We are nearly three years into the Covid-19 pandemic. I would think that I would have a lot to say about this in my blog. When I was undergoing breast cancer treatment 10 years ago, I had a huge need to write. I wrote every day. I also remember that when I found out about my breast cancer diagnosis, I felt compelled to tell a lot of people right away, friends, family, acquaintances, and people I didn’t even know. It was almost like having a horrible secret would have made me even more vulnerable. Although I am a clinical psychologist, I am not a trauma expert. But I know a little about a trauma treatment, Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, part of which involves telling about the incident in detail, describing it, and processing it. The goal is to prevent PTSD. I think I was doing that naturally and it was also encouraged by my psychologist at the time who noted that people who do not integrate potentially traumatic events into their lives are more likely to experience more traumatic stress.

I see having had breast cancer as part of my life, as well as the heart attacks I experienced 5 years ago due to SCAD. Both diseases came at a total surprise. I didn’t have any known risk factors. I was a middle-aged woman with a lot of personal and professional responsibilities. I was of the “gets shit done” generation. But through a whole lot of work, support, and access to excellent healthcare, I made it through. I used my own special brand of flailing grace, radical acceptance, and learning the same life lessons over and over. Mortality was a constant possibility but not a constant worry.

The Trump administration and the pandemic changed that. I knew Trump was going to be bad. I spent the entire summer and early fall of 2016 distracting from the horror of his potential administration with canning. I canned every beautiful Washington State produce with seeds. After I’d canned all of the stone fruits, I moved onto figs and tomatoes. I canned apple jam in the fall. When I ran out of fruit, I made pickled onions. It was a productive distraction. I canned hundreds of quart, pint, and half-pint jars, wide and regular mouth. We ate a lot of it, salsas, chutneys, and jams. Did you know that you can make great frozen yogurt with two ingredients? Yes, mix 1 quart of yogurt with 1 pint of Trump stress jam. I gave away so much for Christmas, as host gifts, as “Hey, take this off of my hands” gifts. A couple of years ago, things oxidized and did not look good. They were not gift worthy and would not make tasty looking frozen desserts unless, of course, you are a fan of vaguely brown frozen yogurt. All of those jars languished in my home office, which was also full of pottery, Costco sized containers of paper towels and toilet paper, craft supplies, and yes, file cabinets and file boxes of patient files. Getting through my office has been a major slog. I mostly stay out of there. I didn’t want to deal with it. It has been completely overwhelming, unpleasant, embarrassing, and so not me to have a room that is a disaster area.

The pandemic has worn us down in different ways. Between the pandemic, climate change, and the rise of authoritarianism and white supremacy, I find that I am slogging through a lot of the time. Yes, I do have times of joy. I have much to for which to be grateful and I feel that gratitude. But I am also doing it with an eyelid wider open to the human capacity for evil as well as for incompetence in dealing with a pandemic and other existential threats. And I don’t just mean in the U.S. As a world, we have done a pretty bad job with the pandemic. I know that a lot of people have had their eyes wide open their own lives. I am learning things they already knew.

I used to believe that people were inherently good and I still believe that all life has value and is worthy of respect. I do not believe that people are inherently evil, either. I believe that we are an incredible species of great capacity for a great number of things, including amazing good, horrendous bad, and simple mediocrity.

How do I apply these lessons during the pandemic? Sadly, I find myself relatively isolated and finding my trust in formerly trusted people and situations, tested. I have experienced two of the top killers of women, cancer and heart disease. Covid-19 is still in the top three. The public health messaging has been confusing, at best, in terms of protecting myself and others. I understand that there is no way to reduce risk to zero but I also know that using high quality masks in public indoor settings, filtration, ventilation, vaccination (with regular boosters), and testing reduce risk substantially. We’ve lost over 1 million people in the U.S. alone. People are still dying and there are untold number of people of all ages who are experiencing or will experience chronic disease. We don’t know what will happen to those people. Time will tell.

But even with all of this uncertainty, people are tired. And if they follow the main public health guidance, they could be living a pretty high risk lifestyle. I have a Ph.D. I am pretty good at figuring out who knows what they are talking about and to check what they say with primary source research. I can catch big errors. People who don’t talk like real researchers putting public health at a priority. I am not an expert in public health, covid-19, infectious diseases, etc. But what I can tell you is that we are not getting the straight scoop. I understand the pressures, you know, “Hey, if we lose this election, democracy may fall”, but I would at least expect our CDC to be better. It is really disappointing.

I am also disappointed that winter holidays are getting harder and harder. About one-third to half of my family has significant risk factors for bad covid outcomes, whether they know it or not. There are also a fair number of teachers in our family. They have high risk of covid exposure. Some of them mask at school and some don’t. Unmasked indoor visiting with our 88-year-old mother is not a good idea. It’s not a good idea for me, either. My mom has a large covered outdoor deck. People are getting tired of meeting there for winter holidays. Almost no one else is taking those precautions. Other people are eating inside of restaurants, too. I don’t do that. Other people have people over to their homes, unmasked on a regular basis. I don’t do that. I get it. It’s hard for me, too. It is also hard to bring up this subject with people, even nice and reasonable people. People don’t want to think they are doing something wrong. Sometimes my just wearing a mask while they aren’t can trigger a little shame spiral. Especially if I provide explanation. (I recently read a meta-analysis that showed a 95% increased risk of a cardiac event in the year following getting Covid. I don’t even bother telling people.) Or it doesn’t trigger anything because the government messaging of “to each their own” has become the new normal.

One of my siblings suggested that in the future, any one “at risk” attends holidays via Zoom. I know that a lot of people feel that way or don’t realize that by not engaging in masking while in public indoors, they are leaving a lot of vulnerable people out of a “back to normal” way of living. These are people with no sick leave (every self employed person the U.S., part-time workers, gig workers, etc), access to healthcare, and or people who live with vulnerable family members.

The pandemic started in 2019. It is 2023. I did my canning in 2019. Several months ago, I started picking up the pace on scanning and shredding my patient files. (A typical file is about 250 pages and I see about 80-100 patients a year.) I had over 100 pieces of ceramics and I gifted or sold almost all of it over the holidays. (Yay, I can make more pottery!) Yesterday, I started opening jar after jar of my leftover canned goods. I saved what I could. (I am dehydrating jam to dissolve into savory dishes where the oxidized color will not be gross). They are all washed and over half have been given away. I can actually walk in my office again though there is still much to be done. I have made sure that I have a week off every couple of months from my job. (Working in mental health has been particularly stressful during the pandemic and thanks to my experience with SCAD, I know that stress can literally kill me). John and I just booked a camper van in Anchorage so that we can explore Alaska for three weeks this summer.

I am back on the road to flailing with grace, complete with a mask, like Zorro, except that I know to wear the damn thing over my mouth and nose.

Peace friends. I will leave you with something I made that was not a mess, one of the trays I made, complete with toffee, right before Christmas. I may be a semi-hermit but I can make things and that gives me joy.