If you were a kid any time before the mid-’90s (when the vaccine became common practice), chances are HUGE that you had the chickenpox. It was a horrible, unsightly, rite-of-passage that most of us experienced, stealing WEEKS of our childhood while we remained quarantined in the house with our itchy blisters. I “caught” my case from my younger sibling (thanks, sista!) who, as I remember it, had to miss our year-end dance recital because of the illness.
It was at the beginning of summer vacation when my turn came, so I got to listen to everybody else running around outside enjoying their freedom while I picked at my scalp (where most of my “pox” manifested) and felt profoundly sorry for myself. I also had to miss the big girl scout camping trip that all of my friends got to enjoy, although in retrospect I do not understand why I was so devastated because anybody who knows me knows I love NOT camping. Bottom line—I knew I was “missing out,” and nobody likes that feeling.
Since that harrowing experience, I had by and large experienced mainly good health until early last year; I took an antibiotic for a bacterial skin infection and my whole life suddenly changed for the much, much worse, as I have already detailed. I went from being a robustly healthy person to a debilitated person literally overnight, and unfortunately in spite of the many thousands of dollars I have spent on both traditional and holistic remedies, that remains true. My life stopped being about TODAY and started being about SOMEDAY.
SOMEDAY I will be well again. SOMEDAY I will be able to do the things I am no longer able to do again. SOMEDAY I will be able to eat (dairy! wheat! Sugar!), drink (something other than turmeric probiotic shots!) and be merry again.
Not unlike those weeks I spent as a little girl listening to summer vacation happening WITHOUT ME, I spent most of last year feeling like an outsider in my own existence, someone who can watch and listen but not participate. The joys of living and the world seemed remote from inside the prison of my damaged body. All I could think about was FIX THIS, FIX THIS, FIX THIS so that I can get BACK to the world and my LIFE.
Yeah, I know.
I know it sounds kind of solipsistic today, considering that nearly everybody in the world feels this exact same way now. My personal hell has become on a certain level all of our realities. This pandemic means we have stopped being about TODAY because all we can think is FIX THIS, FIX THIS, FIX THIS so that I can get BACK to the world and my LIFE.
One of the clear memories I have about my bout with the chickenpox is that although it was virtually inevitable that I was going to come down with the virus (my sister and I shared a room), in my little kid way I tried to mind-over-matter that fact away. I tried to fool my body (and my Mom) into believing that I was feeling FANTASTIC (not punky and room spinny) and kept my little self busy preparing for the camping trip I knew in my heart was not happening for me. In this very small way, I do understand the people who don’t want to (or don’t) wear masks, in spite of the reality that their efficacy is a proven fact.
Pretending (for children) is an important coping mechanism, but if we don’t outgrow it, it becomes something we call “denial”. And while denying the facts may provide some temporary psychological relief, it quickly becomes something destructive because none of us, even in our current, socially distanced reality, lives in a vacuum. Denial turns you into the guy who insists he isn’t drunk when you try to take his car keys away—you are a danger to yourself and to others.
I think a big factor—maybe the biggest—in our fact denying fellow citizens refusal to look out for their own wellbeing (and yours) goes back to my childhood fear—that fear of MISSING OUT. This year has been the official spokesperson for MISSING OUT, as important milestone events large and small have been canceled, and even our regular, relied upon routines have been entirely upended. But here’s the thing—this is not like that summer vacation all those years ago where I was, in FACT, missing out; this year you can safely stay at home and rest assured that the only thing you are really missing out on is an opportunity to contract a ferocious and sometimes deadly virus.
We ALL, mask compliant or not, want to FIX THIS, FIX THIS, FIX THIS so that we can get BACK to the world and our lives, but the reality is---we just have to wait. We have to wait for a vaccine, we have to wait for more effective treatments and the only thing those of us who are not actively participating in that process can do to help is STOP SPREADING IT AROUND. We have to start living in today again, making those small daily choices that remind us that even in a socially distanced world, we need each other.
Thanks to my tangle with the neurotoxic antibiotic, I am now the oft-discussed “immunocompromised” person that your refusal to wear a mask disproportionately endangers; because of my resulting tangle with Guillain Barre Syndrome, even when there is a vaccine, it will not be safe for me to get it. That means my life is not going back to “normal” for a very long time…or possibly, I now accept, ever. So if I don’t start living for today, I may run out of days before I start living again, and that would be a waste.
I had already “lost” a year of my life to this illness before the pandemic started and now we are all headed into the 6th month of this new reality together. I get, maybe even a little bit more acutely than most, how empirically HORRIBLE this has been. The struggle is real.
But to me, the decision to wear a mask and practice social distancing is as straight forward as the decision not to drive drunk. Yes, there is a chance the drunk driver will make it home without killing anyone, but we have facts and statistics that clearly demonstrate what a high-risk behavior it is. Wearing a mask is not an infringement of your personal freedom any more than no littering laws are—keep your junk and germs to yourself.
Otherwise, we are all going to be missing out for a long, long time.