We’re on our own
Note: I found this in my drafts folder. I wrote it in January 2022 and dabbled in it for weeks, but it felt too bleak to publish. I’m doing it now, partly for posterity, but also because in some ways things still feel sort of the same as they did then.
The last couple weeks have felt particularly hard and long in pandemic Manitoba.
Just a few weeks ago, before omicron took hold, life followed a certain rhythm: restrictions increased, restrictions relaxed; healthcare workers sounded the alarm, the government ignored. Promising vaccine announcements, frustration in the scramble that follows. Amazement that Manitoba is doing better than other places, disappointment that we’re the worst. Through it all, the daily 12:30 case numbers.
The predictability of it all is grotesquely comforting (?) in some way. I guess we look for patterns to help us know what to expect; good or bad, it’s helpful. Maybe another way to look at it is that reacting to announcements gives us a way to process and channel our worry, anger and frustration.
Given the testing situation here has more or less fallen apart, the daily new case counts are no longer meaningful, and the focus is primarily on hospitalizations and deaths. When the focus was on case numbers, I’d think about who they were, try to imagine the faces of those unlucky folks. Then quite suddenly, I didn’t have to imagine those faces because they were people I knew. They were neighbours, friends and family members–a lot of them. Covid came to my household, too.
Thursday, January 13th was easily one of my lowest days of the whole pandemic. I was reading reporting on Stefanson’s comments during the previous day’s presser, where she said we were on our own, and that the days of public health guiding the pandemic response were done, and prevented journalists from asking questions to the top docs.
Then I saw Dr Roussin’s comment that “we haven’t given up and neither should you.” Tears came to my eyes. What is this, if not throwing the towel in?
Judging from my Twitter stream, I’m not the only one who has felt really low this past couple weeks. I was lying in bed thinking about it. Is it the relentless cold? The isolation and uncertainty? There haven’t been any major press conferences or announcements or crisis-level covid news stories (though certainly there’s been other horrifying news – the family who died trying to cross the border on foot in a blizzard). I pondered this out loud and my husband replied “it’s because we’re on our own – and this is what it feels like.”
He was right. The government has come right out and said, “We’re done” and this is what it feels like, knowing that. This tweet–exactly.
We’re out there, adrift in the covid sea, and somehow everything feels very quiet. Too quiet. We know things are not okay. We know doctors and nurses have almost nothing left. Yet you wouldn’t know anything is wrong. It’s just the slow burn of deaths and hospitalization rates, the insistence of the government that everything is fine.
Shelley Cook tweets about the blanket of sadness. No context, yet we just know.
We’re allowed to do all sorts of things. We can go out for drinks (until 10pm), we can go to the mall, we can go swimming. But all of these things feel somewhat foolish to me. We spent ten days in isolation over the holidays and I am terrified of winding up there again.
I think back to my younger days, before kids, before being responsible for anything other than myself. I used to be obsessed with language and dictionaries and knowing things like the difference between an acronym and an initialism. I look back now with both nostalgia and mild self-loathing. There were just as many awful things going on in the world, just as many big systemic issues that needed dealing with, but I was blissfully unaffected by them, or at least engaged only to the degree that I was aware of them, and falling short of actually doing anything about them.
In different times, I would have suggested to someone struggling with the blues or finding a sense of meaning to focus outwards and do something that’s bigger than themselves. No better distraction from your troubles than thinking about others, and all that. I tell myself to take my own advice, but I’m too tired. I’ve been parenting young children for almost 12 years. For the latter half of that, I’ve given almost all my free time to volunteering and advocacy work. To be brutally honest, I’m tired of caring for and thinking about other people.
It is rich and pointless to complain and whine. You think you’re tired of this? Tell that to a nurse or a teacher. We have every material comfort and privilege we could reasonably ask for. And we have our health. Winter won’t last forever. Think of the unexpected gifts and simple pleasures. Discovering a new show. Remembering old music I loved. The Saturday paper. A freshly ploughed sidewalk on a mild blue-sky day. Something real in the mail. Watching squirrels from inside the warm house. Looking up my favourite 90s commercials and sharing them with my kids.
I feel both a palpable sorrow at the state of disconnection from my friends and family members and a compete lack of energy to do anything about it. Early on, when in retrospect, we’d hardly even had any time to miss anyone, I remember seeing this tweet and thinking, “hm, this is poignant but also maybe a little exaggerated?” But covid has gone on long enough now that I know it’s true in the grand scheme.
I miss my friends. I miss making normal plans. There are moments when I think I should write a text or pick up the phone or write an email and I don’t.
There’s nothing to talk about. No one has anything new to say. There’s only covid. Talking about covid is all there is to do, yet makes everyone feel worse. It feels easier not to talk at all.
I’m an introvert with many years of forcing myself to practice the art of extroversion to get by in the world. Making small talk, keeping a conversation going… they don’t come naturally for me, and require a not-insignificant amount of emotional energy. Even though in some ways I am proud of myself for coping regularly in situations that are out of my comfort zone, I’m not sure I’d call this an achievement. But to my dismay, nearly two years of “cancel everything” I can feel my imitation extrovert (ex-faux-vert?) skills are waning. It basically feels like a holding pattern, stuck somewhere between depression and languishing.
I’ve always felt it’s an act of love and respect to follow the public health rules. We get to carry each other. It’s an honour to be both “we” and “other.” We got our shots and our boosters, the kids are getting theirs. But most of the world hasn’t even had a chance to do that yet. The vaccine was supposed to be the way out, but we’re still in deep trouble and now we’re on our own to figure out what the end of the pandemic might look like.
The “not knowing” has always been the hardest part of the pandemic, but this time it seems extra hard. Because we are doing the things we’ve been told to do, yet it feels like things have never been worse.
I’ve got Bo Burnham’s “That Funny Feeling” on repeat (alternating with Phoebe Bridgers’ version) and it reminds me of teenage me discovering Dan Bern’s music. The song’s about a million things, and maybe not even covid, but the ending lyrics sit with me.
“Hey, what can you say, we were overdue
But it’ll be over soon, you wait”
When will it end?