I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I think A LOT about the last two years. The pandemic and everything that came with it changed my life forever. For many reasons.
Many nights I lie in bed and flash through defining moments of the pandemic. I think about my responses and my feelings at the time. I doubt myself; wonder if I was thinking the right things. I always come back to one specific moment. It is one of the biggest regrets I have.
I was sitting in the lobby of the oncology ward at the hospital. It was the height of pandemic panic and the chairs were strictly distanced and parted by red tape and angry red stickers on the floor. A young woman came and sat at the other end of the room. She got out her phone and called someone. And then she started crying and said “it’s cancer mom, it’s cancer.” Then her crying got my intense. I could hear her sobs and her words but she was many red stickers and tape away from me. I was locked in my seat, but I was feeling all her emotion. (I wasn’t just sitting on the oncology ward for no reason after all). I could feel my own eyes well up with tears as I was witness to this incredibly traumatic moment in this woman’s life.
Once she had hung up, she sat numbly for a little while, tears still coming down her face. Then she put her phone away, put on her backpack and walked away. After she was gone I went to the restroom and cried my eyes out. For her. And also for another reason. I was so incredibly angry at myself. That whole time I had sat frozen and terrified of the meaning behind those red stickers. Had it not been pandemic times, I want to tell myself I wouldn’t have hesitated to run over and give her a hug and ask her if she needed anything at all. I would have told her it was going to be okay even if it didn’t feel like it in that moment. But I didn’t do that. The rules were so strict at this point. We were all so scared of catching COVID. Especially on an oncology ward. I was afraid that I would then make her sick or her me. That maybe me violating social distancing would make her even more upset.
But two years later I still regret everything about that moment. I should’ve gone for it. I should have let her see I was crying with her. That she was not alone. Because in that moment she must have felt so so alone. I should’ve stepped over that tape and on all those stickers and moved the chair and been with her. Human to human. Allow her to cry on my shoulder instead of into nothing. Reassure her. Hold her and her terrible news to make it a little less heavy. But at that time, I didn’t. One might say that the fog of the pandemic was hanging over me so intensely that it actually prevented me from seeing what the right thing to do was. I regretted it immediately as she walked away and I still do.
I know how I would do it now, COVID or not. I vow to remember that young woman so that I can do the right thing next time. Isolation in times of crisis is one of the most painful things that someone can experience. Be with each other. Hold each other. Love each other. Family, friends, strangers. Everyone.
For years I’ve been in a battle with myself. My mind fighting my body, my body fighting my mind and me as a person being attacked by them both. My goal has always been to “win”. Winning meant that I would go out and do what everyone else was doing no matter how bad it made me feel. Winning meant that neither my anxieties nor my physical pain would stop me from accomplishing what was expected of me that day.
In the last three years the battle between myself, my mind and my body has exhausted and frustrated me beyond words. It seems that I have fought hard and still lost many times. My body has stopped me from completing trips that I had dreamed of for months beforehand (pre-covid times). It made my college start almost unbearable and since led me to be trapped in remote learning even after my classmates returned to normal classes last school year. It has stopped me from getting a job to be able to save up like other young people to eventually be able to leave home and become independent. The jobs I have attempted –on the days where I tried to win– end in more upset just weeks or days later when I am forced to quit. Taking away the opportunity and at the same time making me look like a quitter. Something I strive so incredibly hard not to be.
Most recently it has taken away the perfect internship that I applied to and got accepted into a few months ago. Months that came before the most recent COVID surge, before my anxieties and my health concerns started mounting at a speed I could barely follow. During those months I held onto the possibility of starting this new journey with excitement but also growing sadness. As the weeks went on I began to see that my body was winning and that it was going to try to stop me.
This fight mentality is hard to live with. Fighting connotes anger and aggression, neither of which I have. So being angry at myself day after day became exhausting quickly. As I write this it is just a couple of days before I am due to start at the new workplace. I have still not given up enough to write to tell them that I am unable to come. Somewhere in me I always think maybe I can keep fighting just a little longer and then everything will turn around and I will win this one. The thought of writing out that email pulling out of yet another commitment makes me want to throw up. It fills me with guilt and shame and frustration all directed towards my body and my mind. When I inevitably send that email I will cry thinking of how I allowed my weak mind and body defeat me again. To take away another thing that I had wholeheartedly planned and wanted to do.
I may have had all the world’s best intentions, but the people on the other side of that email don’t know me. They have never met me. This may seem like a good thing- the email of the quitter will essentially be anonymous. But they will also think badly of me for being that person who pulls out of something at the very last minute. They will never know the battle that raged between every part of me for weeks leading up to the defeat in the form of that email.
No matter how hard I try to take advice like “be kind to yourself” and “you’re doing your best, that’s all you can do” to heart, I still feel ashamed. Ashamed of every time I have had to disappoint someone who was relying on me. Ashamed that other people my age are living and working, creating a life that I don’t even dare think about because it seems so far out of my reach.
I’m not at the point yet where I can be at peace with letting my illness win. But I know I need to get there. When you fight yourself you will always lose.