The Emotional Rollercoaster of COVID

I don’t need to tell you that the last couple of years have been a rollercoaster. Obviously with the craziness of a presidential election and all of the social unrest bubbling over the top, not to mention things like a little attempt at a coup happening a little over a year ago, we’ve just had a ridiculous amount of emotional energy to toil over. Add in things like the passing of so many people who have been a part of our lives through television and film from our youths (and, for me personally, as well as many others, family and friends who have also left this mortal realm), and you can also see that the past couple of years have just been, well, a bit much.

But in reality, all of that seems to pale in comparison to the emotional ride we’ve all been on with this global pandemic. If you had told me two years ago that the setting of the city of Minneapolis on fire would play second fiddle to any disease as far as how our memories of 2020 would play out, I would have thought you were ridiculous.

But here we are…

Here’s but a glimpse of the emotions I’ve felt over the course of the past two years. Because two years ago, my family had planned on a trip to Germany for the coming fall. My wife and I were really excited to finally take the kids to Germany, to have them get to meet my wife’s host family from her time spent on exchange, and to get to introduce them to an entirely different culture. We had also started teaching the kids a bit of German to prepare them for being in a place where English wasn’t something you could expect everyone to speak.

But we also were hearing reports about this scary new disease. My wife, who tends to be a bit more of a worrier than I, was concerned. I, on the other hand, like to think positive and was certain that this disease couldn’t possibly have such an impact. It sounded like SARS or MERS or even Ebola. All those things that had a slight panic around them, but ultimately didn’t have a real impact on my life at all.

Heck, even in February, as things were starting to escalate, I still felt like this was another one of those panics that would lead to nothing.

And then March came along, and, well, by the end of March, we were looking at a longer than expected Spring Break for the kids, while also having almost all non-essential businesses shut their doors. Which sounded really lame, but also, in a way, not so bad. While I still had to work and the idea of having the kids home was stressful, it really just meant that we didn’t have as many expectations outside of the work day.

However, it was at this point that I started worrying for the people who were suddenly not allowed to work. Those people who were generally already nearing the poverty level (if not already under it) who suddenly found themselves without a paycheck.

I was worried, but also figured it might not be that bad, considering we were going to be opened back up in less than a month.

But…of course, that’s not how that worked out.

There was a lot of time spent by me from that point, watching all the news, trying to see if things like the local pool was going to be open for the summer, since it is across the street from our new house and was one of the reasons we were excited about the house. It didn’t. I was still going to school, still at my job, and, in fact, was deep in the hunt for a new job, which meant that I was having interviews with prospective employers while having the kids trying to kill each other in the other room. I spent months trying to figure out ways to amuse the kids during the winter in Wisconsin while they were stuck at home.

March 2020 also happened to be when my Granddaddy died, meaning that right at the start of the lockdowns, I had to make the hard decision not to go to South Carolina to be there for his funeral, realizing that that much travel was not a good idea when we were trying to keep this disease from moving around. Because although I’m focusing on some rather selfish emotions in this post, I also spent a large amount of my time not wanting to spread this disease around and get other people sick which might, you know, lead to their death.

We would go down in May for his celebration of life ceremony, but even then, it was almost something that we cancelled. However, that trip also included a quick stop at the beach, leading my kids, who had spent the last couple of months indoors in Wisconsin, to have an explosive excitement as their first real thing they saw of the outside world was the Atlantic Ocean. The water was cold, but that didn’t stop all of us from enjoying getting our feet in the water and being splashed by waves.

Considering this wasn’t the first time to the ocean for any of us, and had, in fact, spent a week at the beach less than a year prior, it wasn’t like this was a crazy amazing new thing. But just coming from the absolute nothingness of the end of winter to being at the ocean led all of us into this spectacular moment of catharsis from a few months of taking all the precautions. It was amazing.

The summer meant we spent a lot of time outdoors. We did a ton of biking, we saw very little of our friends and family, and we ultimately spent way too much time together as a family. It was good, but the stress of trying to keep isolated was wearing on us.

Oddly enough, our substitute trip to South Dakota instead of Germany, where we camped at the bottom of the Black Hills, somehow managed to bring the five of us even closer together, even though it meant that we were even more attached than we had already been during the previous five months.

This also led to a full-family love of the National Parks, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Although we certainly missed things like having the pool open, we managed to have a pretty awesome summer, doing all sorts of things outside like biking and walking and finally visiting Big Falls (which is where we spent our swimming time that summer and was awesome). Although we weren’t seeing our friends and family as much as we would have liked, life felt real again. And with the vaccine nearing, it really felt as though we might be at the end of this whole thing soon. And by December, we watched as the first Americans were vaccinated and the five of us got excited about the light at the end of this long pandemic tunnel, determined to make 2021 really special since we lost all of 2020 to the pandemic.

You probably already know this, but 2021 wasn’t quite the year we had hoped for.

While all five of us were vaccinated as quickly as we could be, we watched as our country was torn apart over the debate of personal freedoms in light of this global pandemic which was not only killing thousands of Americans (not to mention the death count across the rest of the world), but was keeping us from a return to normal. People argued against masks and vaccines because they didn’t like them, while the rest of us just wished we could get enough people vaccinated to feel like we were safe to ride on a plane again.

And so, when the second Spring Break during the COVID-19 pandemic rolled around, my family and I decided to utilize our newfound love for the National Parks and go on a ridiculous road trip. We traveled over 4,500 miles and visited 9 National Parks over the course of 9 days. We explored Route 66, spent a night seeing the lights of Las Vegas, and hiked in some of the most beautiful locations in the country.

It was amazing and exhausting and I’ve spent way too much time over the past year wondering if we could do it again, but for longer.

We spent that trip trying to avoid people as much as possible, even while in Vegas, noting how many people still refused to wear masks and knowing how many were unvaccinated, and trying to keep my unvaccinated children as safe as possible. And we had a spectacular time as a family, getting to recognize how much we shared a love of so many of the same things.

And then we got home, and we realized that things were not moving toward that light at the end of the tunnel nearly quick enough. But we still had hopes to celebrate my 40th birthday in August by exploring the national parks of Florida.

And things actually looked really good by the time summer rolled around. That light shined brighter. Our new case counts were down so low that I was certain the endemic phase of COVID was coming at any moment. In fact, my wife and I made a last minute decision to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary with a quick little trip to Disney World to relive some of our honeymoon.

Of course, by the time we actually got on the plane, Delta was starting its nasty way through the world and we once again realized that the light wasn’t as close as we thought.

We cancelled our August trip, transitioning it into a week of exploring the cool outdoor activities in Wisconsin that we’ve never explored before. We made it work and had a ton of fun for far less money than we would have spent traveling to Florida, but, we were getting pretty tired of changing our plans last minute.

And so winter came again. And Delta raged through the world. And we’d get calls about COVID exposures at schools. And then Omicron started and we are now watching the case counts get extravagantly larger. For the first time throughout the entirety of this pandemic, I have multiple people in my circles sick at the same time. Whereas I had only a handful of family and friends who had been sick throughout the entirety of the pandemic prior to this point, I suddenly could list of handfuls of people currently in isolation because of positive tests.

But there’s another light appearing. This light that suggests that because this variant is so contagious we might actually get everyone sick really quickly and finally manage to reach the endemic portion of this thing. Yes, lots of people will die in a very brief period, but, well, not as many as have been dying, at least proportionate to the case counts. The WHO just recently stated they think that over 50% of Europe could be sick by the end of January. This thing is flying through our communities at the fastest pace yet. And although it’s scary to think of the death counts to come over the new few months, not to mention all of the issues our hospitals are already facing and will continue to face, there’s a part of me that’s excited for the number of smart people saying we might be finally moving on to that next phase of this pandemic that we’ve been thinking was coming soon ever since we first locked down back in March of 2020.

And so, here I sit, seeing this light at the end of the tunnel, being excited about the idea that maybe we can finally get to the next stage of this process. But also knowing I’ve been let down before.

But also knowing that I just really really really want to feel like I can get out and not have to feel guilty about it.


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