With our new reality sinking in, and for lockdowns being in effect all over the world for the last few months, we here at Girl Museum wanted to recognize this time in our lives, and in history. This is the first in a series of blogs where the senior staff of Girl Museum reflect on their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will be posting weekly reflections here, starting with program developer, Tiffany Rhoades, in Kentucky, USA.

When Sage asked me to write about life during COVID, I shunned the idea. Who would want to hear of long hours at home, with a whining dog, gaming husband, and piles of work? But today, I realized that maybe my story might someday matter…

I live in Kentucky, where Governor Andy Beshear has managed the pandemic fairly well. Until recently, I counted myself very lucky — and still, somewhat, do. My workplace went into telework mode in mid-March, and I’ve been able to spend that last six weeks at home, working, gaming, cleaning, painting, and seeing my only close friend – for whom I am her only social contact — and my immediate family, who live nearby.

Yet beneath the surface, paranoia and fear are a daily experience. I live with an anxiety disorder, so times like pandemics are even more distressing than you might imagine. It cripples me. I am afraid for myself, having already had a major health crisis in my life that led to an entire week in the hospital (some of which I was too out of it to remember). I am afraid for my family, who are all high-risk. I am afraid for my husband, who does the majority of our shopping. I am afraid for my friends who still work. Recently, a close friend was diagnosed — he called to say he was on the way to the hospital, and only today — over two weeks later — did I hear he had emerged from the hospital having survived. I had spent days wondering if we’d ever hear from him again.

But beyond these things — which I’m fairly certain many people are experiencing — is the crippling anxiety that my medications are barely keeping under control. At night, I am restless with nightmares of ventilators, searching for loved ones, being alone. I wake in sweats, tossing and turning until the sun rises and my home office beckons to complete my work for the day. Yet during the day, it never fully leaves. A case in point was earlier today. I had to run to the grocery store for some things, and my friend went with me, as neither of us likes to shop alone. In one store, we elected to share a cart — seeing no signs about how households should have separate carts, we did what we always have done. Arriving at checkout, the employees pointed us out and searched our cart to ensure we had no duplicates of valuable essentials (like toilet paper). We did, because we didn’t know the policy was in place – there was no sign, no mention of it. They confiscated things we needed, but we had no choice — we were told to check out and leave, or to simply leave. No arguing. 

The trip was hard. Beyond our own experience, we saw families crying, begging to have more than one item or bring multiple children in as they had no children. They were met with cold stares. I saw people coughing on each other, bumping into each other, eyeing each other’s carts for valuables. There were too many cars on the road for comfort. Returning home, I had a panic attack while sitting on the couch — it hit out of nowhere, and for what seemed like hours, I just stared into space, shaking violently. I emerged in a daze, spending a few hours mindlessly playing a video game in order to feel somewhat normal. I couldn’t eat dinner, my nerves were still too rattled.

COVID is a nightmare, plain and simple. While the introvert in me relishes working from home, having extra time for projects, seeing my puppy all day, and generally not having to interact with too many people, there are the parts of me that miss the normalcy that I know will never — and probably should never — return. My sensibilities — for science, hard facts, evidence — scream that the worst is yet to come. That the information the US government is feeding us is not just wrong — it’s dangerous. Over 80,000 people in my country have died. How many more must die? And beyond that, how many more must suffer the awful experience of becoming infected with COVID, where even the treatments could kill you?

Will I be one of them, just because I needed milk and toilet paper?

I’m going to take my evening medications, and pray they give me some relief tonight. I’d really like to sleep through the night. I hope you can sleep, too. 

Sending virtual hugs from Kentucky.

-Tiffany Rhoades
Program Developer
Girl Museum Inc.

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