Pandemic Year 2, Day 6*

(also known as St Patrick’s Day, 2021)

One year and six days after the proclamation of the COVID-19 global pandemic, I was immunized against the disease. Most days in that time period felt like an eternity. It is an incredibly short time to develop test and roll out a vaccine against a novel disease though!

But Kate! You’re not THAT old! It’s true. I wouldn’t otherwise qualify, but I have accepted a position as a part time admin clerk at the vaccine clinics and immunization is required prior to starting. I’m guessing that’s so people don’t go catching COVID AT the clinic!

But Kate! Didn’t you just quit a perfectly good job because you’re crazy busy with the end of grad school and everything? True, true. I did. There’s a few reasons I applied to the vaccine clinic job. One is I need to practice leaving the house for longer periods on a regular basis and this seems like the safest way to do that. I also need to get used to being in a room where there are bunches of people all talking or moving around and just doing the things people do. It’s been over a year and being near groups of humans is dizzying. I want to reacclimatize to in-the-flesh humanity before sitting with it in the therapy room.

Valentine also needs some practice. He has no idea that humans normally spend long periods of the day away from the house. He’s never had to try to not pee or to stay entertained for five or six hours on a regular basis. I’m going to be concerned at first and I don’t want to start sitting with clients post-internship, wondering how my dog is doing. I want a more sure footing than that.

And up to now, my experience of the pandemic has been hiding from the pandemic. It’s been the right thing to do because outside of dog walks and groceries, I don’t have a lot of reasons to leave the house. I don’t know what it’s like to wear a mask for more than half an hour or so. I want a more active role in the story. I want to be a part of getting vaccines into willing arms. I want to be sitting up close to watch the coming dawn.

May be an image of text that says 'Ministry of Health Ministère de la Santé Name/Nom: Katrina ELSPETH Urquhart Health Card Number/Numéro Date of Birth/Date de naissance: Date/Date: 2021-03-17 3:08 p.m. Agent/Agent: COVID-19 mRNA Product Name/Nom du produit: PFIZER-BIONTECH COVID-19 mRNA Diluent Product: PFIZER Diluent Lot/Lot: ER1742 Dosage/Dosage: 0.3ml Route/Voie: Intramuscular intramusculaire Site/Site: Left deltoid deltoide gauche You have received 1 valid dose(s) Vous avez reçu Vaccine dministered By/Vaccin Administré par: Registered Nurse Authorized Organization/Organisme agréé: Grand River Hospital Corporation .9% Sodium Chloride dose(s) alide(s)'

*a friend posted about Year Two of the Pandemic and is sank in hard and real. She goes by the day we were told to go home alone and stay there; I’m going by two days prior when they deemed COVID-19 a pandemic. I found an ugly online clock to count by. Do you know a better clock?

December 31, 2020

Better than champagne is this gifted local cider!

It is the end of the year, in the way that we mark time and define years in Canada. I’ve always marked the turning of the year, while also believing that time is an invented construct and essentially meaningless. Holding and celebrating opposing points of view is how I do life.

By the time I finish writing this I hope to have thought of a photo to take that somehow summarizes how I feel in this moment. I thought of taking a picture of the truly excellent pizza I had DoorDash bring me, but by the time I had this thought, the pizza was no longer intact. Yes, I ordered in dinner this evening. We’re asked to do so, to help support local business. We’re asked to buy our drinks from local producers – my Milky Milk Stout is from TWB. We’re asked to stay home, which is pretty easy when DoorDash delivers and I can play an online escape room with my family. Doing the right thing is so easy, eh?

I mean, it is if you have privilege. If you work from home and have sufficient funds to pay people to cook food and bring it to you, it’s so easy to do the right thing. I tried and tried to think of light new years thoughts but right now people with ample privilege are predrinking before new years gatherings, and the callous, selfish misuse of privilege enervates me. I don’t KNOW this is true, that revel rousers are gathering, but whenever we’re asked to not gather, cases of COVID 19 go up anyway. In 2020 I put down my rose coloured glasses and because I’m in my fifties, I can’t remember where I put them.

I am enjoying my pizza and beer. I will enjoy an online escape room, and I will marvel at the fabulous technology that makes it possible. We are so blessed. We are some of us so blessed.

Posts are appearing denouncing 2020 and anticipating 2021; I do not feel this. There is no magic to the new year. Tomorrow, the CBC will report on the toll of unfortunates who did not live to see the turning of the year. As I type this someone in Canada is dying of a preventable disease. Still, I will make merry, if quietly and alone. I have always been skilled at appreciating the little things and enjoying the moment. This year that became more difficult – not because the moments weren’t there, honestly, there is an ever present abundance of beautiful moments – but because in 2020 I became much more aware of the tapestry of suffering these moments adorn.

In 2021 it won’t be magically easier to live as a BIPOC citizen in our country, nor in the chaos state below us. Women will still be raped and abused in shocking numbers. Opioid deaths will keep making news but somehow this news will not effect change. Generations in Indigenous communities will still wonder what it would be like to have clean tap water.

2021 will also bring vaccinations, and stories of people helping each other heal and recover. Everywhere, life is full of heroism. The Earth will keep spinning and summer will return and it will be safe to sing and dance once again. 2021 will hand us back our baskets of all we have been missing, and smile, and tell us it is safe to be the way we once were.

I want to hold each item in that basket and ask myself if it sparks joy. Will this relic of the beforetimes bring joy to my life in the After, or will it only distract me from the truths 2020 exposed to those not living them? With great power comes great responsibility they say. With great privilege comes great obligation. We have learned that the responsibility and the obligation are by choice only; nobody requires you to be a good person and there are rewards for discarding any sense of requirement.

I’m simply a changed person and the things in that basket might not fit. I am a changed person from before starting grad school; that isolation and that education changed me. The isolation of the pandemic has changed me that much more. I am perhaps simply more myself and I feel changed because I had been so accustomed to my many social masks. If we have not spoken for a while, we may need to be reacquainted when all of <<this>> is over. Some time next year, maybe.

It’s been a year since I dropped all my fucks; has it ever been a year. Not that I DNGAF about anything. I donate monthly to a fund supporting the legal costs of Black citizens in Toronto. I strive to minimize my environmental impact, and I am putting my all into building a career of helping people suffer less. I just might not start shaving my legs again.

That’s the lightest note I can muster. Stay home. Shop local. Be kind. I love you.

Things I Said in the Spring

I recently finished a journal notebook – now labelled May 30, 2020 – Nov 24, 2020

May 30 “…I might forget how to have real live conversations with people…
It’s cold out. Our weather is all over the map. May held the coldest May day on record and the 5th hottest May day on record. last night was 2 degrees….
Maybe I can get through it better if I frame it as ending in January. I can always reframe in November.
My dog is bored. I should mow the lawn. Get beer. Do all the things. Pass school. Do my job. Lose weight. Be an ally. Stand up. Save the world.”

June 1st “Yesterday I called Valentine Domino and the kids laughed because “that was so many dogs ago” – we are telling time by dogs.

June 5th “It’s going to be another hot day. I’m figuring on buying asparagus. I’m figuring on gassing up the van. I might be OK living like this forever.”

June 7th “The dog is chasing a bumble bee. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to teach him to catch flies but not bumble bees… I like this quiet life. I want to write letters and learn things…. I haven’t peed anywhere but home for over three months. Weird.”

***

Basically I have liked many features of this slow, quiet life. I liked it more when I had a small bubble of people I could hug. If I could hug, hold hands, and dance to live music – and see clients in person. Oh, no, wait – also dine with others. Maybe thinking I’m fine with all that’s gone is simply because it’s been gone so long.

The new journal notebook starts “This winter will be soups and soft blankets – if this were my house I’d hang heavy curtains on all the windows and reflect within that crushed velvet hush.”

the penultimate* day of July

I must have blinked once or twice; July is almost over. Classes are over I haven’t written anything remotely academic for two weeks. I’ve been learning new skills and engaging in almost daily new challenges. I volunteer for the Crisis Text Line once a week. I have psychotherapy clients over phone or video through my internship. I’ve been practicing juggling for the theology class that ended <time has lost meaning> months or weeks or ten years ago. I get afraid the new skills won’t stick – I’ll forget to write a paper when I try to write the juggling / spirit / community paper.

My puppy Valentine has been learning new tricks as well. Some of them are not entirely welcome; he has recently learned the trick of barking incredibly loudly without stopping at anyone who stops by to visit in the backyard. But he has also learned to jump through a hoop!

Look at that focus!
Look at that focus!

Which is to say I taught him to jump through a hoop, meaning I learned how to teach my dog to jump through a hoop. When the hoop and the kibble come out, he concentrates his energy on waiting for the command and then jumping through the hoop, and then getting his reward of kibble and praise. Nothing else matters. He’s a dog of course – what else could matter? I find I learn best of perform best when I can get into that single minded focus. When everything else drops away and nothing else matters and the essence of my mind and being is aligned with my purpose. Since COVID, and the requirement to learn and achieve all things in the same space, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to get that keen focus. That Mind of Dog. In the juggling, in my classes, in my job, internship, and volunteering; it is so hard to prevent the stressful elements of one from distracting me while I try to engage in another. I need a hoop and some kibble I guess.

What I need is community, and not online. I need a variety of spaces to live my life in again. We all need these things, to differing degrees. I find that this is another area where spirit and community are entangled. As community recedes, it is easy for spirits to fade. In our course we learned that for many cultures, community was needed to fully engage with the Divine, as each community perceived the Divine to be. Maybe this is true for reaching transcendent states in learning or arts or psychotherapy. Maybe we can’t always do our best work alone. We need someone to hold the hoop for us, so we can focus on the jumping.

*I wrote this last night but was so tired I forgot to hit publish twice!

Thud, Thud

I’ve taken in another instructional video and I continue to practice throwing the juggling balls to the appropriate height, and having them land <thudthud> in my hands. The videos are at a two-ball cascade right now; I tested my three-ball cascade to see if it has improved through my efforts. It has not. I’m OK with that. My life continues to be busy with counseling clients in my internship, getting back to working my actual job, and volunteering for the Crisis Text Line. Throwing and catching balls <thudthud> is a rhythmic escape.

I’ve been wondering if this academic adventure was going to skew more to Spirit or to Community. I honestly suspected community, as there is an active and vibrant juggling community. My daughter engages with her juggling and circus communities at least weekly online. For me though, the throwing and catching of balls <thudthud> blends well with isolation. I mostly prefer to spend the bulk of my time alone; I’m adept at entertaining myself.

I’m generally also skilled at keeping my spirit buoyed. This pandemic is challenging. Increasingly, clients are having panic attacks. People call in not knowing if they are angry or depressed; their emotions are confusing and scary. The ambiguous loss of not knowing when we will hug our friends again has gone to a more threatening despondency of accepting we might never. Sometimes, out of nowhere, I am angry, or frustrated, or hopeless. I’ll have a good flow happening, keeping my spirit up and pressing onward, throwing and catching my ambitions and intentions and then <thudthud> one fumble and they tumble to the ground.

In the instructional videos, to perfect the throws, you deliberately let the balls land on the ground. The placement of dropped balls gives you information of how they were thrown, and the transit they took before falling. When our spirits drop, can we learn from how they fall and where they land? Tracing their path from their drop spots, we might see what tripped us up; perfectionism perhaps, or maybe a tendency to doubt ourselves. “I should be exercising more with this free time” “They probably wouldn’t pick me for that job anyway.” <thudthud>

We can pick those balls back up. We can try again. We’ll drop them again. We can keep trying.

It might not be the Holy Spirit, but it’s sure the human spirit – and by my reckoning, that’s divinity enough.

Fat or COVID?

It’s not the COVID, it’s the humidity

When I was recovering from COVID in April, I was keenly aware of my health. There’s no way to know for sure when you’re done having COVID, and the symptoms are so diverse.

Out of breath walking the dog – is it still active COVID? Are my lungs permanently scarred? Or am I just out of shape? I started thinking of these questions as “Fat or COVID”.

As April fades to memory, my dog walks are getting longer so either my lungs are healing or I’m getting into better shape. On days when I feel that asthmatic hitch and cough, I wonder again – is the COVID back? People can get sick more than once. Maybe it never did go away. I was so sick with it. I probably shouldn’t have been alone the whole time, there are gaps of time I don’t recall because I’d sort of collapse on the couch with exhaustion and low oxygen. My chest hurt more than it ever has with bronchitis. Every breath felt like I was 14 years old and trying smoking for the first time. I do not want to go through that again – and that was mild.

Some reasons I might feel breathless aside from succumbing to a novel and deadly virus: extreme humidity, seasonal allergies, anxiety, and exercising outside of my cardio capacity. Some more adult minded readers might come up with others but I am writing this in the pandemic and I live alone.

I have found it best to treat the breathlessness as if it has arisen from one of these more mundane causes. Drink water and find a cool place to be still. Take antihistamine and wait and see – COVID won’t respond to allergy pills. Take grounding breaths and centre myself to fight anxiety (and medicate if needed).

The combination of breathlessness and exhaustion for most of the month of April reminded me of how I feel the week after donating blood. Iron deficiency can cause both symptoms, and with the drastic change in my shopping habits, I only occasionally had meat in the house; rarely red meat. I don’t think we give enough credit to the influence our diet has on our day to day health, including mental health. Taking iron supplements once I twigged to the connection helped resolve some of the brain fog and weary breathlessness.

My exhaustion could be because I, along with literally everybody else, am living through the isolation and anxiety of a global pandemic. Going through a ‘normal’ day of completing tasks such as preparing and consuming food, bathing and dressing, walking the dog, and sweeping the floor is just very tiring right now. Personally I’ve added on top of that attempting a graduate degree term remotely over a novel delivery system, and commencing an internship placement where I cooperate with people I haven’t met over software I’ve never used. I am so tired, COVID notwithstanding. We all are I think.

My exhaustion could be mostly from recovering from a disease. I’m STILL healing. While the virus vacates the body in its two to three weeks, symptoms can continue for months. I still nap more days than not, and not planned naps but rather ‘my body is shutting down for a wee bit’ type naps. My lungs don’t function like they used to. Every once in a while my temperature goes up a degree and a bit and I worry; I cough and I worry.

The other day I had a novel symptom – the mottled discolouring of legs; my worried turned to alarm. How could I have a new symptom? The discolouring lasted for less than two hours – had I had this before but not noticed? Or…. is it back? Luckily, Ontario is finally letting anyone be tested for COVID. I got my result online within 48 hours.

It feels like a clean slate, a new starting point. No, I won’t be physically joining a protest. Yes, I will be wearing a mask if I need to enter a building. And I will continue to do so for the months that it will take for medical science to make the world feel safe again. Allergies and anxiety I can handle, but I never want to see COVID again.

Hugging Meditation

For those who live alone, with nary a human about, can you remember the last five people you touched? On March 12th, I went to see Hamilton in Toronto at Mirvish with my daughter. Things had not yet shut down; in fact, this turned out to be the second last performance of Hamilton in Toronto. We knew the virus was coming, but I wasn’t carrying hand-sanitizer yet.

We ran into hometown friends while we were there. Did I hug them? Or was my caution level high enough not to – we saw them in the evening after a long day of hanging out on the York campus watching news reports roll in. If I did hug them, it was so casual and automatic that I don’t even remember if it happened. How could I be so complacent about this now rare commodity – hugs?

I hugged my daughter, certainly. I don’t recall that hug specifically but I can’t see spending all day with my daughter and not hugging her. Surely I did.

A friend of mine had stayed at my house to take care of my new puppy while I was in the city. I got home at 1AM so he stayed over on the couch. Seeing as how isolation was in place overnight, and given that I had a cough so if I was sick, he was already exposed – I suggested he stay for a few days. He left on March 17th and I haven’t touched a human since.

Who are the last five people I hugged? My dog-sitting friend. My daughter. Maybe a couple from our hometown? A friend who visited the Saturday before this prolonged intermission?

I don’t remember when I last hugged my son. That hurts.

There are a lot of motivational posters and greeting cards extolling the advice “Live Each Day As If It Is Your Last.” Many of us are more keenly aware of the fragility and impermanence of life now. For over three thousand Canadians that last day was written by COVID-19. How many of their loved ones are sitting in their isolation, pained because in addition to their grief, they cannot remember when they last hugged the departed?

My motivational poster for the After will be “Give each hug as if it is your last.” I want to be present for the hugs of the After. I want to remember them. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist monk, teaches a practice called “Hugging Meditation“. Though it’s going to be awkward for my friends and family, these hugs include being “aware of how precious it is that you are both still alive.”

Who are the last five people you remember hugging?

Who will be the next five people you hug?

Pandemic Puppy

I am adorable. Love me.

I wonder sometimes if Valentine thinks he’s a ghost puppy. It’s like maybe people see him, but he’s obviously adorable and yet nobody pets him. Squirrels see him though, and they’re scared of him and this pleases him 🙂

On our walk today we passed a house with loads of decorations and statues in the front yard. One statue near the middle of them all was a really realistic one of a duck. There was a real squirrel, sitting on the fence, and as Valentine stepped toward it, the duck statue quacked and flew away. Startled us both!

On CBC they talked today about profs who used to bring their dogs to school so students could get dog therapy back in the Beforetimes when people were near to each other. Then we all went to our houses and didn’t come out again and the students missed their dog friends. So the profs set up dog office hours online so the students could watch their friends sleep or dig holes or do whatever the dogs chose to do on camera.

It got me thinking, maybe that’s how I can help. I can’t nurse or doctor, and I’m only very recently recovered from COVID symptoms myself. I haven’t quite been granted the right to practice psychotherapy. BUT! I do have an adorable puppy.

Thinking I’ll try to do a daily live stream of him being a puppy. It’s hard because he’s not too fond of my being on my phone and I don’t think I’ll get him to understand that he is the focus of the screen time! But my friends who don’t have puppies can get puppy time, right? And once I’m certain it’s OK within guidelines, I’ll start offering puppy play time to friends where they can play with Valentine in the backyard. I’ll be present, a safe 2-3 meters away until I get confirmation that I’m immune and not contagious. So no children until then, because I wouldn’t want to have to intervene – Valentine doesn’t know any children yet.

What do you think? Would you enjoy a puppy live stream? He IS adorable 🙂

Covid-19

Everything has stopped and everything is still going. I still have just as much work to do but I feel like I don’t because I am no longer going to the places where the work lives. It feels like I’m outside of everything but actually, the expectations and obligations are the same. Social distancing when you’re not really sick is weird, it’s hard but a really easy kind of hard. I have food and wifi and credit cards if I need to order more of anything and friends and family and I really like being at home. But this dissonance. SHOULD I stay home? Should I go out and spend money in the community (but not cash money, that’s gross). Should I see people and do things now before the enforced isolation is mandated? Is it true that I am being helpful and doing the right thing by staying in? I feel anxiety over not knowing what I should be doing and thinking it’s probably a lot but then doing none of it.

I also have the strangest FOMO. I’ve done so much less in my social life and hobbies lately because of grad school. I didn’t miss the things much, at least not after I adjusted to their absence, because I was busy being a grad student. Now I am getting emails from every organisation or business I’ve ever brushed up against and experiencing something like FOMO, like being reminded of absent lovers I had forgotten I was missing. “It’s been months, I know, but I just wanted to reach out and let you know you can’t see me.”

What day is it? What time is it? Is there a Zoom I should be on? When did Zoom become the go to video conferencing app? Did I feed the dog? It’s just a surprisingly bewildering time.