No COVID-19 Detected, or Reconciling Regret

This is the story of how I learned not to under-react and that there’s no such thing as overreacting to this pandemic. Or it’s the story of reconciled regrets. You decide.

I woke Sunday with a slight cough, sore throat, and aches. I mentioned it to my sister in an “I hate COVID times” sort of way. She said, be tested. We chatted a bit more before I realized she was serious. My sister is a doctor and one of the smartest women I know. She is the one who said, you cannot overreact with this.

So I scheduled a test for Monday afternoon, the first available. Then I sat masked on my bed and watched my masked husband transform our bedroom into an isolation chamber for me. He shut the door and I had a bed, a small fridge with ice and water, snacks, a bathroom, and a makeshift desk.

Under other circumstances I would have been gleeful for a couple days to myself. But on Sunday I felt crummy all over.

Monday I went for the test, which isn’t bad. Very quick. And then I returned to work at my makeshift desk in my bedroom.

I’ve gotten decent at compartmentalizing. There are certain thoughts I do not entertain. I do not dwell on worst case scenarios as I once did and I do not practice for the worst moments of a life that I may never have. Not any more. I simply disallow my brain from going into the dark.

I had one moment of morbid notion. It happened Sunday night. I was preparing for bed and it occurred to me that the thing I had to regret should I die was that I had spent so very much time chasing a dream. Without ever catching it.

No particular emotion accompanied that thought. But the thought itself has nested. Do I regret the last thirteen years since ShyJot became a thing? Do I regret the time before that when I wrote in the margins of life? No.

I regret not being better at being a creative. I regret not pursuing the payoff as if it never mattered. I regret not capturing the dream I harbored for a certain kind of creative life.

And I regret all the opportunities my family lost because I was dream-missing.

This afternoon I received the text message with a link to my results. I entered my information. Nervous at the thought of more days of isolation or worse, getting my loved ones sick, I wondered if it might be better not to know.

And I hit enter. No COVID-19 detected.

The result didn’t mean I was well; it meant I wasn’t in danger of falling more ill. It didn’t mean I could go anywhere and do anything; it meant I could rejoin my family beyond my bedroom door. It didn’t mean I overreacted; it meant I followed a path.

Tonight a sore head and throat keep me awake. I shake loose all this debris and look for patterns. Here’s what I see.

Sometimes you have to call “It”. You have to chase down a possibility that’s too risky not to, like with COVID-19. You have to chase down answers to problems like how to isolate one of a family of five. You have to claim as your own the responsibility of being it — the actor, the do-er, the instigator and continue-er, the change agent, the conduit, the one to make things happen.

The same is true of anything in life that matters. Parenting, spousing, relationshipping of any kind. Career and culture and cause. The fact remains that if I never called myself “It” and chased a creative live, then I never would have become who I am today. It’s not better not to know.

There is not a life without regret if you’re doing it right. I’m convinced of this. Because living is making choices and choices beget beauty and chaos and ruin and triumph and mediocrity and life and regret.

How do I reconcile regretting spending the last twenty some odd years chasing a creative life with my choice to continue the chase? I accept that regret is a byproduct of any choice and I prefer these regrets to others. I still call “It.”

Anxiety and Depression Quarantine Uncategorized

Of Zebras and Workhorses

The most excellent thing about having flu A last week: I had very few worries about Covid-19. I knew about it and vaguely considered the ways it impacted my family, but my nervous nervous system was subdued by flu.

This morning was the first day I awoke feeling truly like I had overcome the flu. Yay! And cue the nervous nervous system.

My stomach clenched. My chest ached. I could not breathe or function. What was happening? Was the flu back? No. Just plain old stress as usual.

Only it’s not plain, old, or usual. It’s fancy and new and, dare I say, novel. These are strange times with zebra worries. But that doesn’t mean I get to ignore the plain, old, usual workhorses of worry. The things I’ve always worried about remain. Notable exceptions: I don’t worry about school shootings currently, which is amazing; I don’t worry about my husband’s commute, as he doesn’t have one; I don’t worry about the ordinary school worries, as my kids are home. But my low-level anxiety over my kids, husband, extended family, community, and self continue for the most part.

Additionally, the zebra worries. What if Covid-19…No, but really, what if Covid-19…What if the vulnerable people I love contract it? What if we all contract it? What if people lose their jobs in droves? What if we have a New Great Depression? What if?

Zebra worries are a sort of bread and butter for writers. The propensity to generate those what-ifs grants a writer a powerful tool to explore ideas. Left unchecked, zebra worries become an ever-growing stampede of anxiety that can and will kill.

So it’s time to get back to checking the zebras. And back to work and managing the workhorse worries.

Last night we sat down with our boys and explained that this is our new normal: We are all at home for the foreseeable future. We each have jobs to do. We each have work stations and schedules and responsibility to keep to them. I said, “Do not make this a possibility in your minds. Make it an absolute. This is happening right now. Absolutely.”

We will have bumps, like any group of people working in close quarters. The kids will need sufficient guidance to follow any sort of home education program three-quarters into the school year. Among us we have a mom, dad, preteen, and two teens. We will need to build in breathing room.

What’s my point? Those are workhorses. Not zebras. Consuming myself with zebras I can do little about [but seriously, follow the CDC guidelines], carries me further from situating my workhorses of time management, household management, mothering, education, and creative work.

If you’re feeling a little zebra-focused, bring your eyes back home. Where your workhorses are. Make a plan and work the plan. And we will, inasmuch as is possible for each of us, all get through this together.

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