“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine,” we used to sing, back in the early Nineties. Everyone in Generation X knew this was coming, and that’s why we spent so much time cooped up in our rooms.
We had no idea how great things would be when we would find ourselves doing it all over again at some near-future point.
When we were young, we had to pay $16 for an album, or $1.99 for a cassette single, or try to record stuff off the radio. There was none of this free streaming on demand business. We had to go to the video rental store if we wanted to watch a movie or an old TV show - assuming they were available - and if someone else was watching it, we had to wait until next time.
WE HAD NO INTERNET
If we wanted to use the phone, we had to do it in the living room or the kitchen, where the entire family could overhear us and would often chime in on the conversation. Nobody could tell who was calling, so anyone might answer the phone. I recall an old roommate telling me, two days after the fact, that “some lady” had called for me... about a job posting...
Nobody had seen grocery delivery since, like, the Fifties. The only hot food you could really get delivered was pizza. Avocados were fairly expensive. If you ordered any kind of “stuff,” like from the Sears catalogue, everyone knew it took 6-8 weeks for delivery.
Okay, I hope I can get away with saying what I’m going to say next, because I’m a COVID-19 survivor, and I can claim that it seems to have warped my brain a bit.
If this is The End of the World as We Know It, it... isn’t as bad as it could be?
I’ve been comparing notes with some of my friends on what year would be the worst possible year in their life for COVID to happen. For me, it would have been either 1982 or 1999. Both of those were tough years anyway, but adding a pandemic to the scenario would have been devastating.
So far, everyone I’ve talked to has agreed that this is not the worst possible year for their personal timeline that this could have happened. The year of the divorce. The year of the cancer diagnosis. The year one of their parents died. Their brokest year, the year they had their worst roommate. All sorts of times that would have been harder.
Of course this isn’t going to feel true for everyone. A friend of mine lost her dad a couple months ago - he was a COVID doctor - and this is probably always going to be the worst year of her life.
Which brings me to an interesting, though somewhat taboo, point.
If this is the worst year of our lives...?
Does that not imply that if we get past it, at some future point, everything else will be at least a bit of a relief?
We’re at the midpoint of 2020, and this has been a truly rotten and terrible year in my life. I mean, bag it up and haul it out to the curb, right?
Still, I have to acknowledge, I did not die of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in December. My husband did not lose sight in his eye in February. I did not die of COVID-19 - I didn’t even have to check in to the hospital, and what’s more, I didn’t even have to pay for any of my treatment other than $10 for antibiotics.
This is the beginning of strategic adjustment, when we realize that hey, things could be worse.
It wasn’t all that long ago (two months, but who’s counting) when I was still feeling actively surprised each morning. Hey, I woke up! I don’t know how I would know if I didn’t? But I did notice and I did feel a sense of awe and wonder. For at least 45 seconds, before the day’s symptoms kicked into gear.
Nobody likes forced gratitude exercises, so let’s call it something else, something more hard-headed and practical. Let’s call it: inventory.
What is working? What is not a dripping bag of situational trash?
What resources do we have at our disposal? (Internet, literacy, running water and flush toilets, an education, pens with no caps, half a dozen USB cables, etc).
Example: I started saving all our cardboard for my little parrot, and built her a fort to keep her busy while we’re on work calls. She won’t play with a $15 bird toy from the pet store but she will play in her fort all day.
The other thing that is very important to consider is, what if dying is not the most pessimistic possible scenario? People forget to plan for this.
What if we live through all this, and in fact we live to be 90 years old, and because we assumed we’d die tragically young we didn’t save any money? Or wear sunblock or take care of our teeth?
For me, the most pessimistic baseline scenario is that I live to be 110 with no money, no house, no living family, and no friends. Whenever I think about future planning, whenever I’m at a choice point, I think of Very Old Me and what she would like me to do today.
There are two things I’m doing during this TEOTWAWKI-lite scenario. I’m working in my dream field and packing away money like a trembling hamster. I’m also scheming on how I can get paid to go to grad school for free. I figure the young ones are going to be more likely to put their educations on hold, because paying full fare for virtual classes is a giant rip-off. I’ll be 45+, though, and I don’t mind, so there will be less competition for slots. I have all the focus and self-discipline that I never did 20 years ago, and in fact I doubt there are very many young people who could beat me in that department.
This is TEOTWAWKI in lots of ways. A couple of them are probably good ways, and we won’t really have time to think about that until later. As long as I’m going to be cooped up indoors for what I assume will be the next three years, and I accept this depressing situation as my temporary reality, I am free to try to spin it in the most productive way that I can.
Is this the end of my world in its previous phase? Is it then the beginning of a new phase?
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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