The pandemic has recently introduced itself into my life in new and frustrating ways. I don’t have Covid-19, thankfully (at least so far as I and my rapid tests can tell), but at least one of my estranged parents has it, as does my youngest sibling who is similar levels of estranged but for very different reasons [my single non-estranged sibling who still lives with our parents also caught it eventually]. Closer to home (emotionally and physically), one of my close friends who happens to also live only a couple blocks away also has it, though they seem to be in recovery rather than just starting out like my biological family. Many of my coworkers have been impacted by it recently as well, some of them showing the signs but never testing positive or having family members who test positive while they continue to test negative. I returned from vacation, had time to do laundry, and then discovered most of my day-to-day world had been turned upside-down and that the on-going emotional difficulties related to having estranged parents had only grown more difficult. Which kinda sucks, not gonna lie.
To be entirely clear, I understand that it is a privilege that it has taken this long for the people around me to have caught Covid, given that the people I work with can isolate themselves easily and my family is decidedly middle class. I understand that the position I’m in is an enviable one, given that no one I know closely has passed away or developed long-term issues as a result of the pandemic (so far). I will say that, statistically, it seems much less strange when you consider how much my social circles have shrunk in the past few years and that I talk to and spend time with maybe a dozen people. I did a lot of work to remove unhealthy relationships from my life right before the pandemic started (and during the first year of it), so my pool of potential contacts is a lot smaller than most people’s. Still, I count myself lucky that no one I care for has been struck down by Covid (though that’s no longer true when you move on from people directly adjacent to me to people one step removed from me).
I find myself spiraling as I try to process the emotions related to all of this. It is incredibly easy to get caught up in a swirling vortex of constant analysis based around my inability to actually do anything about these things. I can’t change my government (except as part of a larger movement that currently seems to just be ignored by those in power, in the name of the economy), I can’t change my employer’s workplace policies (oh, how I have tried), and I can’t make my parents appreciate how they’ve harmed me after three decades of them making it clear they aren’t good listeners. I can’t do anything to change any of that, so I find myself frequently giving in to the temptation of running scenarios in my head. I’ve had to delete and rewrite three or four paragraphs worth of text just to dial it back from an unhealthy relitigation of the situation to this.
It’s a lot like thinking about winning the lottery (The Mega Millions jackpot was at 1.02 billion at the time of writing this, so this is incredibly topical of me even if it has been won and cleared out since then), but also the opposite of it. It feels simple and joyful to think about how you would spend the money if you won the lottery: the causes you would support, the people you’d help out, the comforts you could afford, the life you’d finally be able to live… It all feels so seductively wonderful and harmless until you realize that these thoughts are what drive people to spend their grocery money on tickets that will probably never win more than a couple dollars total. After all, the chance of winning is infinitesimal. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning and surviving than of winning the lottery, and you don’t have to do anything to be struck by lightning. That can just happen in the right conditions for free!
If you want to participate in something like that, you need to keep your expectations in check, keep a tight rein on how much you’re willing to spend, and never lose yourself in the fantasy of sudden, effortless wealth. You must stay focused on the idea that thinking about winning the lottery might bring you some short-term joy, but losing yourself in endless imaginings is likely to only ever lead to you ruin. Which is pretty much exactly what having anxiety is like for me. It feels good to “prepare” by running scenarios in the short-term, but they’re so unrealistic and unlikely that spending time and energy on them is only ever going to drain me with no benefit. It’s not like I’ve ever actually had to deal with someone trying to steal my car with me inside it or my parents suddenly realizing they’d fucked up but only after somehow losing the ability to speak or write, thereby forcing me to do a sort of reconciliation-by-charades initiated by me since they couldn’t contact me and I had to just figure it out on my own (which is more likely than you’d think, initially, given that that’s how I’ve learned about almost every major or minor piece of family news since I left my parents’ home in 2009).