Month: April 2020

On Education

Two days ago the governor of my state announced that schools will continue with distance learning through the end of the school year. It was a result I’ve been expecting since mid-March, so it didn’t impact me much. Yet from the reactions on social media, I realized that not everyone has already let go of school. They’d retained hope that things could go back to normal. That their high school seniors would get to have prom, graduation, yearbook day. I suppose I’ve already had practice letting go of life experiences that I expected my kids to have, but they didn’t get to have. I’ve had three kids depart high school and only one of them had a graduation ceremony. I thought I would get to help my kids navigate prom and dating, only one of them has done any of that. Depression and anxiety had already stripped away the social trappings of school that so many are mourning this week. Their grief is real and hard.

I was a little surprised at my high school kid’s reaction to the news of cancellation. He wasn’t surprised either, but having it be official flipped some mental switch. He hadn’t even logged into his online classrooms. The day after cancellation, he did. I don’t know how far he’ll take the next steps, but he seems to have internalized that if he wants an education, he is the one who has to put in the time. Now he has to figure out how to get himself to put in time on a daily basis when there is no set schedule except one he creates for himself.

I skim read an article this morning about how lockdown orders are likely to permanently shape the way that teens think about the world. Much of what the article said made sense to me. Because of brain development that happens during the teen years, the experiences of those years create hardwired reactions that are buried deep in the psyche. Today’s teens are having a collective experience of isolation that is unlike anything a generation of teens has experienced before. Isolation can be collective because of the internet. This will change the generation they become and no one knows how yet. On the other hand, every teenager has been shaped by their experiences and their choices relating to those experiences. It is entirely normal for teens to be afraid of adulthood and the future. It is entirely normal for teens to have their hopes and expectations smashed in one way or another and for them to then have to learn how to pick up the pieces and keep going. So this is all yet another case of life being completely normal and completely unprecedented at the same time.

I know that quarantine is definitely shaping the young adults in my household. Their relationships to each other and to the world at large have shifted. None of us knows for certain what the opportunities and options will be three months from now. I think we’ll be lucky to get school back in the fall and that it will only be accomplished by halving the average class size in Utah. Since the facilities and staff aren’t available to do that easily. I wouldn’t be surprised for there to be A day students and B day students. Or perhaps one week on, one week off. With only half the student body attending at a time. In the meantime, my son has to figure out how to make himself work and I have to stand back and let him struggle with it.

Hope from a Seder

Last night I was at a party online. A friend hosted it on Zoom. It was lovely to meet new people and hear from others all over North America about their pandemic experiences. Being able to speak our challenges and emotions was so healing. At one point I found myself in a side room with several people who were Jewish. As the only non-Jewish person in the room, I was privileged to listen to them talk about their Seder experiences during a pandemic Passover. It was a glimpse into a world of tradition, depth of heritage, common culture, and connection. I only understood about half of the conversation, but that didn’t matter because the camaraderie they shared still invited me in rather than excluding me. One of the writers mentioned that there was a Seder on Youtube that was beautiful. Today I looked it up and watched the whole thing. She was right. It touched my heart even without a deep understanding of the traditions. I had to look up what a traditional Seder was like so that I was better able to see how this one varied from it. Except as near as I can tell, variations are more normal than not. Which makes sense given that the same is true of the family-based religious observances in my culture as well.

The Seder is here: Saturday Night Seder

It is joyful, heartfelt, silly, welcoming, holy, and soul healing. It deliberately welcomes in people from all backgrounds and traditions. I highly recommend taking an hour to watch the whole thing. Though I warn you, it is likely to make you cry, especially at the end. I did, but it was the crying of having hope again despite the world feeling hard.

Depression, Breathing, and the Path Ahead

When something as significant as depression hits, it ought to be obvious, but frequently it isn’t. Instead I manage to deduce it from outside evidence days or weeks after the mire begins. The trickiest part of mental health is that a flare up actively interferes with my ability to identify and manage the flare up. So it is this morning when I realize it has been four days since I blogged when I blogged almost every day for the month prior. I suppose some of that pause could be the Pandemic settling in and therefore requiring less processing. Yet there are other signs, the day I spent mostly in bed for instance. I am tired. I feel silly for being tired and depressed when my current existence is so close to normal. I have my house. I eat food that is pretty close to what I ate before. I still mail packages when orders come in. The things I can’t do are things which I didn’t do often anyway. Yet the not doing of them seems to accumulate.

Howard’s breathing was bad yesterday. Since his illness in January he’s been on daily asthma medication and taking hits on his inhaler multiple times per day. Some days this regimen puts him in a place where he can do light exercise. Yesterday he got out of breath standing and doing a puzzle. Then sitting and doing a puzzle. We were scheduled for a pulmonary function test in mid March. It got rescheduled for last week. Last week it got rescheduled for June. I know the decision is smart, that we must act as if Howard has not had Covid 19. Because if we stack Covid-19 on top of whatever is going on with his lungs, it would kill him. So taking him to a hospital (which probably has Covid-19 patients in it) for a test is ill-advised. But it means we don’t know what is going on. We have no way to know if it is getting worse or better. We can’t be certain if our treatments are optimal. We can’t even consult with a pulmonologist until May 19. That was the earliest appointment they would give me when I called in early March. I’ve ordered a pulse oxymeter so we can see what his blood oxygen levels are, but that won’t arrive until April 17-29 because Amazon has slowed down deliveries of “non-essentials.” (Or possibly because demand for oxymeters has gone up.) So I stand next to Howard, working on a puzzle together, and I listen when he suddenly takes several extra deep breaths in a row because his body has suddenly realized it needs more air. I wait when he has to pause mid-sentence to breathe and try to remember what he meant to say.

I ran cross country in high school. I was never particularly good at it, but I learned a lot about perseverance from doing it. I learned how to keep going even when I wanted to stop. At the beginning of a race there was something of a rush as people tested their speed and tried to get at the front of the pack. (Or in my case drop to the back.) That first pace was always too fast to maintain over the long run. After the first burst of energy, all the runners would settle in to a slower pace, one that they could keep up for two or three miles. That’s where we are with the pandemic. We’ve had our first month’s sprint where everything is jostling around and shifting. We had to adapt and adapt again to changing circumstances around us. Now events have spread out and it is time to settle into a pace we can maintain over the long haul ahead. The finish line is not even in sight, all we can see is the path ahead. All we can do is take one step after another. I remember settling in at the front end of a long run, feeling my body already start to be tired, yet knowing how much longer I needed to move. It frequently discouraged me to the point where I stopped running and started walking instead. The thing which cross country taught me was how to run when I felt like walking, and how not to defeat myself by letting discouragement win. Time for me to dredge up those lessons again. The path is long and I need to keep moving.

Edited to add: Howard has good breathing days and bad ones. The problem comes and goes. There are still more good days than difficult ones, but we’re tracking it.

Bits and Pieces From Today

Can we be done having a pandemic now? I’d really like to be done with it. This is the thought that keeps surfacing in my brain this morning even though I know it is a childish thought.


I got word that our tax refund money is being deposited today. This means I now have the funds to pay for our healthcare through the end of this year, which is a relief. We’ve already talked it over and decided to go ahead and spend the money on the next set of cabinets. Fixing our kitchen will improve the mental health well being of all household residents and having a project to do will as well. Any further expenses beyond purchasing the cabinets (flooring to go under them, a counter top and sink) will have be evaluated one by one. But it feels good to be making one tiny step forward in our home improvement plan.


I hosted my first Zoom meeting. Looks like the system is going to work fine for my monthly writer’s group. I’m glad because I haven’t seen them since February and I miss them.


The sun is shining and I keep thinking about going for a walk but not actually doing it.


I wish I had something that felt more important to say. Yet perhaps the fact that today is mostly about trivia is evidence that I’m stabilizing in the new state of the world.

Grocery Day

It is grocery shopping where I am able to see how the world has changed. I see it in the shelves that are empty. I see it in the people waiting to enter the store, carefully spacing themselves out instead of clumping.

I see it in the masks on other’s faces and feel it in the mask I wear myself. My experience is that people are patient and mostly considerate. There are more mask-wearers this week, though maskless is still the majority. When I am home or even at our warehouse, everything feels almost the same as things were before. At the grocery store I can see the changes.

The pandemic models were updated today and the predicted death count went down. That is good. But the models assume that the current level of lockdown/ social distancing continues through August. The changes I see at the store are going to continue for a very long time.

Checking In

“I just wanted to check with you and see how you’re doing.”
Sometimes it is a text. Sometimes it is an email. Occasionally it is a phone call. Sometimes I’m on the receiving end, other times I’m sending. Each message is a tiny connection between people and no matter what prompted the sending, it is a gift to be honored. Someone thought of me, or I thought of someone.

“How are you doing?”
“We’re good, found flour at the store this week, and you?”
“We’re good too.”

And the conversation ends there. Most of the time that is all it needs to be. Yet when I receive an inquiry, it forces me to pause and think about how I am doing. I have to see my situation and evaluate my feelings about it. This is good for me as I tend to set myself aside to do the necessary things. If I continually set myself aside without pausing to process my feelings, I’m setting myself up for a massive crash later. It is also not great because self examination interrupts whatever life-flow I may have achieved to put me back into a place where I’m thinking about where I’m at and what I might need in the future. Self examination wakes up any anxiety that I’ve managed to put to sleep.

When I was going through radiation therapy (twenty-five years ago, for a tumor that was non-cancerous but aggressive) I remember standing in the hallways at church. I don’t even remember who I spoke to, probably because it wasn’t a single conversation. I was standing there faced with a kind person who loved me and wanted to know how I was doing. I had two options in answering. I could give the quick answer to make the conversation over, or I could open up my pit of emotions and invite them to swim in it with me. I could keep this beloved person at arms length or I could draw them close and possibly overwhelm them with my depression. I stopped going to church for several months because that choice got too hard to make.

I think about that now with all the quick pandemic check ins. With each person checking in on me, I have an echo of that same choice. Do I tell them how I’m okay, or do I tell them what feels hard? I might be tempted to not check in, to leave people alone so I don’t force this choice on them, except the check-ins are are critically important because when someone hits a breaking point, the point where they desperately need to not be alone in their feelings, then someone needs to be there. The key is that the person who is asking needs to be ready to sit with whatever feelings their inquiry opens up. We need to be willing to mourn with those who mourn as never before. Because we are all mourning right now. Every one of us has already lost something. Everyone has something they’re afraid they may yet lose. Sometimes the person at the other end of our inquiry needs to affirm that they’re okay. Other times they need to be given permission to cry.

Most often I answer that I’m okay, because it is true. I have a house. I have the means to pay my bills for the next few months. I have enough food to last me at least a couple of weeks. I have people in my house that I can hug. I have cats to amuse and annoy me. I have friends who check on us. I have a large network of loved ones both local and distant who will jump to aid should I end up in need. I have so much to be grateful for.

It is also true that I’m not okay. My business has already shut down some pieces and we’ll likely have to shutdown more. I’m not certain if the supply chains I need to keep running my business will hold. I have friends who are sick. I watch the massive social shifts around me and I don’t know what that will do to my long term ability to pay my bills. I don’t know how my adult children will build futures they want. I’ve no idea when I’ll get to hug loved ones who don’t live in my house. I don’t know who will get sick, who will recover, and who won’t.

In comparing the last two paragraphs I can clearly see that the “Okay” paragraph is all centered in now. The “not okay” paragraph is all about the future. Which reminds me that happiness is in the present. Regret/grief is focused in the past. Anxiety is focused on the future. Which reminds me of the advice given by Lucille Ellison age 102:

I’ve been through so many things. To cope with this virus, and all that’s going on, I would tell people to not get stressed about planning far ahead. You can’t do it.

And perhaps that is also the answer to all those check ins, why they’re important and how to handle them. “How are you today” while acknowledging that today is fleeting and tomorrow might be different. Accepting today for what it is, even if it is full of crying. Answering the needs of today with the resources that are available today. And if we really need to think about the future, think in weeks, not months. Trying to solve problems that are months away is wasted effort because everything will shift again before we get there. In the meantime, we check in on each other and try to help everyone be okay with what we have today.

Familiar with Uncertainty

In the past week family, friends, and even my accountant have reached out to see how the ongoing pandemic is hitting us financially. Family and friends wanted to see if we needed help. The accountant wanted to be sure that I knew about all the assistance options available from the federal stimulus bill and from Utah legislation as well. The short answer to everyone is that we are doing fine and don’t need any help right now. The longer answer is that our future is very uncertain, but we’re used to living with our financial picture being uncertain a few months out.

We live from Kickstarter to Kickstarter. That is when our income arrives and then I have to make it last until we can run the next Kickstarter. Right now we’re late on delivering the Kickstarter we ran last November, and since we have a personal rule of not running a new one until we’ve delivered on the prior one, there is a giant question mark over when the next large income event will happen. There is an even larger question mark about whether our fans will have any money to spend when we do run it. An additional variable is that the daily Schlock Mercenary comic will be ending this summer and we have no idea how the lack of daily comic updates will impact Kickstarter participation. Right now we can’t qualify for government aid since we can’t prove income loss due to pandemic. (Also the last thing I need is for us to owe more money.) If there were a grant we qualified for, that would be different. As long as our tax return comes through, we’re okay for now. The future is uncertain, so we need to put in the work to manage our resources and deliver what we’ve promised our Kickstarter backers.

The Moments Pandemic Feels Real

It is strange how the pandemic I’m living through sometimes feels very real and threatening, but other times feels far away and not real at all. It’s also odd which things make it come into focus for me. It first felt real to me on March 12th when the NBA canceled their games, my church canceled sunday meetings, and Disney parks closed. That day was a big reality check and it was hammered home that evening when I went to the store and many of the shelves were empty. These days the store shelves are emptier than they were before, but I’ve seen things be restocked. Going to the store doesn’t make the pandemic feel real anymore. I’ve adapted to it. It used to be that looking at the numbers and graphs on various websites made the pandemic feel real, but that is fading too. Looking at numbers and graphs has started to feel like a normal, daily check in rather than panicked alert watchfulness. Today that thing that made pandemic feel real was driving past a hospital on my way to the warehouse to ship packages. There were large signs everywhere, on the sidewalk, out in the street, staked in the grass: “This way to drive-up Covid-19 testing. Pre-registrtion required.” The test station didn’t look particularly busy. They were organized and leisurely from what I could see as they drove past. That was reassuring. This hospital is a ten minute walk from my house. The pandemic is now within walking distance.

The rest of today has been normal. Our new normal, where I stay at home and use a facebook group to arrange for a neighborhood kid to mow my lawn, where I bake bread because I managed to find flour at the store, where we’ve got a Pokemon watching party in the family room while Howard and I work in our offices. I’ve managed to find some peace this last day or so. It is the peace of appreciating this quiet moment, because I get to keep it in memory no matter what comes next. Or maybe it is denial. I think sometimes we need to let the pandemic feel unreal so we can function. I also need to expect those moments when the reality of it all hits home. That is part of the new normal too.

Hard Choices

When my kids were little, several of them were susceptible to croup. This is a particular barking cough which is usually triggered by a cold. It always struck at night after the doctor’s offices were closed for the day. I got good at the home remedies, steaming bathrooms, cool outdoor air, etc. Yet even though I became practiced at managing it, each incident was alarming. Most of the time croup is a passing reaction, but if it gets bad enough the baby stops being able to breathe and then there are only minutes to intubate before damage is done. We never got to that point, but we did make several night time trips to the ER for breathing treatments of nebulized albuterol. Later we acquired a home nebulizer and a prescription so we could do these treatments at home, but I didn’t even know that was an option for years. I still remember vividly sitting in a steamy bathroom with a barking, coughing baby in my lap, trying to decide whether to go to the ER. There was a financial calculation, because even with the good insurance we had back then the ER still was a financial hit. There was also the knowledge that half the time the croup would mostly clear up just from taking the baby in the car to the ER. It was all probably nothing, everything was probably going to be fine, but if it was NOT fine and I stayed home the consequences were so very devastating that most of the time I took the financial hit and went to the emergency room. Then I entered a strange emotional place where I hoped that my baby’s symptoms stayed bad enough that the hospital personnel would not think me a high-strung over-reactive mother.

Right now, at every level of government, my elected leaders are like me in that steamy bathroom weighing the consequences, because if they do nothing everything might be fine. Bit by bit, I’ve watched most of them come down on the side of caution, preferring to be seen as overreacting rather than to live with the regret of not having done enough. At this moment there really isn’t much more to do. We all have to wait and see how bad it does or doesn’t get. I imagine that many leaders are in that strange place of wanting things to get bad enough that their choices are vindicated while simultaneously feeling guilty for wanting things to be bad. If things do not get bad, then they have to deal with the financial fallout of the prior decisions. No matter how they decide and no matter what the result, people will be angry with them for the choices they made. I do not envy elected officials.

I don’t know yet what the financial fallout will be for my small business. We’re not taking an immediate hit, but that doesn’t mean we are safe. Far from it. I’m watching entire industries grind to a halt, millions of people out of work, and I know that the ripple effects from these events are going to be much bigger than a single stimulus bill can adjust for. Some of those ripples are going to hit my business and my family. Yet, as my elected leaders decided, I’d prefer to err on the side of caution and take the financial hit later. Losses are inevitable, but I’d rather lose money than lose lives.