I often think of the tragedies I have lived through: the Gulf War which had little impact on me because I was in middle school, though, I do think my fellow students planned a walkout; coming back into the United States after the bombing in Oklahoma City; the horror of watching the Columbine Massacre unfold on television my senior year of college. The biggest traumas of my life included 9/11, and even more locally, Hurricane Sandy, and then my own personal trauma, my marriage and divorce. I am in no way equating a local natural disaster or my divorce with the magnitude of 9/11. However, each one was terrifying, contained so many unknowns, and left me feeling powerless to control my situation.
After I recovered from the immediate horror of 9/11, I, like many New Yorkers, spent a great deal of time living under the shadows of the threat of another attack. I lived on a barrier island during Hurricane Sandy, and I remember the National Guard coming into a wrecked town covered in sand and debris, and I thought I would never come closer to a scene that resembled war. At the time, my father reminded me that people can act desperately when they do not have necessities; there were sewage issues and lack of safe drinking water in some Long Island towns for months after the storm.
The horror of my marriage and the divorce process impacted me on such a personal level that, unlike 9/11 or Sandy, I couldn’t escape its impact even for a moment. For so many years, I walked around with a weight on my chest that made it hard to breathe, laugh, or really enjoy life to its fullest.
And here I am, over a year out, and I am a new, happier, lighter person. Peaceful in a way I never could have imagined less than a year and a half ago. And, when I think about the darkest moments and what allowed me to survive physically, and, even more so, emotionally and mentally, it was my support network. My parents, my coworkers who have become my friends and confidantes, my circle of high school and college friends, and the friendships formed more recently. The moms of my children’s friends from daycare and elementary school. The people with whom I interact daily. The school secretaries who practically run the school where I work. My hairdresser. The people I talk to daily or even just once in a while. My students’ parents. My children’s teachers. The people you barely know or just meet for a moment in whom you confide at a low point or moment of despair.
There is evidence that you may actually confide more in people you barely know than the people you consider your safety network. I have been on both ends of that paradox. People I looked at across a room have shared the strangest and most intimate information with me. But, I understand. Often, when particularly upset or stressed, I feel my words tumbling out, oversharing with unlikely recipients. After a particularly difficult week dealing with my ex over the children’s visitation schedule, I poured my concerns out to a grandmother picking her grandchild up from a play date. She sagely advised, “Remember forgiveness is more for you than the person you have forgiven.” I try to live by her words.
But the emotions I am feeling in the midst of the Corona crisis are unique. I walked into a bakery yesterday and almost cried to the owner because, in the aftermath of talks of a state lockdown, I could not even imagine being unable to walk into a local store anymore. I am bemoaning the loss of all the normalcy I typically take for granted. All the routines that keep us grounded and purposeful, the routines that allow us the structure to overcome our small or larger challenges are being threatened.
My children’s routine is in upheaval. Their school, religion class, sports, and other activities have all been cancelled. I texted one mom I see at almost every activity just to ask how she was doing. I missed seeing her.
The store shelves are bare. Going into stores with empty shelves seems designed to cause panic and fear.
One of my best friends, who is typically a very laidback person, told me that the unknowns of the virus and this situation are making her feel very anxious. I told her my divorce and dealing with a narcissistic ex must have made me immune to such anxiety. In the past year, I sadly have had to release so much control over my children’s safety and well-being. The courts seem unwillingly to enforce consequences over parents who don’t comply with settlements. So when my ex has my children, I often do not know their whereabouts. Is he taking them to school? No, he dropped them off at before care, which is in violation of the settlement. Are they at his parents’ house for February break? Nope, he violated the settlement, took them to a hotel, and never informed me. Are they on this flight? No, he changed their flight without apprising me. He flouts the settlement at every turn. So, yes, as a person who often doesn’t know if her children are safe, I may have become immune to anxiety.
As far as the virus, as is often the case in many aspects of life, I have no control over whether I get sick or my friends or my family members do. Or, as contraction seems inevitable, when? Prior to school and work closures, any of us could have been exposed. Or during our social distancing, we might be exposed on our one errand for essentials. All of that is out of our hands.
But for me, the biggest loss, what I am struggling with today, is the loss of normalcy. The loss of a “boring” routine. The loss of going to work and seeing my coworkers and my friends. Knowing that my children are at their school with their teachers and friends. That in the afternoon, they will have their play dates or their activities. That I will greet the same parents. See the same familiar faces.
Today, I am grieving for the social interaction I have beyond my friends. The larger social network I take for granted. I think many of us are. Some of my friends who are introverted say they prepared their whole lives for this. I didn’t. I thrive on social contact. I need it.