It’s already starting. The families are making demands, and it isn’t going well.
My friend’s mom asked her to “come home” for Thanksgiving. This is one of my friends who had a particularly rough time with COVID-19. My friend, sensibly, said she would make the drive if two conditions were met.
Everyone in the family said no.
Like many of the people in our extended friend group, they think these requests are insane. We’re being paranoid, controlling, and unfair. We’re the ones with the problem. Indulging us is simply a bad idea.
This year, my friend isn’t going home. Her parents, her sister, and her brother-in-law will be eating without her because the four of them aren’t willing to pod together for two weeks or get a test.
Ultimatums are usually a bad idea, unless there is a toxic situation involved and a permanent, thick line needs to be drawn. When both sides are tossing out ultimatums, it’s likely that the relationship will be different from that point on.
The family says, Come home and do it our way. The end.
You say, I don’t want any of us to wind up in the hospital. I’ll come home under these conditions. The end.
That is a showdown.
In family law - not the kind that involves the courthouse or actual legal code - the only rule is loyalty. Call on any other authority, and you’ve said, or they’ve heard, “I choose a greater authority than you.” Science? Fiscal responsibility? The needs of your own children? A temporary situation that puts your partner’s family first?
It tends to go downhill from there. Whoever had the first conversation where the line was drawn will then call others and repeat their version of what they heard. Then the other family members will text or call and tell you off.
This should be no surprise. There are very few things that humans enjoy more deeply and sincerely than telling someone off. Lecturing, chastising, rebuking. Oh, what fun.
What we’ve forgotten how to do in our society is to stand down. We’ve forgotten, if we ever knew, how to reach toward one another, how to compromise, how to admit we’ve been wrong, how to give an honest apology, how to forgive. We do not have light hearts. We are instinctively suspicious and easily wounded. We read into conversations opinions and words that were never there.
This scenario of the skipped Thanksgiving could easily turn into a point of You Always Do This. This Is Just Exactly Like You. There You Go Again.
What my friend did is what we call Yes, And. Yes, I will come and be with you, And I will do it under these conditions.
When people know how to play Yes, And, everything can be positive and fun.
For instance, one person can say, Let’s do Thanksgiving this year, and the other can say, Yes, and let’s all get tests and quarantine so we can actually do it with no masks on! Maybe that even turns into, Yes, and, I can work from home so maybe I’ll stay through the New Year.
The first refusal shuts down the options that might have followed.
When two people are able to collaborate and cooperate, everything from that point forward becomes easier. Trust is established. Tastes and preferences are put forth. Something new comes out of the interaction that maybe nobody thought of before.
When the third or fourth person joins the interaction, there is already a basis for that cooperation. The unstated rules of the game have been laid out. If each additional person gets it, and keeps the game of Yes, And going, there is then a positive upward spiral.
For instance, my ex-in-laws figured out their own Thanksgiving rules in this way. One of the five kids went vegetarian, and then another went vegan, and then the dad got put on a special diet by his heart doctor. The mom shrugged and said, “Potluck?” And everyone said, “Tacos!” Thereby the great Thanksgiving Taco Buffet was born. Everyone lined up and served themselves from a dozen bowls of ingredients, and everyone was satisfied, and nobody complained, and all the leftovers got eaten.
(If a turkey had climbed through the dog door and gotten in line, it might have gotten its own plate).
Negotiation sounds shifty to a lot of people. Crafty, devious. What it really means is that there are a hundred thousand opportunities for everyone in a situation to be satisfied and have fun. Everyone can walk away happy. The only situation where everyone loses is when at least one person stalls out and refuses to consider any other possibilities.
This is the COVID Thanksgiving scenario under which nobody can win: I demand that you come to my house and pretend there is not a pandemic.
There are a million variations of this, where everyone can feel loved and connected and well-fed. One involves everyone getting tested. Another involves everyone bundling up and sitting outside. Another involves everyone agreeing to meet in person “when all this is over.” My own family is going to get on Zoom and wave to each other and compare meals and play games. I live a thousand miles away, so it’ll be more or less like the 350 days of previous years when we just... live where we live.
Personally I think family relations work better when we treat each other more like professional colleagues. That means we respect each other’s time and budgets. It also means that we speak to each other with basic civility. The more we set policy with each other, the more time we can spend talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. The alternatives? Are not that many and not that interesting.
When we’re caught up in family power struggles, sometimes it’s all we can do to avoid making things worse. Focus on what is true: I love you, I want to be with you, I understand how you feel, I know everything is crazy right now. Another thing that is true is that I want us all to be here this time next year. I’ll be here when you’re ready to talk. I will always be here for you.
Just maybe not in person right now.
Even though I was scared and I hate needles, I went out and got the flu shot. I waited until mid-October like Fauci suggested, so I’ll still be covered through the end of flu season. This year it matters more, for several reasons.
More interestingly, it turns out there are reasons to get the flu shot besides the obvious.
Oh, wait, what are the obvious reasons? For all my women readers who start doing the Russian Cat No and wildly shaking their heads back and forth whenever the topic comes up? (Why it’s women I have no idea, since we tend to be so healthy and smart in most other ways).
I used to be a flu shot refuser, too. Until the year my husband got his shot at work and I “never got around to it.” (Read: chronic procrastinator). I got the flu and he didn’t. I was sick as a dog for eight days and he was totally fine. All right! All right! Fine! I’ll get the dang flu shot.
I’ve been doing it every year since then, and it’s been completely okay. I don’t even get needle reaction anymore, not since I started doing martial arts.
That’s my obvious reason. Obviously I would rather do almost anything than ever have the flu like that again. Honestly, if that injection was full of mercury, high fructose corn syrup, gluten, cat hair, ragweed pollen, depleted uranium, and bedbug particles, I’d still get it. It works!
People be drinking Mountain Dew and eating fast food and then worrying about what’s in half a milliliter of a highly tested vaccine.
The next most obvious reason to get the flu shot is that I have the ability and others don’t. I do it for my blessed mother-in-law who passed. She battled lymphoma no fewer than five times. When she was on chemo, she couldn’t get the flu shot, and influenza could have taken her down. Anyone who wears one of those pink ribbons, I hope you demonstrate your commitment in a practical way by doing one of the few things that could actually help a real live cancer patient live to fight another day.
Babies too. An infant too little to get the shot might die from flu, but I won’t. I could never have kids of my own, but I can help protect other people’s. Auntie power.
There’s a third obvious reason, and that is that we truly can’t afford to have influenza and COVID-19 circulating at the same time. It’s our responsibility to get the vaccine for the one, since there’s no way to get a vaccine for the other yet.
The same people who are honking and braying about “herd immunity” for COVID better shut up until they can demonstrate that they got their flu shot. You like herd immunity so much, prove it.
Or wait. Were you actually saying that you’re pro-humans dying like flies from contagious disease? Pro-plague? Pro-mass death?
This stuff matters. Getting the flu shot is not the same thing as voting, or... or flossing. It’s not just another preachy thing that people want to peer pressure each other about.
I’m the same way about the flu shot as ex-smokers are about cigarettes. I’m mad at Past Me for being a big dumb chicken - and then getting the flu when I didn’t have to - and I wish I could go back in time and tell all this stuff to my own self.
Okay, so, I promised I would talk about why there are bonus reasons to get the flu shot now. I shall henceforth. Tarry no longer. Et cetera.
New research indicates that getting the flu shot can lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
When I read that, I about fell over. Avoiding Alzheimer’s is my organizing principle. It’s my sole health motivator. If only this had been demonstrated 20 years ago!
Check it out. Get the flu shot one single time, over the age of 60, and it lowers your risk of Alzheimer’s 17%. Getting the flu shot every year, most years, adds up to an additional 13% lowering of risk.
I don’t need to know why. If it’s even a loose correlation, I’m doing it. Like I said, even if the injection was full of, like, grass clippings and rusty nails, I’m rolling up my sleeve. Wait an hour if I have to.
Wait, there’s more!
Getting the flu shot can also lower your risk of heart attack.
What?? Why??? Nobody told me that!
A lot of people who are nervous about vaccination want things to be “natural.” There’s this idea that industrial things from the 20th century are toxic, anything from food additives to pervasive exposure to plastics and environmental pollution. Hey, I agree with all of that 100%. I actually ate, for dinner just now, a large quantity of organic kale produced by community-supported agriculture.
It’s just that I have a degree in history, and I know that contagious diseases have been the greatest scourge of humanity since before written records were kept.
We’ve benefited from this. Longevity has doubled in the past 200 years. This is partly because far more children live into adulthood, and partly because it’s far more common for adults to become centenarians. People are much taller on average because far fewer people suffered devastating fevers in childhood. We owe a significant debt to vaccination programs for all of this - yes, “we,” even the refusers, those who might not indulge in social loafing in any other context.
I got the flu shot, and I was glad to do it, even though I was petrified to walk into the clinic. I wore a double-layer fabric mask and a plastic face shield. I was in and out of there in under 10 minutes. For the first time, the injection itself was the least of my worries.
You know what, though? After almost dying of COVID-19 this spring, I was thrilled to sit up in the chair and get that injection, a sign of life, a short sharp pain I wouldn’t have felt as a ghost in the afterlife. This is borrowed time, this life of ours, and it is a good thing to use our time toward significant and meaningful acts.
I’m tossing around a concept presented by Barry Davret that is really blowing my mind right now. Never get ready.
What does this mean?
The idea is that most of us spend a lot of time doing a lot of stuff that doesn’t actually help our situation. We burn energy “getting ready” to do whatever the thing is, energy that would better be used for doing that actual thing.
I think this is both true and untrue, depending on how the point is taken. As a poster or a slogan on a coffee mug, it might be very helpful for some and for others, it might simply make a great excuse.
Let’s look at some examples.
Someone who is trying to start a business, who puts tons of effort into building a social media presence, choosing logos, fussing over a website - and does not actually make any sales.
Someone who is “getting ready” to go out, who puts on and takes off several outfits, throwing them on the bed and the floor, and then leaves various bottles and jars strewn all over the bathroom counter. This person may feel nervous and self-conscious throughout the event, tugging garments into place and forgetting to actually have fun. (“This person” is probably every single middle-school student).
Someone who is getting ready to make a craft project, who shops for materials and buys books and chooses patterns, who has a half a dozen projects in progress, but then never actually finishes anything. (Me 1997-2009)
Someone who is getting ready to start dating, who signs up for an app, looks at tons of profiles, maybe even starts talking to people, but then never actually meets anyone in person.
One of the classics that I see in my work with chronically disorganized people is the sheer quantity of little tasks they will do before they walk out the door to go anywhere. Take the date-night “getting ready” aesthetic jitters, and add half a mile of pacing back and forth looking for objects or finishing little chores. It’s exponentially harder with small kids.
I used to be this way myself, until I acknowledged that I didn’t want to leave at all and I was coming up with reasons to stay in my apartment as long as I could.
This is what Davret is driving at with the exhortation to “never get ready.” Just jump in and do the thing, whatever it is.
I agree with him 99%.
The 1% of hesitation is that a certain amount of preparation is necessary in order to get straight to the target action. This is what we mean by Getting Organized.
For instance, I keep a shower kit packed at all times. When I want(ed) to go on a trip (before COVID), I would simply grab it and put it in my suitcase. I have another little pouch with a charging hub, backup batteries, adapters, and extra cables, including one for my Apple Watch. I have recorded myself packing for a trip in under five minutes. I put four changes of clothes, pajamas, and a pair of shoes in a suitcase that fits under an airplane seat. This is how I have managed to be a one-bag traveler for many years, even overseas.
In this sense, I can do what I want and “never get ready,” because I am always ready!
In another sense, there is a sort of carefree interpretation of “never getting ready” that would not benefit from my system. Sure, it’s possible to get on a plane with nothing but a passport and a credit card, and why not? I’ve thought about it quite a bit, in fact. It’s through the experience of nearly 40 years of travel that I’ve chosen to bring a certain amount of excess, like a blister stick and some headache tablets, because it makes my life easier and it saves time.
Let’s do another example. I took up public speaking several years ago, because it made me miserable and I was terrible at it. All you can do is improve, right? When I started out, I would spend a week working on a five-minute speech, and an entire day memorizing it. The good news is that I learned I am really good at memorization. The bad news was, whenever I would lose my spot, I would vapor-lock and have no idea what to say.
My friends in the club finally convinced me to start winging it and quit trying to memorize my stuff. “It’s your own story and you know what’s going to happen,” they said.
It didn’t take long before I started winning Best Speaker ribbons for impromptu speaking. Now I rarely do any preparation for a speech at all. I might read a couple of articles, but usually my material arises naturally out of whatever I’ve been reading and thinking about that week. I never get ready any more because I’ve reached a state of constant readiness.
What the desire for getting ready and feeling prepared comes from is anxiety. Perhaps there’s a mix of impostor syndrome in there, along with an intolerance for being in the Place of Uncertainty.
The question is: Can I handle this?
The answer, most of the time, is: Of course I can.
Of course you can.
There are a bunch of specific skills that tend to give someone a feeling of being better prepared for the weirder events of life. They should be advertised this way.
Basically it feels like this: I have a go bag, I can talk my way out of most situations and maybe buy my way out of others, if it all starts to go sideways I can fight melee, and after that I can patch myself up and maybe hide out in the woods for a while. Anything that doesn’t fit these parameters shouldn’t affect my self-esteem too much anyway.
In one sense, it’s true, we should probably never get ready. We should just focus on doing whatever it is that is truly important to us. In another sense, maybe we should focus more on being ready for anything.
It’s already happening. We didn’t necessarily know back in March of 2020 that we were in the early stages of a global pandemic, but we sure do now. Obviously most people have noticed the economic impact. What I think will start to change more radically is the nature of work and the workplace.
What’s it going to be like? What is work after COVID going to look like?
As a COVID survivor myself, I can say that certain things will change on the employer’s side, but other changes will be driven by the employee. For instance, very simply, I will never again show up in person for a company that allows sick, coughing people to come into the building. I can’t. How can I be productive if I’m exposed to respiratory illnesses that are still hard for me to fight - even the common cold?
A lot of people like me, people who have that type of option, will just work from home forever.
On the one hand, this is really unfair for those who can’t. On the other hand, every person who works from home allows just that little bit more physical space for everyone else. Each person who works from home makes the roads a little clearer, the parking spaces a little emptier, the lunch lines a little shorter.
At my work, right around the six-month mark, the lightbulb went off above several people’s heads. Almost nobody in our company needs to be in the building to work, but the reason they do need to come in is to use the labs. We never have enough laboratory space, and a lot of other companies are the same way. Send home even a dozen people permanently, and suddenly there are options to renovate. Remove the offices you no longer need, replace them with lab space, and eventually it’s safe for everyone in the lab to distance.
I talked to my cousin recently, and at his work, the directors go to the office and everyone else works from home. This is interesting, because leadership takes on the physical risk. It’s the first we had heard of this type of arrangement.
It’s easy enough to track productivity and make sure people are staying on task. Look at their work product, measure their deliverables. Install a keystroke tracker if you feel you need to. If people are meeting their deadlines, it’s fine. Who cares if they did it in their bathrobe? Companies that are still hung up about needing to monitor people can learn to do it remotely, perhaps with even greater scrutiny than they showed back in the conventional office.
It’s going to be cheaper, and that will eventually help to lengthen the leash.
One area where working from home makes things more complicated is the issue of security. The reason a lot of our people need to go into the physical office is that they can’t take secure calls at home. It’s not physical materials, it’s the soundproofing and the encryption. There may eventually be solutions for this that can be built into people’s private homes, but this would be quite expensive. Then the next person who lived in that home probably wouldn’t need that feature! More secure “phone booth” type arrangements may need to be set up, either things that can be moved from house to house without too much trouble, or far more external options like mini-coworking offices.
Encryption is definitely going to be an area of greater emphasis and development. If you’re looking for things to do and areas to retrain, that’s something to consider.
Another area where development is going to move very quickly is in converting paper processes to digital. Those who find this annoying or who are nervous about their skills are going to need to reach out for tutorials and coaching to get up to speed.
To me the worst thing in the world is for someone to risk COVID exposure at work just because they’re trapped in an old paper-based system. In most cases, these systems could have been digitized at least a decade ago, it’s just that nobody wanted to.
Another area where I see change and expansion is in retro-fitting vehicles and public spaces, like store countertops. We absolutely must do everything technologically possible to protect anyone who has to work with the public. “Essential” doesn’t matter here. Zero people should be in a position where someone is breathing into their face. The customer is no longer “always right” - and I think anyone who has ever worked retail will agree, they never were! Plexiglass or whatever it takes.
Several years ago, I happened to be with my parents when they dropped by their credit union. There was no teller physically present in the building. Customers went into a little reception area and communicated through a video screen. If that tech was available over a decade ago, then it can be done elsewhere.
Something else security-related that I think we’ll see is that technology will be assigned for security detail. A store employee should not be subject to physical violence from some rabid mask denier. The doors simply shouldn’t open for someone who refuses to obey store dress code. If they can tell us “no shoes, no shirt, no service” or that they “reserve the right to refuse” any customer, then certainly they can enforce public health directives.
Tech developments were already starting to appear in the years before this pandemic, and now they’re going to move faster. Delivery robots for short distances. Customer service and security robots. Tele-medicine. There will certainly be more tech for air filtration and sanitizing surfaces. Once the infrastructure is in place for more transactions to be done safely and death-breath-free, it will most likely stay that way. People are looking for ways to shop, entertain themselves, and socialize in groups, and if it takes special masks to do it, we’ll adapt.
A lot of people are out of work right now, partly because we’re in a state of uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last. Think back to the trends of the 1920s. After the end of the Spanish Flu pandemic, people were elated, looking to party and spend money. The 20th century really only began at that point. The world of 1925 looked wildly different than the world of 1915. Prepare for something similar in the decade that begins with 2020. Start thinking about the jobs of the future. With a bit of trend analysis and a bit of training, it’s not impossible that a lot of people would wind up better off than they were before the pandemic - as long as we stay safe enough to see it all unfold.
I’ve had the pleasure of reading Benjamin Hardy’s work for several years, having stumbled across his writing before he published his first book. I was utterly blown away by Slipstream Time Hacking, and he has only improved since then. I would call him a “must-read” author, and he’s given us an instant classic with Personality Isn’t Permanent.
I read this book literally in one sitting and wanted to review it immediately.
Aha, so this is what someone can do with a doctorate in psychology!
The premise is that Personality Isn’t Permanent - we can determine what character traits we want to develop, we can change our behaviors and beliefs, and we can design our own lives. Hardy backs this up with psychological research and examples of various people’s life experiences, including his own. He describes himself as a loser who played World of Warcraft 15 hours a day, until he decided to change his life. Now he’s a married father of five kids and he has a PhD and a couple of best-selling books.
There are a couple of points in this book that a lot of readers will find challenging. The first is that personality tests are worthless. The second is the idea that it’s possible to transform trauma, using traumatic experiences as material to build a better and stronger self-image. My suggestion would be that most people can finish reading a short book even when they don’t automatically agree with everything in it. I’ve been through the process of reexamining personal trauma, and Hardy is right, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept!
Personality Isn’t Permanent, and this is a fabulous finding. It’s the path to freedom. This is an inspirational book, one that is worth pondering with full engagement.
When you decide who you’ll be and the life you’ll live, you can have anything you truly want. You can become an outlier.
If you experience resistance through your reading, take heart. You’re on the brink of facing the truth of who you are.
Right now, you don’t truly want what your future self wants.
Your future self is an acquired taste.
Peak experiences are rare for most people, but can happen regularly. You could have a peak experience today if you choose to. You must be intentional. You must be courageous. You must move your life in the direction you genuinely want to go.
Thinking about yourself, what would happen if your future self came to you and told you that everything you want to see happen was going to happen? Would you believe them?
Figures of speech that we wouldn’t really have understood last year are now becoming commonplace. If I crack a joke about washing my mail, for instance, people know what I mean. Last year they probably would have assumed they had heard me wrong. One of those sayings that has been popping up a lot is, When all this is over.
A year ago, if anyone mentioned “all this being over,” they probably would have been talking about a remodel, or... ? I’m racking my brain, trying to think of a scenario that would have merited this turn of phrase.
Now we all know what it means. When the pandemic is over. When social distancing is over. When travel restrictions are over. When mask requirements are over. When stay-at-home orders are over. When we can go back to the office. When schools are consistently open. When business travel resumes. When we are no longer trapped in a collective nightmare.
The trouble with this is that we’re all looking backward.
We still think that “all of this” will be “over” at some point.
The spin on the pandemic has been over whether COVID-19 is real or not, whether it counts as a threat or not, whether we should change our behavior because of it or not.
As a futurist and as an historian, I know the question is really, how often will we have pandemics now?
George Washington and Andrew Jackson both got smallpox as teenagers. Abigail Adams led the way for cutting-edge science by volunteering to get smallpox inoculations for herself and her kids. She died of typhoid fever years later. William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia while in office. Abraham Lincoln got sick with smallpox the same day he gave the Gettysburg Address. Woodrow Wilson got H1N1 while in office. FDR had polio.
Think of how different American history would be if the course of any one of these illnesses had gone the other way. If George Washington had died at 19, if Harrison had lived, if Lincoln had fallen ill a couple days earlier and hadn’t written that speech... ?
There IS no “when this is over.” Contagious epidemic disease has been the scourge of humanity since before before we started keeping written records.
The main difference is that right now there are seven billion of us. In 1918, there were fewer than two billion. In 1776 it was about one billion. Quite simply, there are more of us, we inhabit more areas of the planet, and the same percentage of illness or death will involve far more individual people. Over a quarter of Americans got sick with the Spanish Flu and fewer than one percent died, but if that happened now, roughly 82 million people would have been sick and roughly 3/4 of a million people would have died.
One thing that is similar between COVID-19 and the H1N1 outbreak of WWI is that people defied mask orders. Just like now, people at that time got into fistfights about it, and at least one person got shot. The science was there, the body count was rising, everyone was freaking out, and already there were people who would rather go to prison or die than wear a little strip of fabric on their face for a couple hours.
This probably will never change. A thousand years from now this probably will not have changed.
There is another saying: “avoid it like the plague.” I’m sure we’re already laughing about the fact that humans do not avoid the plague. On the contrary, it seems that some are actively encouraging it, not only defying public health regulations but possibly? If the rumors are true? Hosting actual parties in hopes that people will get it and get it over with.
Hey guess what. Reinfection is possible and, at time of writing, we still only have one confirmed death from reinfection by a second strain of COVID-19.
I think about “when all this is over” because even the Spanish Flu epidemic eventually ended. Yeah, thousands of people have died of influenza since then, but not at the same rate. (H1N1 at that time was hemorrhagic; it included regular flu symptoms but some people also bled out their ears or eyes). Even the Black Death eventually ended. These things do go away - or at least they always have so far.
When I think about “when all this is over,” I think first about seeing my own family. We’re closing in on a year since we’ve seen each other in person. It wouldn’t surprise me if we have to go another two years. We can do it, though, because we love each other enough to wait. We believe the science and, of course, the group of us all have my personal experience to go on.
The other thing I think is that we’re all looking backward. The world that we knew is gone, just like George Washington’s world is gone and Abraham Lincoln’s world is gone. We may as well start thinking forward now, like they always tried to do, and start imagining what this thing called the future is going to be like.
There are a bunch of things we aren’t going to miss, like having a coworker come into the office with a bad cold or listening to people cough in the theater. There are a lot of things we were still doing earlier this year that are relics of the 19th century, such as visiting an office in person to fill out information on a piece of paper. DMV, I’m looking at you. So much of that bureaucratic infrastructure could easily have been done digitally decades ago. It’s certainly not worth dying over.
It’s the job of a futurist to look forward, to pull together inklings of trends and imagine them into better and more interesting versions of today. I like to look ahead to the 15-year range. It would be better if I could look to the 30-50 year range, and I’m hoping to learn to do that. I also hope I’ll live that long, that in 50 years I’ll be 95 and I can look back on 2020 and wave my hand at it dismissively.
That’s why I wear a mask. I’m going to bury this pandemic in my personal past. I’m going to beat it and make it just a footnote in my timeline. That’s my plan and I hope everyone else is on board. When all this is over, we’ll need someone to write the history of it.
I just found out that yet another person on my PLEASE GOD NO list has been exposed to COVID-19. That list is either 7 billion people long, or it’s about 20 people long. It would be nice if we could all go back to pretending that this killer of a disease does not exist, and I’d like to be able to do that for, say, one week.
But it’s still out there and this is still happening.
My person got exposed at work. I feel very fortunate that most people in my circle have taken notes off my experience, and they are being careful and obedient about distancing and wearing masks. This is another example, though, of how even following all the rules can still include a certain amount of risk.
For instance? I got it in a large, airy restaurant with a high ceiling, while sitting next to an open floor-to-ceiling window, from a person sitting 10 feet away. We all mixed vitamin C packets into our water, put on hand sanitizer, and avoided hugging or shaking hands.
We followed what rules there were at the time. Then five of us got sick and spread it around.
I think the reason that coronavirus is still spreading and that cases are still climbing is that we don’t have a full understanding of how this illness works. I mean, we understand how food-borne illness works, and people still get food poisoning. We understand that drunk driving kills people, and yet we still have drunk driving. Even when we do have a pretty clear picture of something, it is not enough to motivate compliance, because humans generally hate rules.
Except for my person, who is an Upholder through and through. As is the other person who infected me.
We do what we can to understand what’s happening and adjust our behavior. We do what we can to get through.
What I do is to read compulsively. Everything I can find about coronavirus goes in one eyeball and right out the other.
I’m starting to see more indications that reinfection is possible and that if there is any immunity, it’s short-term. It’s looking like right about 88 days of coverage.
Eighty-eight days?? But isn’t that only like... less than three months??
That’s right, and let’s game this out.
If the figures from back in Spring of 2020 were accurate, I was among the first 400 people to be exposed in California. My immunity, if I had any, would have worn off in mid-July, right around the time that... I came down with a case of bacterial pneumonia.
I totally thought I had COVID again. I had some very sketchy, unprecedented, and alarming neurological symptoms. I had many of the feelings I had only ever experienced during COVID before. I felt too ill to sit up in a chair and I went to bed. The major difference turned out to be that my chest and upper back hurt constantly.
I emailed my doctor right away, and he authorized a COVID test, and it came back negative.
I’m thrilled that I didn’t get reinfected, but I have no clue where I would have gotten anything else contagious. I virtually never step outside our front door, and when I do I wear a double-layer mask with a plastic face shield. I am so paranoid about being near other people that I cross the street to distance when I can.
I had a hypothesis about where I got pneumonia, and I asked my doctor. “Is it possible that it could be me infecting me?” He laughed and heard me out, and agreed. Everyone carries a certain amount of strep and staph bacteria all the time, and normally it’s fine. They can get out of balance sometimes, though, and lead to infections.
This is a testable hypothesis; however, neither my doctor nor I felt the need to get a sample out of my lungs. He gave me antibiotics and an inhaler and a non-drowsy cough medicine, and a few weeks later I was fine, and the mystery of How I Got Pneumonia will never be completely solved.
All of this is to say that if you get COVID-19, it is no longer your only problem.
Lots of people are not afraid of coronavirus, why I am not sure, and good for them. Let’s check back in 2023 and see how it worked out. I do have to ask, though - are they afraid of anything at all? Pneumonia? Food poisoning? Tetanus? Venomous snakes? Rabies?
If someone claims to be afraid of nothing, then my rejoinder is: How about wearing a mask then??
I have some thoughts about this short-term immunity issue, and they are not great.
Look at any line chart of COVID cases, from any source, region, or time period that you choose. Notice how it goes up from the beginning of the year.
I mentioned earlier that I was one of the early cases, and that anyone who got exposed when I did would apparently have lost immunity before August.
Far more people have been exposed or gotten sick since then.
I’m guessing that a lot of people who had mild-to-moderate cases like mine have been working hard to avoid getting it again. (Not the person who infected me; she decided she was immune and started going to the secret gym and socializing in groups right away). Many of us may have reduced our exposure enough that our risks are much lower.
This may be why there are relatively few documented cases of reinfection so far.
One reason is that it’s only possible to document a case of reinfection by sequencing both strains, and almost nobody on Earth is going to have access to that kind of laboratory support. In a lot of areas, people still can’t get a basic test. We won’t have proof of what’s going on even if it’s going on by the tens of thousands of cases.
The most worrisome reason is that we’re still early into this modern plague, and not enough people have been exposed and had their antibodies wear off to be at risk for reinfection yet.
If there is immunity to COVID-19, and it only lasts for about 88 days, then unfortunately, we wouldn’t really have seen a peak in reinfection until... what comes after the first week of August? ... The first week of November.
In other words, we’re not there yet.
Americans are totally tired of hearing about COVID-19, and I don’t blame them. I’m tired of it, too. I want my health back, and I want to be able to ignore it, and I want it to leave my friends and family alone. I also want maskless people to quit getting in the elevator with me in my apartment building. Further, I want the coronavirus eradicated. We can only do that with good information and sensible behavior.
The risk of avoiding reinfection is maybe being a little more cautious and clean than necessary. The risk of ignoring that risk is a pandemic that lasts longer and sickens and kills a lot more people. I’d rather be a little more cautious for a little longer.
She’s suffering. She’s sleep deprived. She’s got stuff going on at work. She’s the only one of my friends with fibromyalgia who actually wants advice from me. This is what I tell her.
You can get through this and you need more sleep!
When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia back in the Nineties, nobody knew much about it. One of my doctors called it a “wastebasket diagnosis.” Another said I should only join a support group “if you want to have it forever.” (I didn’t join). It was obvious everyone thought it was psychosomatic, which is what they always think before they understand what something is. They used to say that Lyme disease and multiple sclerosis were psychosomatic, too. Then someone started marketing a pharmaceutical to treat it, and suddenly, fibromyalgia was “real.”
I never got any prescriptions - I had figured out how to manage it on my own long before I found out there was finally a treatment. Other than a couple of brief flare-ups, I haven’t had symptoms in many years.
The golden key to my recovery was to improve the quality and quantity of my sleep.
My friend is caught in the cycle of sleeplessness, then finally taking a nap in the middle of the day when she feels like she can. Her eating schedule is completely thrown off.
I tell her that if she can make herself eat on a normal schedule, her sleep hormones will start to adjust.
Nobody wants to hear advice just fired at them - who needs it? What haven’t we heard already? - so I keep reminding her of how I was in the same position that she’s in, that I remember how awful it feels, that this was the only thing that finally worked for me.
Eat on a schedule and quit taking naps, cold turkey.
One of the worst feelings is to be badly sleep deprived, finally feel like you can take a nap, and then have to fight that feeling for six hours or more until you can go to bed at a normal time. It’s entirely contrary to nature.
Unfortunately, it’s part of the cure.
What we’re trying to do is to align the hormones that make us sleepy and the hormones that cause us to wake up, so that we can feel tired and go to sleep at bedtime, and then wake up naturally when it’s time to get up.
When we eat and nap at inconsistent times, our sleep hormones get spun up. This is why we can fight exhaustion all day, only to snap awake as soon as we get in bed.
It feels extremely unfair, but the brain wants what it wants. It just doesn’t know how to ask for it politely.
What I do when I need a “reset” is to force myself to stay awake until 9:00 pm. Whether that means splashing cold water on my face, walking miles out in strong sunlight, standing up and sitting down a lot, or any other method I can imagine, I’ll do it. I keep reminding myself that I can make a trade. I can have either this one day of sleep hell, or at least three weeks of sleep disaster day after day.
My hubby and I use this technique when we travel, and we’ve found that we can now adjust to a new time zone in a single day. Just try to get on the new time zone’s meal schedule as soon as possible. Sometimes this means eating a small meal when you’re not very hungry at all. Other times it means waiting and being famished for a few hours, depending on the airport and arrival times. Step one, get on the local meal schedule. Step two, stay awake until an appropriate bedtime on the first night.
It can be done. It can be done if you have full faith and trust that one day’s suffering will pay off quickly.
The alternative is to give in to the day’s overwhelming physical signals, still feel cruddy and low-energy, and essentially punch Future You in the face over and over again.
I don’t tell my friend this part, because she isn’t ready to hear it, but my food intake is squeaky clean. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee and I don’t eat junk food or fast food. I avoid desserts because I have about a 1/4 chance of launching out of bed with screaming night terrors a few hours later. I eat more vegetables than the typical family of four.
It’s another category of information that feels cruel and judgy, but in practice is one of the few things that actually helps.
What happened when I quadrupled my vegetable consumption? My night terrors went away, and so did my migraines.
There’s something else I need to tell my friend about my experience with fibromyalgia. It basically overlaps with my first marriage. My first husband snored quite badly, and he would snort me out of a sound sleep several times a night. When he divorced me, my life was shattered - but my fibromyalgia symptoms went away. Without him by my side, I could actually sleep through the night.
I tell her that her job is starting to sound a lot like my ex-husband.
She shouldn’t be on work calls at midnight. She should be able to use her vacation time. She should be able to take weekends off without getting dragged in to handle some crisis or other. It’s a golden-handcuffs job, but the price she is paying is too high at this point.
She comes back and tells me that she emailed her boss, then went to bed at 9 PM and slept for 14 hours. She feels guilty.
Why? I say. Let’s reframe this. You can only be a peak performer when you’re healthy. Working until you are burned out is not optimal. Burning out is lose-lose. High performance means being well rested, and that’s win-win.
Chronic pain often overlaps with feelings of being trapped in an unhappy situation. The common perspective on this seems to be that emotions cause physical pain. I actually think it’s the exact opposite! Chronic pain makes it hard to think clearly, to make strong and bold decisions, to set boundaries, to feel anything other than sad and hopeless.
This is our motive to keep careful records, to take note of our own patterns. As we make changes to our surroundings and our behavior, we can notice gradual, incremental improvements. We can document those improvements and show them to our doctors. Sometimes, like I did, we can move forward and put our days of fatigue and illness behind us completely.
Not my worst nightmare precisely, but rather, my ‘work nightmare’ - we’re all on camera during meetings now. This wasn’t supported by our previous software package. I asked my boss during my first week, “What percentage of the time will we be on camera?” He replied, “Zero!”
Alas, it was not to last.
Technically we use three separate software platforms for calls, depending on who is involved. The rules are slightly different for each, meaning there is the usual amount of confusion over how to dial in or mute. To compound matters, individual results depend on whether each person is logging in via phone, company laptop, or VPN, whether they’re at home or on campus, and then whether they’re on iPhone or Android, Mac or PC. It’s still a little messy.
Let’s just say it’s not always easy to tell when you think you’re on mute and you’re not. I was just on a call with 140 people, and suddenly there were the outraged screams of a child piercing the background. For several minutes. If the child had been the victim of a dog attack or had fallen out of a tree, the cries would not have been inconsistent. No adult seemed to be supervising. Whose kid was this?? I figured out the only person with an open mic other than the speaker, whose unfazed expression showed it couldn’t possibly have been going on in his background. The guy with the wailing child ironically raised an eyebrow - and I realized, this must just be what parenting and home-schooling while working from home is like.
At other times, I have been treated to the sounds of someone chewing, shouting, holding a long rambling phone call, watching a football game, and even peeing and flushing a toilet. I’ve heard cats meowing directly into the mic. I’ve heard doorbells and lawn mowers and car alarms and sirens and barking dogs. Of course, I’m a fine one to talk, as I have a parrot who likes to sit behind me and peer over my shoulder at the screen. And beep, peep, and whistle while I’m on a hot mic.
This was all one type of mayhem when we were just on the phone together. Now that we’re on camera, it’s oh so much more.
There are several things that I hate about being on camera. For one, it makes me extremely self-conscious that I always look like I’m paying attention. I am camera-shy at the best of times. At work, it feels like the stakes are higher. The entire reason we’re on camera is to demonstrate that everyone is fully engaged in every meeting. This is where I feel compelled to monitor my facial expressions.
One day, I turned on my camera, went to wave to someone, and realized that there was a stack of empty boxes visible in range of my camera. My face morphed into annoyance and disgust - not a sexy expression - and then I realized that it looked like I was frowning AT someone. Not myself and my own recycling schedule, my own ability to frame shots - but AT a person. I would never make that face at anyone outside of politics!
Now I have to be self-conscious not only about my facial expression, but what is visible in my living room as well.
I’ve read up a bit on this, since everyone and literally their grandparents are on Zoom these days. People complain about anyone having a blank wall behind them. In other words, they want to SNOOP. They don’t want to look at me or listen to what I’m saying - they want to spy in the background, read the titles of my books, and assess my character, taste, and lifestyle based on what they can see over my shoulder.
In my personal opinion, that is far, far worse than being judged on my body image. I’d much rather have someone make snarky comments about my caboose than about how I decorate my living room. This is my private home, and if I wanted to invite you over to see it, I would. I doubt most people signed on for their jobs with the desire to have 100% of their professional colleagues inside their home.
It’s worse for some of our early-career colleagues, most of whom were caught out by the pandemic. One of our young ones has to work on his bed because he’s temporarily staying with his parents, and they work at home too. Another works on her couch with a TV tray in her lap, because she’s a newlywed and they don't really have furniture yet. It’s a little unfair for those who are still in the student lifestyle, sharing a video grid with a manager or director who has owned a home for 25 years.
At least two of my older colleagues have their work stations out in the garage. Why? With a spouse and two or more kids in the house, there just isn’t enough space or sound-proofing for everyone.
This is part of how I have finally gotten over my camera shyness and learned to fight my self-consciousness at work.
I turned on a blurry background, so all that can really be seen behind me is that I work next to a window. If you know where to look and what you’re looking at, you can sometimes see a blur of a red parrot tail somewhere over my head. A slight tilt of the laptop screen and the camera aims more toward the ceiling and less toward the scattering of feathers and shreds of lettuce on my floor.
My competition on camera includes a lot of people who are less tech-savvy than I am, at least in terms of video calls. The rules of the game start to include more about competent use of the tool than oneupmanship over hair, makeup, and wardrobe - at least in our industry. I can certainly be thankful that I work with engineers and not in fashion, marketing, or television.
One day we all might start working together at the office again. (That’ll be weird since I don’t even know where my desk is yet). On that day, I hope that my colleagues will be surprised at how much better I look in person. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to keep the bar on aesthetics and personal disclosure low, returning the focus to merit, where it should be.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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