Being an Extrovert in the COVID19 Nightmare

Week 1. The fear of social isolation: Contracting COVID19 doesn’t necessarily scare me. I’ve had a strong immune system my entire life; I grew up with my mom working as a nurse, and now I am a special education teacher. I have faith that my body has what it needs to fight it. (I know that others aren’t so fortunate). The social distancing and quarantining, on the other hand, terrifies me. I am completely in support of it and am hopeful that following the guidelines will slow the spread of the virus. However, the logic in it doesn’t make it any easier emotionally. 

As someone who gets anxiety the minute work lets out on Friday if I don’t have social plans for the weekend, this COVID19 situation is literally bringing some of my worst nightmares to fruition. As much as I adore summer break, being out of a routine that gives me regular human interaction, is when I hit some of my lowest points. I struggle, on a regular basis, with too much alone time; it sends me into a dizzy tailspin of negative catastrophic emotions. 

Over this past weekend I celebrated my birthday. I was surrounded by a group of my closest friends that I would consider my family. Over the three days at our family cabin in Tahoe we snowboarded behind 4Runners, we partied (careful to not spread germs), we laughed, we sleeping bag slid down the stairs, and we genuinely had the time of our lives (while washing our hands every few minutes). Even on that high, I went to bed crying twice, woke up teary once, and had episodes of deep fear, that my friends so kindly talked me out of, throughout each day.

Day 1 of being home and I’m hit by a reality that is eerie. My friends went home to roommates who have become good friends, significant others, and family members. I’m currently living alone and the indefinite timeline of being by myself is hitting hard. My parents live close, but I’d rather steer clear as they are over the age of 60. In this time of uncertainty it’s healing to band together, but with COVID19 it’s socially responsible to be apart.

For this extrovert who so deeply depends on social interaction for happiness, the fear of being isolated is paralyzing. The spiraling thoughts of those I love avoiding me in fear that I am carrying the virus is enough to kick start an anxiety attack (causing shortness of breath which in turn convinces me I may have COVID19). Excessive worrying that I will unknowingly pass it to my parents, or other people I love, who it may be fatal for is excruciating. That kind of alone is unfathomably hard to contemplate.

I’m already missing hugs, I’m already missing high fives, I’m already missing bad 1st dates. I miss crowds and shared experiences. I’ve had the tv on all day “watching” various shows, but I’ve barely tuned in. I have been so in my head about what to do next? Where will our world be in the near future?

I’m more grateful than ever for technology and the ability to spend my upcoming birthday playing virtual kings cup with my friends. It will be a much needed distraction to the worries of COVID19. Hoping to find more peace in the upcoming weeks. 

3.16.2020 the City of Petaluma is shifting to an “essential services only” operations model beginning Tuesday, March 17, and continuing through April 6, 2020.

3.18.20. Fear of COVID19 itself: Fear got the best of me last night. I typically go to bed around 9 and am up by 8:00am (when I’m not working). I love my sleep. However, last night my mind was reeling with fear of losing those I love. My grandpa is in his 90’s and felt isolated before COVID19 broke; without the proper skills to navigate technology he’s even more isolated than we are. He’s stubborn and social; I’m terrified that he’ll expose himself to this virus and we’ll lose him.

My mind went to really dark places with my parents. My mom is a nurse, the fear of her being exposed, and then also exposing my dad is a thought that makes my skin crawl, my heart sink, and my eyes immediately tear. I couldn’t shake the fear of possibly losing multiple people that I am so attached to. Life would be so incredibly different, empty, and hard.

3.19.2020 Clinging to a virtual social life for dear life: Craving social input with the depths of my soul. Doing my best to stay social through Zoom get togethers; scheduling virtual happy hours every chance I get. The Zooms are wonderful, they fill my world with so much comfort and happiness. The endings however, are jarring. They are abrupt; suddenly I’m all alone again in the quiet of my bedroom.

3.20.2020 The envy of “quaranteams“: It’s hard to not be envious of other peoples “quaranteams” with the ever present platform of social media. I’ve been living alone in this “shelter in place” order for the past five days. It’s awful and isolating. The only thing keeping my head above water is walks with my coworker (10 feet apart). It was uplifting to realize the outdoors weren’t closed.

My new roommate moved in yesterday. I can’t tell you what a mood lifter she has been. Just to have another body in the house completely changes the energy. Although I’m so grateful she’s here, I’m still envious of those stuck at home with some of their favorite humans: husbands, family members, and friends. Quarantine would be a completely different experience if I was alongside a good friend. I’ve been fighting this feeling with zoom calls filled with drinking games and close friends, but it’s never the same as having them here in person.

3.22.2020 Isolation birthday celebration: Today was my birthday. I’ve been dreading this day all week. Turns out I have a pretty amazing support system of friends. The zoom call that lasted 7 hours was really more than I could have asked for in these circumstances. We had a blast catching up, playing kings cup, sharing quarantine stories, and changing our backgrounds. It was definitely a birthday I’ll never forget and I’m so grateful for the happiness they brought to me. I love you guys, so much, thank you.

It didn’t completely pass without its lows. Towards the end of the day, after a fair amount of beverages, sadness set in. Tears bubbled up. I wasn’t going to get hugs from my family. We weren’t going to spend a night out at my favorite restaurant. I was craving closeness, and in these times it just wasn’t possible to have. Last minute plans were made; I did see my family, we did eat dinner together (6ft apart in the garage), my mom made me a delicious cake, and it did lift my spirits, but it was so hard to not physically be close.

3.23.2020 The new order closes all parks located with in the County of Sonoma until at least April 7 or until order is lifted.  Stay 6 Feet Away: If you do need to go out to access essential services, such as groceries or medical care, make sure to stay 6 feet away from others. Get In, Get Out: When going to stores for essential items, do not linger and shop.  Though it may be tempting after being cooped up at home, this is not a time to browse!  Please get what you need quickly and head for home – this is for the safety of you, store employees, and other customers. Take Extra Care with Youth:  Youth have been called the “hidden carriers” of the disease because they often do not show symptoms.  While it is extremely important for everyone in the community to stay home, it is imperative for children, teens, and young adults to do so. 27 active cases, 1 death, 1 recovered in Sonoma County.

3.27.2020 A much needed distraction: I stopped documenting for a while for two reasons. One, this has been a complete emotional roller coaster and documenting my thoughts became chaotic. Two, tracking my thoughts made me painfully aware of them and what I really needed to emotionally survive this uncertain time was distraction. I’ve found that in finally getting back to work. …Holy moly. I’ll never forget what it was like to be a teacher during this instant switch to virtual learning. Talk about a roller coaster ride. I work for a title 1 school and our first step was to make sure all of our students had equal access to the curriculum. This meant lending out Chromebooks, securing wifi hot spots for families, serving daily lunches, sending home pencils, markers etc. It’s been incredible to watch how school staffs immediately found ways to support all their students from a distance. This past week has been one of the most overwhelming weeks I’ve ever experienced as a teacher – yes that includes my first year when I was still in school full time while teaching as an intern and head coaching a competitive tournament softball team, giving private lessons, mental game coaching, and managing a social life. Nothing can compare to the mental chaos that ensued as I desperately tried to figure out how I was going to virtually meet my students needs and IEP minutes. Let’s just say that at one point I calculated it; if I did it by myself and individually met every one of my students mandated minutes I would only have to work 34 hours a day… Yes, you read that correctly, 34 hours a day. Thank dog for the support of my coworkers. Flying the plane as you build it isn’t the most effective way to travel, but it was our only choice.

3.29.2020 The waves of social distancing: Yesterday I hit a hard low. Throughout this social distancing period I’ve recognized that riding the emotional waves of quarantine is really challenging. The pit of the wave I tussled under yesterday was my lowest yet. I couldn’t shake it. The more fun I tried to have the more sadness crept over me. It finally sank in that this isn’t over, and it isn’t almost over either. I haven’t hugged or had any physical contact with another human being in over two weeks. I really miss physical closeness, especially hugs.

I waded through that sadness. I sat with it, I cried with it, I slept with it, I stared blankly at my walls with it, I drank with it, I puzzled with it, I watched my favorite shows with it, I zoomed with friends as it loomed over me. It was everywhere and I couldn’t escape it. I was heavy, everywhere, with no end in sight.

Today I forced myself into turning over a new leaf. I had to. I wasn’t going to make it through this quarantine without a different mindset. I got up early and went for a good long hike with my aunt in the rain. It wasn’t hard, but hard enough to make me tired and sore. Beautiful enough to make me appreciate my surroundings. Rainy enough to match my mood and wash away the endless heaviness. Long enough to change the pattern in my breathing and force soulful inhales. Challenging enough to send endorphins swirling through my veins. Endorphins. There you are. I needed you.

I took the long way home. I drove through the rain in the redwoods. I came across peaks and took in breathtaking views. I cruised alongside the ocean in awe of the vastness. I ignored the notifications. I breathed. I drove. I listened. I was present. I was still.

Upon arriving home, I took a shower. Made a cup of warm coffee. I continued to ignore my phone, and watched a favorite show while listening to the rain. Staying present. Staying still.

As dinner rolled around I FaceTimed with a best friend. She supported my need for an extravagant dinner. A curbside delivered beautiful Italian spread accompanied by a favorite bottle of red wine was the perfect ending to my day. A Sunday that reset me. A day that taught me in times of overwhelming emotional stress I have to be selfish. I have to take care of my mind, my body, and my soul before I can do anything for others. I was almost on a high as the day ended. I felt hopeful. I had faith that I was in control of how I felt despite what happened in the world around me. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew I could find the peaks if I worked for it.

3.30.2020 Fighting for peaks: I did it. I found a flow in quarantine. I set a schedule and stuck to it. I’ve implemented things I never thought would be apart of my daily life. I woke up early and walked as the sun cast itself onto the city. There’s something about mornings that just breathes life into me; there’s a quiet that can’t be heard at any other time. There’s a sense of endless potential to chase. I came home and sat in meditation, watching my thoughts without judgement. I never thought I would be one to mediate, but it allowed me to accept and cherish being still. I worked my normal day and then rewarded myself with some downtime once I finished. I even did a second workout with my best friend via Zoom. I cooked dinner and then spent some social time with my roommate. I kept the high, I stayed within my flow. I felt in control. I felt like I could do this.

3.31.2020 The power of “and”: Doing both, seeing both, and embracing both has always been a personal challenge. I tend to see the world through a lens of “or”; I’m weak or strong, I’m confident or self-conscious, I’m high or low, this is miserable or fantastic. I’ve deemed the facets of my personality mutually exclusive adding to this perception of consistently being all in or all out. Facing the challenges of quarantine with a mindset of “and” has given me the emotional strength I needed to take care of my needs. I was reminded that I can feel both grateful for this extra time and disappointed that I’m missing out on the things being canceled. I can be hopeful for the coming days and scared that everything feels like it’s falling apart. I can be thankful for the distraction of work and overwhelmed by its demands. I can be angry at the circumstances, but also appreciative of how they are making me grow.

4.1.2020 It’s not social distancing, its physical distancing: The words we use to speak to ourselves in the private of our own conscious are important. We’ve been inundated with the term “Social distancing” by the media. However, it’s not social distancing that keeps us safe, its physical distancing. Social distance sounds lonely, emotional, and isolating. Physical distancing on the other hand, rolls off the tongue in a more logical manner that seems doable. In these times, the mindset of social distancing can keep us from turning to the people we so desperately need to make it through these uncertain times. There are no limits to how emotionally close we can be to those we love; we just can’t physically be that close. I’ve even found that some of my friendships have soared to deeper levels. We’ve shared fears, tears, peaks, laughs, and secrets through virtual platforms that we may not have been prompted to otherwise.

I have a friend that I’ve always adored, but wouldn’t necessarily categorize her to fit into the best friend, ride or die, do anything for you category. Through COVID, we’ve found connection, we found safety in our similarities, and we’ve found comfort in being vulnerable to one another. Now, she would be on my list of first calls if I ever reached a dark place. The growth in our friendship is stunning, it’s gorgeous, it’s priceless. Our connection is something I will hold onto for years to come, long after all of this has ended. She will be the reminder to always look for the silver lining, even if it feels like the world may be ending.

4.8.2020 The night I became a howler: At first I didn’t understand the howls. I thought they were odd and random. However, when I was finally prompted to tune into their sounds one evening, my heart grew towards them. In a peculiar way they reminded me we aren’t alone in this. I felt so connected to my city, my community, and everyone out there keeping this world running while the rest of us are doing our part by staying home. Its a feeling I almost can’t describe in words.

My house is located about a mile from downtown. When the clock strikes 8:00pm theres an undeniable undertone of howls in the air. They aren’t distinct, but they are there. You can almost feel the gratitude in the air as the soft wave of howls blankets the atmosphere. As the minutes pass my neighborhood chimes in, adding howls from each corner. A coworker shared videos of her neighborhood during the howl; what a joyous occasion. The entire neighborhood lights up with howls. Her adjacent neighbors adorn their porches with cowbells; some bang pots and pans as they walk down the streets. They cheer thanks and praise into the air for all of our front line workers. It’s the most beautiful and unique reminder that we are all in this together.

4.9.20 The safety of Isolation: I have yet to enter a store or any public place of business since March 13th. No grocery stores, nothing. Everything that comes through my front door is doused in disinfectant and fixtures that are touched regularly throughout the house are consistently being wiped down by my roommate and I. Staying home, being vigilant about washing my hands, and physically distancing myself from others on my walks has given me peace. The peace of mind that it would be highly unlikely for me to be carrying the virus. A peace of mind that I couldn’t find when all this started. That first week of being stuck in the house, I continually convinced myself I had it. A cough here, the occasional shortness of breath there; I was sure it was coming. Shelter in place has given me an extra safety net and a sigh of relief. For that, I am grateful.

4.10.2020 COVID19 hits home: It was a Thursday evening. My friends and I had just finished virtual trivia and were enjoying a post game drink via Zoom. One of the squares went noticeably quiet as a dear friend of ours took a moment to read a text message. It only took a few seconds for the rest of us to realize her absence wasn’t typical. The text message was from her mom. They were at the hospital with her grandma who is 93; she was experiencing a fever with a cough, and had just tested positive for COVID19. Our hearts collectively sank. Grandma lives in the house next door; she has dementia and is easily confused by new circumstances. She would have to be left alone at the hospital to be treated. Our hearts shattered. We couldn’t even fathom what she could be feeling, but we were heartbroken for her. Tears welled in our eyes as the reality of COVID19 vividly made its presence.

That night I prayed my heart out. I spoke, I begged, I cried and I pleaded to a god I’m not sure I believe in. My mind spiraled with what ifs through my deepest efforts to stay hopeful. I clutched my phone, ensuring that I could immediately respond should she need comfort. Sleep wasn’t an option; I had to keep hoping, I had to keep sending strength. I had to feel the fear and the pain, like somehow if I did she wouldn’t have to.

4.12.2020 The comfort of a shared experience: As this all unfolded in early March, the term “new normal” didn’t resonate with me. I wasn’t ready to accept what my days in quarantine would look like: I didn’t want that kind of life, even temporarily. To my surprise, I’ve found a sense of comfort in knowing that we are all having a shared experience. Yes, I’m not able to go out and live the social life that I typically have, however, I’m not missing out on that social life either. FOMO, Fear OF Missing Out, is a large driving force of my anxiety. However, 30 days into quarantine, I’m finding comfort in knowing there’s nothing to miss out on. We are all in this together. It’s the epitome of a shared experience.

4.15.20 A Tiger King Low: I hit a new double feature quarantine low today. I taught myself my first TikTok dance. Not only did I stoop to the levels of a TikTok dance challenge, but it was none other than the Carol Baskin TikTok dance. “Killed her husband, whacked him…”

4.14.2020: The Sonoma County Health Officer has issued a new Health Order requiring that everyone wear facial coverings to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) locally. The Order states people must wear a facial covering before they enter an indoor facility other than their home, any enclosed space, or an outdoor space where they cannot keep a distance of six feet away from others at all times. 

4.16.2020 Quarantine Silver Linings:

  • Finding comfort in being still
  • Deeper and more genuine connections with friends/family
  • Wednesday lunches with grandpa and family
  • Appreciation for the simple things
  • Gratitude for the outdoors
  • Time to be lazy without guilt
  • Morning walks

4.17.2020 Holding onto hope: Nobody was quite sure what it meant, but we were all grateful it was happening. My friends grandma was responding to antibiotics and had almost no symptoms. She was coming home. This was incredible news, our hearts fluttered with relief.

Unfortunately, it was followed by an update that her mom had also tested positive, yet she wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. Mom and grandma would quarantine together next door and fight this battle together. An unexplainable blanket of certainty consumed our group as we received the updates. Grandma has survived cancer three times; she’s a warrior and has undoubtedly passed on her strength to the rest of the family. They are going to beat this.

4.18.2020 Exponential Productivity and The Most Epic Ice: It hit me all of a sudden, an urge I couldn’t ignore. I needed to accomplish; I needed to cross things off my list and check boxes on my checklist. It started in the garage; I cleared everything out into the driveway. I purged, I organized, I reminisced, I re-arranged, and I cleaned. About half way through the organization extravaganza an Instacart delivery came to my door. I hadn’t ordered anything, and neither had my roommate so I was surprised to hear it was for me. Confused, I asked where it was from – BevMo. I immediately knew this delivery may not be in my favor. I laughed as I asked if he could tell who had ordered it. He informed me that a note on the order read “From Madison”. We both laughed as he handed me the grocery bag; inside was a 6 pack of Smirnoff Ice and a handle of Fireball. I had been Iced in the most epic way during a pandemic while being quarantined. I bowed to the ingenious idea, got on one knee and shook my head as I tanked the first bottle. Our group chat erupted with laughter.

I finished the garage, half of the backyard, the downstairs closet, and the entire 6 pack of Smirnoff Ice by the end of the evening. (Documenting each chug for my group of friends along the way). I had finally caught the productivity bug that everyone else seemed to be experiencing during quarantine. The sense of accomplishment at the end of the day sent me off to bed at ease yet eager to check off more tasks in the morning.

Part 2: Finding Solace in SIP

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