inspiring news at the end. It would be intolerable otherwise.
Ten years ago, I would have felt invincible. But now? I feel my fragility. Having a degenerative muscle disease puts me at increased risk for severe complications. I’m weak. My breathing, although around 90% of normal function, isn’t the same as a regular adult my age. I think my organs are in good working order, but I don’t know how well they’d handle severe stress. I’d rather not find out!
Then there are my parents, who are in their 70s. I’m even more worried about them. Although I’d like to live independently again someday, I am so happy I am with them at this time. To worry about them from afar, somewhere out of state, would be too much to bear. At least this way, I can worry about them in person.
Although, if my dad got sick and could no longer care for me…I’m screwed. I honesty don’t know what I’d do. If he gets infected, then I likely would be infected too, and that severely limits my caregiving options. The rehab facility down the street, my less-than-ideal option in the best of times, wouldn’t take me in. Nor would I want them to. It’s too risky to the other patients, many of whom are advanced in age.
I have sort of patched together a backup plan were this to happen, but there are so many unknowns.
And on top of it all, my sister is seven months pregnant. Which is joyous(!) but we don’t have a clear understanding of how this virus affects pregnant women. I pray for her safety and the safety of my nephew-to-be. Whether we’ll be able to visit them when he’s born, I don’t know.
And the horrific loss of life. And the economy. And….
In times like this, when the world feels like it is coming apart at the seams, I have to consciously take a step back and refocus. The emotions I feel now are not new. They are the same emotions I felt several years ago, albeit now in a much more condensed timeframe.
During that time, as my body first started to break down, it devastated me emotionally. The uncertainty of the future caused stress the likes of which I never wanted to experience again. But I feel it again now. I am better able to handle it now, and my perspective has evolved, but there’s no question it’s back.
Deep down, I take comfort in the fact that I’ve gotten through stressful times before, but this time, the stakes are much higher. And, quite frankly, I’m not handling this as well as I’d like. Fear is a formidable foe.
But it is not insurmountable.
I came out of that dark time several years ago with renewed strength and fortitude. Fear was defeated. And it can be defeated again, although this time it is going to be tougher.
Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I’ve been through a lot in my 33 years:
- My muscle disease, which has produced a lifetime of struggle in just 13 years.
- 9-11 happened when I was a sophomore in high school.
- I was in a serious car accident my senior year of high school which kick-started a year-long diagnostic odyssey.
- I graduated college right at the start of the financial crisis in 2008, which caused me to scramble for the next five years to stay afloat financially.
- I was in Boston during the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.
- And many other events, good and bad and too numerous to list, which have shaped my life’s trajectory.
At the end of the day, all we can control in life is the process – how we handle ourselves in each moment that comes our way. The end result is out of our hands. I could take every precaution and still get the coronavirus. That’s not to say that I can’t take steps to minimize my risk. But the end result is out of my hands. That part, I give to God to handle.
But even while praying frantically, there are still actions that I can take. It is in these times, in addition to faith, that I dust off the memories of my past experiences and reflect on what has helped me.
In the process of looking back and examining the tools and techniques that have helped me through difficult times, I will do my best to share what I’ve learned. Maybe some of these tools will help you as well.
I had a series on here called the Adversity Playbook. It was a series that was well-intentioned, and I meant to write regularly on the topic of overcoming adversity, but never got around to making it a regular series.
Now, however, I am motivated to pick it back up. It is a topic that I care deeply about, and is needed now more than ever. For right now, you can find the series here on my website. Eventually, I am going to spin it out to a new website altogether and really start to build out the content. (I may also change the name if I can think of something better!)
Here are some topics I plan to cover in the weeks ahead:
How to thrive while home-bound – This is a topic I know very, very well. The thriving part is a bit more of a learned skill, but I know what it’s like to be stuck at home for extended periods. I’ll share what has worked for me, and also what hasn’t worked. The overarching key is to develop a routine and set goals.
Depression/anxiety/uncertainty about the future – I know a thing or two about these topics.
Existential thoughts – Thinking about life’s purpose lately? You are not the only one. For this, I have both a religious answer and a secular answer. I’ll share both.
Favorite books, quotes and articles, role models – this will mostly be in list form. I hope you like lists!
Times of adversity can cause tremendous pain and suffering. But in a time of great suffering, we find men and women at their best, rising to the occasion. There are countless good deeds taking place, of people surviving the virus against all odds, of neighbor helping neighbor. I hope that we can look back someday and see that this was the time where we reassesed our lives and understood what truly matters at the end of the day. It is not money, or status, or possessions. It is each other.
We’ll get through this, together.