Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A House Divided, But We Stand United

I am lucky that I have a job that is allowing me to work from home, potentially for the long haul. I am lucky that I have a company laptop, and that our house has a reliable internet connection and all of the other necessities that I need to be able to do my job from home.

And just to be clear, my company wasn’t set up for this. My set-up at work includes a laptop and an additional monitor, while the normal set-up is two monitors. I started working from a home a week before all hell broke loose, not realizing that this would become anything other than temporary situation.

On the other hand, my husband works at a big box store that has been open for the duration of the pandemic as it has been deemed “essential”. (No offense to my husband’s livelihood, but this #HighRiskCovid19 wife disagrees with that designation) His job cannot be done from home. His continuing to work unfortunately increases the risk level of bringing COVID into our house. Due to other issues, my husband didn’t work for several weeks when the pandemic was really starting to surge in Michigan. One thing his employer has done is provide a fair amount of additional paid and unpaid time. My husband basically takes several days off a week to limit exposure, but also to stretch the amount of time off he has to utilize.

And to be honest, we had the conversation of going without his income. If he felt the risk became too great, he could take unpaid leave. Unfortunately, when you live with someone who is #HighRiskCovid19 but doesn’t have COVID-19, that scenario doesn’t fit into any of the extra-extra time off categories. So just because I’m high risk and my husband lives with me and loves me, doesn’t mean that his employer (or anyone) feels that he should get over and above time off to minimize his risk, which subsequently becomes my risk. And it’s not just his employer. There seems to be a black hole for this type of situation.

And making this is decision wasn’t just about me. We had to consider my husband’s mental health. What would it be like for him to not have anything to do and nowhere to go all the time? On the flipside, we don’t want his mental health to suffer if the concern for risk at work becomes too great and he is anxious all the time about the risk to either of us.

While we could live without my husband’s income, we cannot live without his benefits, which means he has to work enough so that his paycheck is enough to cover our benefits.

We are lucky in so many ways. But this struggle is real. The decision for my husband to go back to work after his initial time off was something that we both agonized over. Because once the cat is out of the bag, there’s no turning back. If he ends up exposed, forget everything.

These are the steps we’ve taken to do what we can to minimize the risk of my husband getting exposed to COVID-19 and bringing it home and exposing me:

1.       My husband wears gloves and a mask at work;

2.      He leaves a change of clothes in the garage, changes in the garage when he gets home, and leaves his work clothes in the garage until he washes them;

3.      We got him his own thermometer to take his temperature – doesn’t seem like the best thing to share at this point (and I don’t trust the inexpensive forehead thermometers that we could share);

4.      We have a very small stock of our own gloves and masks so that he isn’t relying on his employer to provide PPE;

5.      He uses disposable items to transport and eat his lunch rather than using items from home, like reusable containers, bags, and utensils, so these items are not being brought back into our house. 

Of course, by virtue of my husband leaving the house and going into an environment with co-workers and customers coming from all over, there will never not be a risk. But we are doing the best we can with the situation we have, knowing that we are incredibly lucky to both still have jobs during this difficult time.

And while we are divided in our ability to work from home, we are united in the quest for both of us to stay COVID-free.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

In This Age of Connection, Why Do I Feel So Disconnected?

Today, we are more connected than ever. There’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snap Chat, text, email, snail mail, Zoom, Face Time, Houseparty, and the list goes on and on. (I’m almost in my mid-30s, I’m trying to keep up with the times, but it’s getting hard) There are so many ways to connect outside of IRL in this age of social distancing, yet what I crave is connection. IRL.

I have nearly daily Zoom meetings for work and I get to see some of my co-workers that way, but it’s not the same.

And the funny part, coming from this introvert, is that all I want to do is see some of these people and hug them. (Ew, gross, so not a hugger, can’t believe I would even suggest that, so not work appropriate) And I know that when I do eventually get to see them, I won’t even be able to do that.

The prospect of continuing to work from home indefinitely is daunting. Not as much the productivity part of it as much as the camaraderie part of it. As much as co-workers can sometimes get on our nerves, I miss most of mine. I miss being able to walk from my office to their desk to talk to them or ask a question. I miss being able to wave “hello” in the morning when we arrive.

What’s interesting is that nearly all of my chronic illness relationships were born, and built, online. There’s only a few handfuls that I’ve gotten to meet IRL. And all of those relationships have truly been life sustaining, but we’ve never known any different. Being spread across the country and world, IRL is a luxury and not a guarantee, with different diagnoses, and different levels of illness and ability.

But now, even the relationships that were born and built IRL are being forced out of IRL and into the world of Face Time, Zoom, and Houseparty. And I really don’t like it. Like I said in my last post, you can keep malls and movie theaters, and I’ll add casinos, gyms, theme parks, and beaches. I don’t need those. I can make my life smaller. But what I can’t do is live without my peeps. I just cannot.

I saw my mom the other day very briefly and I hadn’t seen her in over a month. A MONTH. And she literally lives 10 minutes away. Some might say we’re being overly cautious and that we aren’t living life at our own expense. But honestly, as someone who is #HighRiskCovid19, is being too careful a thing?

Is my feeling of disconnection the price of keeping myself safe?

I fear that if we try and go back to “normal”, it will all fall apart. Is it really possible to get together, wear a mask and stay six feet apart? I believe the need for normalcy will trump (no pun intended) the need for being and remaining cautious.

We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But what good is physical health if emotional health is non-existent?

I know that life as we knew it may never be the same as it was before the pandemic. I know that there are sacrifices everyone is having to make. But how do we balance the sacrifice with quality of life? How do we make life as we know it now just as fulfilling as life was pre-pandemic without jeopardizing our safety and the safety of others in the process? And how do we maintain connection when we are so physically disconnected?