Mike always says he can predict the future. I take a lot of what he says with a loving grain of salt, as I often can’t think beyond what is right in front of me or on the foreseeable horizon. But, I have to give it to him this time: he predicted this. Back when COVID-19 started spreading in China, then Iran, then Italy, he looked at the transmission rate and knew it would be difficult to contain. He got worried, saying it was all about “the maths” (British for “the math”). I shrugged it off, telling him I had actual life and death crises to deal with. He wanted to stock up on emergency supplies. After many eye rolls and protestations on my part, I gave in to the stock-up effort as the path of least resistance. I am here to publicly admit that I was wrong and he was right. And, I am glad that he made me go to Costco and buy toilet paper in the first week of March, before there was a run on it.
On the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, my employer sent out an email saying our office would close and we would work from home for the next two weeks. Immediately after this email came, a client arrived for her scheduled appointment. I told her and her case manager that they made it just in time, as we’d be closed for a few weeks. It was strange and the sense of anxiety in our office was palpable. How would we continue to do all we need to do to serve our clients if we couldn’t be all the places we needed to be?
Packing up and leaving the office that day was very abrupt and odd. I tried to think of what case materials I might need for two weeks of work at home, thinking we would all be back at the office in short order. I changed my outgoing message on my phone to say that our office would be closed, but I would be working from home and still reachable. I packed up my casework and some office supplies in a box, put my laptop in my backpack, and left. In the run-up to this, I kept telling Mike that I didn’t think our office would actually close – afterall, we are in the business of serving people who are hard enough to reach and connect with in person, let alone remotely. A lot of our clients don’t have reliably working phones, let alone computers or video chat capabilities. They check in with us by dropping in to the office. And, part of our work requires us to be inside of acute psychiatric units and the jail – work that didn’t seem right or possible to do over the phone or by video. It felt like a big deal that we were closing, but I left with relative confidence that things would return to somewhat normal in a matter of weeks.
Then, on Friday, the Santa Clara County Health Officer issued an order to cancel all gatherings of more than 100 people and restricting gatherings of more than 35 people. This is when it finally started to feel serious to me. On Saturday night, my emotions overflowed in the form of a really big cry – I thought of my clients who are vulnerable and don’t have safe places to be; my colleagues in community medical clinics who are on the front lines; my friends and community members who have small businesses who may not survive this; and on and on and on.
Restrictions on movement and gathering kept getting more severe. On Monday, March 16, the six Bay Area counties issued three-week shelter in place orders and mandated closure of non-essential services. Santa Cruz County, where we live, quickly followed suit. Schools closed, turning working-from-home parents into homeschooling parents. Then, later that week came Governor Newsom’s statewide shelter in place order, which doesn’t have an end date.
Meanwhile, the cases in Santa Clara County keep climbing and more people are dying. I’m hopeful that all of these restrictions on movement and gathering “flatten the curve,” but I’m also realistic, knowing that we are probably far from the end of this.
I am grateful for so much right now. Mike and I are in the best possible spot to be sheltered in place. We have five acres to move around on, endless projects that we finally have time to dedicate ourselves to, a garden to plant, a well-stocked store around the corner, and lots of nearby outdoor places to walk. Mike has steady income from his consulting job, and I have a supportive employer that continues to pay us, while also giving us the time to be flexible and gentle with ourselves as we adapt to this strange new existence. We are well-connected to our local food system, which continues to provide us with locally-grown fruit and vegetables. Our yoga community is joining together for practice six days a week via Zoom. We are so, so lucky and I remind myself every day to not take all that we have for granted.
I’m also trying to give myself permission to feel all of my feelings. It’s easy for me to get stuck in a spiral of “I don’t have the right to feel worried, sad, mad, frustrated, etc. because so many people have it way worse than me.” While it is true that I am in a much better position than most, it doesn’t mean my feelings aren’t valid. I’ve decided that I’m not pushing or striving or having any serious work-related ambition for the foreseeable weeks. I’m staying in touch with my clients and doing what needs to be done to push their cases along, but I’m giving myself some much-needed space and breathing room. I have been pushing for the last 15 years, putting my work and clients’ needs before my own. I can’t help but wonder if this will be the wake-up call I need to find more balance in my life.