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April 18, 2020

All the COVID Feels


If there's a unifying principle for what I do and seek in my life, it would be the goal to feel as much as possible. The spectrum of emotion and perspective we can experience feels layered, wide and deep, and the thing most distinctively human. It's why I love books, seeing patients, and climbing--the opportunities to access so many views outside of my immediate realm of seeing.

And so while I will always wish COVID never happened, I do have to thank it for the immense and unprecedented diversity of emotion it has bestowed upon me. When I evaluate how I've felt during this last month of COVID, I think: what did I not feel?

I feel the dizzying weight of worry pulling in so many directions. We worry as we see all at once the million ways one person and many people are fragile. It's hard to know where to begin and to continue, how to make decisions and how to allocate resources, system wide and my personal mental and emotional reserves.

I'm constantly consumed by frustration with people whose positions of power distance them from what is happening on the ground. It's draining to experience barriers of this kind, the kind that feel like they could crumble with the right reach for connection yet persist with the hardness of metal.

I'm slammed with the sudden surprise of joy. We started the mission to test our patients with a supply of 350 tests for a patient population of 65,000. The immense work for this tiny effort was both a source of hope, and a source of distraction from our actual inability to truly care for people. When this leads us to the chance to provide true access for our community, it feels like a miracle. As hard as we always work, I've never fooled myself into considering the care our patients receive as truly equitable. To shift from rationing to active outreach is new, and the trigger for my first cry of the month.

I'm stalled by panic. I don't do well with speed. I dislike the emergency room and downhill skiing. It has been draining to react and adapt to rapidly and continually changing circumstances, as I'm not naturally built for this work. I've seen hours of work washed away, replaced with gaps to be filled until that filling is pulled too. It's been good learning to develop a skill not for putting things in place, but for continually moving out of place.

I'm depressed by the ways we enclose ourselves, how it led to disaster and contributes to disconnectedness as we wade through this together and apart. Because we are all reasonably tired and protective of our individual selves, when facing others we so quickly defend, push back, stare straight ahead.

I'm connected, overwhelmed by an extreme sense of community. In this time of social distancing, I've met the highest concentration of people than I ever have. Of amazing, creative, compassionate people within and outside our organization. Anyone who knows me knows much I love my clinic co-workers; COVID gave me the chance to meet other clinics, see their different characters and same sense of deep connectedness. I'm floored by how much and in how many ways people help, how many times a day I hear that "we're in it together," and by the team that organically came together from a shared drive to be of use.

I long for so much. I miss my parents, my brothers, and my nieces and nephews. I zoom with the three kids in Colorado, each of them on their own tablet and square on the Zoom grid. All at once one dances a choreographed sequence to Baby Shark, one reads with a stuffed bear twice his size, and one tells me about his school project to start a caramel-making business. I wish I could see my newest niece grow from her babyhood to toddlerdom, mark her first year in this strange world. I miss my co-workers and our shared space, my girlfriends and our climbing and conversation and cooking, my pieces of heart in other corners of the country.

I literally ache for climbing, and mourn the relationship with rock. As days get longer, I hate my computer more and more. I remember anew how important this specific type of movement is to me, and how absolutely irreplaceable it is. I think about how I had silly thoughts of projecting 5.12 outside and now I would give a lot to do 5.6 just to be making my way up a wall. I try not to think about how long it might be before it's returned to me.

I love G and his ability to support and nourish with ease and without question. Somehow he never shows any frustration with my long days, complaints and moods, and unpredictable needs. Because I express it very little with others, he becomes a receptacle for the pressure build up of all my negative and dark feelings...thank you and I'm sorry.

I'm frustrated and am frustrating to him. It's not easy for either of us and there are eruptions of difficulties we internalize. There are pulls of distance and closeness, and gratitude for stable ground as we move.

I feel guilty that I'm absent in the relationships I prioritized prior to COVID. All the interaction that work requires drains my introverted self so much that I've been too tired to stay connected to my friends, to be really present for the little time I do have with G. I still "see" some patients with telephone visits, but I've cut down my patient time by more than half. I'm disconnected from what is happening at my home clinic where I'm supposed to be a watchful source of support, and it wasn't until a breakdown that I was aware of how much my co-workers were struggling.

I'm compelled by creativity and newness, as everyone has had to be resourceful and different in this new state of existing. I've written before about how novelty maintains plasticity, physically and mentally. I haven't pursued new hobbies, but I love seeing others do so. I have learned so much about areas of weakness for me in work, from technology to leadership, and while I long for my old job I am grateful for new skills.

I'm even more sensitive than usual to stories; my primary break these days are long runs while listening to audiobooks. I'm healthiest when I balance my book reading with real life, when the window into worlds outside of me helps me relate to the world I have. Too many books without visceral connection puts too much in my head and lends itself to sleeplessness. But it's hard to stop when the long, beautiful narratives pace and soothe my insular life. I try to think of them as building an arsenal of understanding for when I can live outside my mind again.

I'm so tired. The fatigue is unlike anything else. It's reminiscent of medical residency, with its the lack of control over when you can take a break. I'm writing this on the first day off I've taken off in a month, knowing that something could potentially interrupt my intention to disconnect at any time. Beyond that, there's the way that this virus has seeped into every crevice, such that nothing seems like true space.

At the same time its pervasiveness is maybe why this space holds so much, and I know that it will change and give more and new every day. So here's to feeling all of it.

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