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My Mind has Gone Viral with Fear of Covid-19

April 17, 2020 Margaret Crane

If you are reading this, I assume your life is about as exciting as mine right now. You probably understand that I am not going anywhere because I have nowhere to go–and neither do you--except, goodness forbid, to a hospital, if we contract the coronavirus. There a sweet grandmotherly nurse, if one is available, in a makeshift hazmat suit, plastic shield and gloves, fluffs your pillow, takes your vitals and strokes your forehead while asking which medical insurance you have.

I live alone in New York City in a tiny apartment where I have decided to stay put to avoid going out in this petri dish of a city. I look outside and see empty streets, though I also have a glorious view of the Hudson River. As someone emailed me: “We’ve gone from standard time to the Twilight Zone!”  It’s eerily quiet except for an occasional siren piercing the quiet, often an ambulance, and people leaning out their windows at 7 p.m. EST each night cheering for our first responders. For those couple of minutes, I feel like I am part of a community and then it’s back to reality—isolation.   

We all have our own way of dealing with this malicious microbe. Sometimes I wake up at 3 a.m. consumed by dark thoughts of Covid-19, and when that happens, I try to think of something pleasant. My mind jumps to spending an afternoon on the beach. And in my quest to avoid dwelling on a depressing topic that can keep me from falling back to sleep, this scene starts to remind me of all those spring breakers who were shoulder to shoulder on the beach not considering the ramifications of not social distancing. I get upset, am back to square one and wide awake. It’s definitely too early to call someone or text.

Groundhog Day

At first, I thought I’d be a good soldier and self-quarantine after someone in my building reportedly came down with the virus. I work around kids and didn’t want to infect anyone. I rationalized, hey, this self-quarantine would be a good time to decompress. My schedule had been packed. This would be a time to cancel plans with texts and emails. Consider a virtual exercise or book club experience. Delete emails and texts. Read more. Sleep more. Watch Netflix. Experiment with recipes. More time to do my taxes. I could handle that. Write more. 

After a few days of this confinement, I was going bonkers. What I thought might be relaxing has become stressful trying to figure out what I am going to do with all my time. Of course, having too much time on my hands, I have become neurotic about catching this disease. Every time I cough, sneeze or have a bad headache, I stick a thermometer in my mouth. I make sure constantly that I can smell and taste. Dry throat? Where’s that damn thermometer? And every day, my storyline is the same, and it’s a bad, boring script.

The Routine to Go Out & Return

Relief, I thought, could be only a walk away. A walk would give me time to clear my head. It’s when I come up with my best ideas. That is considered a safe thing to do with social distancing. Of course, getting ready to go out and face this plague is a production. It reminds me of when we were little and would bundle up to go sledding donning boots, gloves, face mask, heavy coat, earmuffs or hat. Each time I head outside I’m ensconced in a coat, mask or bandana (I look like a bank robber), sunglasses and any other item of clothing I can find to protect me from Others…the enemy. Once I start my trek, I am hyper stressed making sure that when I pass someone, they are six feet away. If they are not, I glare but no one can see my eyes that are blocked partially by the by the mask and sunglasses. Say something? Who can hear me? The sounds are muffled by the mask.

And when I get back to my apartment building, I have to use hand sanitizer every time I touch a doorknob or button. I spritz my way to the elevator and pray no one else is around. I spritz on so much of the sanitizer that my hands feel like tree bark. I arrive at my door, take off my shoes and put them in the corner by the door where I drop my coat and scarf. I wash my hands to the tune of learning the ABCs—it lasts the suggested 20 seconds we need to wipe the germs away thoroughly. I feel like a nut job. Next, I put my keys, glasses and phone on the counter and wipe them with Lysol. Then I sterilize the counter space. I take off the mask and clean it again and then collapse.

Unlimited Time: Eating My Way Through the Day

At least this routine eats up some time. Sort of my mantra. I graze all day long and am trying new recipes using whatever ingredients I have on hand. I order groceries online which take two weeks to get. I could starve in the meantime. So, I whip up brownies, banana bread, molasses and chocolate chip cookies. I consider donating my blood for the C-virus cause, but right now it’s probably 99 percent sugar. I can’t believe my only options for Passover this year are skipping it because I have no ingredients or celebrating it virtually with strangers. Oh, Barbara reminds me that she and her family did ask if I’d like to Zoom with them. I know one thing for sure, Elijah won’t be showing up. He might catch the virus. 

Cooking is a blessing. Making a mess gives me an excuse to clean. That takes up time. I sweep and vacuum constantly to the tune of 60s or 70s music and pretend I’m in a Zumba class. Most of my time is spent at my computer. When working, I listen to classical music or opera and fantasize that I’m in a concert hall and I’m the star of the show. I sing at the top of my lungs and hope the neighbors can’t hear as they recoil when I hit a high C. 

My mood is sinking faster than the Titanic. I don’t feel like the bottom has dropped out like I did when my husband died, but this is a close second. It’s a loss, but it’s the loss of my mission: I moved to NYC to have an adventure. There was always something to do and my first six months here were fantastic learning new neighborhoods, going to concerts at Lincoln Center, tutoring and meeting adults and children. But now I sit inside. All by myself. I don’t even own a plant to have something else that lives and breathes.  

There is a positive side to this. My accountant is delirious that he has more time to prepare taxes. Although many of my friends have bemoaned, “My husband is driving me crazy,” others have said that this confinement has given them time to reconnect with their spouses/partners, other relatives and children. One journalist friend of mine said that the last time he talked this much to his wife was on their honeymoon.

I am confined, but am talking on the phone, doing lots of texts and emails with some people I haven’t been in contact for a long time. And I tap, tap, tap on my computer screen to Zoom or my iPad to FaceTime with friends and my children each week. We make it a fun time as we sit with our bottles of wine—my son suggested Southern Rhone wines this week. 

Oh, yes, I realize this will get better. It’s a little like pregnancy—that last month was torture but we knew it would be over. This will end and once it does, it will be like climbing into a nice clean bed after a terrible series of nightmares.

Well, it’s a beautiful afternoon here so I think I’ll take a walk. I like fresh air--if only that was the case.