Nonfiction Life lessons covid-19 health

Lessons for a Covid World

By Laura Anne Gilman
May 28, 2020 · 673 words · 3 minutes

Photo by Mimi Thian via Unsplash.

From the author: These are the Bad Old Days, but there's a weird peace to be found, if you're willing to let it in.

The world of Covid-19 is overwhelming, and like the rest of the world, my life has been upended, the future thrown into doubt.  But unlike many, my reaction to this upheaval was an odd, almost comforting feeling of familiarity.

Six months ago, what I thought was appendicitis instead turned out to be a tumor, probable diagnosis: ovarian cancer, and my life went into a bit of a tailspin, with surgery scheduled for two days after I saw an oncologist.  Scurrying to get all my legal paperwork updated, pending projects settled, friends and family alerted - all just before Thanksgiving! - gave me something to focus on.  But in the quiet moments, late at night or early in the morning, I had time to think.  To consider a worst-case scenario.  And I made my peace with it.  I’ve made mistakes I can’t fix, but I’ve also brought, I think, some good into the world.  I was okay with that.

Thankfully, I got a best-case scenario result: not ovarian but appendiceal tumor, and surgery had likely gotten it all.  I was going to live.

And I was… weirdly, oddly cast adrift.  Disappointed, almost. Which made me seriously wonder about my mental health.  I should have been joyful, right?  And I was...except.  Except.

It took me a few days, and some uncomfortably prodding questions from my therapist, before I chased down the reason. The weeks of recovery had forced me to relinquish an active role, to allow others to take care of everything, while my sole job was to sleep and heal.  After so many years of being independent, having everything done for me - even something as basic as making the bed or caring for my cats -  was an uncomfortable, unpleasant feeling.  I didn’t like it.  I resented not being able to be present in my own home.  But I understood that it was necessary.  And, looking back at it after-the-fact, there was also an element of relief to it.  No, I could say, I can’t go to that protest march.  I can’t pick up that project.  I can’t help you with your fill-in-the-blank. I can’t do this and I can’t do that, and everyone understood: there were restrictions on me I couldn’t just set aside. 

I like being active.  I like being a doer.  But doing is exhausting, and my diagnosis gave me the excuse to lay that all aside for a while.  It said “it’s okay to just be.  Rest.  Breathe.”

After several weeks of recovery, I was able to go back to work, able to sit at my desk again without pain.  And I prepared myself to pick up the burdens of active life again, with relief.

Then came Covid-19.

Back to the sofa.

It’s not the same, of course.  But there are many similarities.

Most of us are cut off from active life now, no matter how we try to retain some level of normality.  We’ve been banished to the sofa, told to just sit there, that there is nothing we can do except wait.  To find a calmness in the face of disruption.

Anyone who says they’re not frustrated by the restrictions placed on us is lying, because of course we are.   Covid-19 is literally beyond our control; we can't change anything that's happening in the world outside and around us, and raging at it does nothing.

But the months prior to all this taught me that there's something a little ugly but unsettlingly soothing about passive acceptance.  A strength, almost, if you let it.  Because stepping back in this instance is not retreat, and it’s certainly not surrender.  We have a role to play: to allow others to do what they must, without distraction or additional risk.  To stay healthy, so that we can be ready to pick up the reins again when this is over.

Because it will be over, eventually.  And you may be surprised when you miss these odd and horrible days of enforced calm, just a little.

Laura Anne Gilman

Speculative fiction. Sometimes dark, occasionally slipstream. 100 words to 100,000.