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Why I’m Scared for the Return to 'Normal' After COVID-19

Here in Seattle, we’re entering our eighth week of Governor Inslee’s Stay at Home order in response to the COVID-19 crisis — a state mandate that will last another four weeks before Washington begins any phases of re-opening. Like everyone else, I am devastated by the havoc that the novel Coronavius has inflicted upon our country and I mourn the tens of thousands of lives lost to it in the United States and abroad. But as we surpass our second month in isolation and begin a larger public discourse on economic re-opening, I can’t help but feel a deep-seated fear arise at the thought of “business as usual,” nor dispel the grief as my chronic anxiety and depression re-emerge in anticipation, rearing their ugly heads.

As an introvert to the enth degree and no longer burdened by constant interactions, time restrictions and long commutes, I’ve finally found the energy I’ve long desired for self-care, creativity and personal development in balance with my job. Now working from home and noticeably less affected by anxiety, I’ve been able to take online certification courses, attend virtual classes and begin learning ASL. I’ve been getting back into my body, spending time outside, connecting with family, writing essays, baking and learning new skills. And while these past two months have been a roller coaster of hyper-productivity and debilitating anxiety, overall I’ve been happier, more efficient and socially connected than ever before (not to mention extremely privileged for my health and ability to remain in quarantine). I’ve learned what brings me joy and what doesn’t, who makes me happy and who doesn’t, and that a much simpler way of living can minimize the ramifications of my mental illness enough for me to find ongoing purpose in my days.

So while others in good health are feeling trapped at home, I’m reveling in it. And for once I don’t feel alone in my isolation… or shame for it. While I would usually chastise myself for hibernating in off-time while peers hustle from work to the club in their usual social groups, I’m no longer the only one writing at home rather than at the coffee shop or finding subtle joys in solitude. Instead of glimpsing the usual — preoccupied Seattleites as they rush between commitments with their eyes down and phones out — I’m catching more neighbors waving hello, more children playing outside and more baked goods getting gifted to grateful hands. I’m reading about our nurses flying to the front lines, young people volunteering at food banks and friends sharing grocery loads to maximize social distancing. Among those able to work from home, many are writing letters again, learning to garden and giving back to their communities through donation and art, offering free classes, and exchanging services. So while we’re more distant than ever before, my community has come together… from six feet apart.

I can’t say I don’t want the world to restart. Of course I do; it will mean that fewer people are sick and local businesses can start to thrive once more. But as the city gears up to reopen, the usual buzz for hyper-efficiency, corporate authority and heavy transit is tangibly charged and I fear that everything we’ve learned about ourselves will too easily be forgotten. I dread the hustle and bustle. I’m scared of having no time and forgetting what it feels like to just be. I fear spending hours a week sitting in traffic, feeling disconnected from the people around me and anxious all day every day. I’ve come to appreciate how much home is my safe space and how effectively pets and family allow me to feel safe when chronic anxiety can make it so challenging to.

Yet while I fear losing the new self and way of life I’m getting to know, I’m comforted in thinking that maybe the planet is offering us a lesson. One on generosity, equity, unity and self-sufficiency. That if we could just keep our palms face up and hearts open, surely it wouldn’t hurt to listen.

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Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk on Unsplash