Friday, July 24, 2020


I've never really liked going out. I mean, sure, as a kid I enjoyed the park and the beach, but I preferred to sit in the car for an hour than go into the store with my mom. Going to school every day was this whole exhausting thing.

At boarding school it got worse. A lot worse. Our only trips out were to the park, and that wasn't too bad since I like the outdoors. But every once in a while I would accompany an adult to the store (they weren't allowed to be alone, ever) and it was horrible. Ads everywhere. So many brands. Music. Noise. Strangers. I felt like I was braving the devil's territory. Airports were even worse.

I got over that some when I got back. I think what it really was, was a lack of practice. If you haven't been to a grocery store for a year, it's a big overwhelming experience. If you go a lot and know your way around, it's no big thing. I went to community college and had a number of jobs and the leaving the house bit was tiring, but I wasn't scared to.

Kids, of course, changed the equation. There's just so much to remember and so many ways your attention is divided. You've got to have diapers and wipes and spare clothes and keys and a wallet and sunglasses and sunscreen and a sweater and and and ..... And of course you can't come home without the bread or the milk you left to get. I pride myself that I usually make it through without disaster, but the effort of making sure it's not a disaster is real.

Over the past couple of years, I have worked hard at building normal adult routines. Leaving the house every day, dressing up for work, doing the work, maybe even going to work and doing several chores on the same day! Making phone calls the day I think of it instead of months later. Having meetings with teachers at school where I don't forget what day it is and where I show up with my ID so I can get in. I can't say it's been a huge success. I mean, this past year I did hold down a job and even kept records of what the  kids were learning without anybody telling me to. I felt like I was adulting well, but it wiped me out. Jackie too--I mean, that was a big part of it, that two hours at daycare made her need constant attention for an hour or two before and after. Before the pandemic, I'd already decided not to do it a second year. I was going to try to put Jackie in preschool, but while she was there I wanted to stay home. I thought maybe I could take an editing job. Just anything where I didn't have to put on uncomfortable clothes and remember twelve different items.

The pandemic took a big burden off my plate. There's no work, no preschool, and no big kid school. I don't have to remember what day or time it is. I don't have to get dressed at any given hour or find anybody's shoes for them or pack any lunches. At first this felt like a relief.

But the lack of structure is really getting to me. I'm trying to build my own routines, but it's not the same. Whole days seem to just disappear into filling sippy cups and scrolling facebook. Like, where do they even go? Why is it four in the afternoon? When did that happen?

Worse, I'm out of practice going out, and that means every trip out is that much harder. Where are my keys now? Where's my purse? Why aren't my sunglasses in the car? This, of course, isn't helped by the extra stuff I have to do because of the pandemic: wash my hands, forget and touch my face as I'm heading out the door, wash my hands again, find my mask, check if the store is even open at the same hours, worry about what might not be in stock . . .

Then I get there and it's this whole overwhelming thing, just like when I was in boarding school. Noise! Strangers who may or may not be scowling at me! Signs! Remembering not to touch my face! The stress I feel morphs into fear, as I remember that I could catch the coronavirus on this trip, and that it's my job to do all the things to make sure I don't. I can't just decide not to care, like with many of my other fears I can choose to ignore. I'm anxious all the time about whether there's hand sanitizer at the entrance, whether everyone is masked, whether the aisles are one-way now, whether I'm keeping my six feet (or whether I can, in a narrow aisle), whether people are mad at me, whether they think I'm mad at them, whether I'll accidentally try to buy more loaves of bread than the limit, whether someone will spit or cough on me on purpose because they think the virus is a hoax, whether they'll have any tuna . . . on top of all my usual store fears of going over budget, forgetting something important, forgetting the reusable bags, or embarrassing myself.

Some of these fears are rational, and some are not. So far I haven't caught the coronavirus or been spit on. I have tried to buy too much bread, bumped into people, forgotten bags, and embarrassed myself. My emotional reactions to going on out seem to be getting worse. My mask makes me feel like I'm gagging, and while I know there's no physical reason for this, I can't think it away.

I feel really ashamed of this. As long as I can cope with it, it's my problem only, but if I decide I can't do it? If I order groceries or have John do it? Well, then I'm a failure. My fear of going out is making me incapable of doing something that has always been my job--something I want to be doing myself. I'm not even any good at making a list for someone else, because I can't remember the stuff I need to buy till I see it. (Somebody needs to make a VR Instacart.) I feel like I do so little as it is, especially with my job gone. How do I justify my existence if I can't go out? How do I feel like a grownup if I can't go out?

Even deeper than this fear is the fear that, the more I cede ground to my fear, the less I'll be able to face it. What if I give up grocery shopping, and then the library becomes overwhelming? What if I give up the library and then the park is too much? What if I can't see my friends anymore, even when the pandemic is over? I know lack of exposure makes it worse. So is this pandemic going to set off a chain reaction that ends with me being somebody's weird grandma who lives in a single dark room with the curtains drawn, and she'll text but you can't call because the phone is too scary?

For now, I'm keeping up with groceries. I went to the closer store the other day for just a couple items and that was pretty okay. Everyone was masked and I didn't stay long enough for my mask to bother me. Sunday I'm supposed to go to the further, cheaper store, where I usually take a good 45 minutes to get my shopping done. Last time I went, I thought I was going to puke in the parking lot, the stress got to me so much by the end. I am trying not to psych myself out that this time will be the same. Maybe it'll be different. I'm going to make myself a better mask with a nose bridge and elastic on the sides instead of bias tape, and maybe that will help. I need to succeed at this.

John says it doesn't matter if I can't. That not being able to go out in a pandemic is not the same as not being able to go out ever. That when it's over, I can slowly step up where I go, knowing this time that there's less to worry about. That giving up the store trip now doesn't condemn me to being bricked up onside the house for the rest of my life. I know he's right. But I'm scared, all the same.

Am I the only one who is getting like this lately?
Does anybody still read this blog?
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