The COVID-19 Diaries: Community During COVID-19
Contributed by Lindsey Carman Williams
I’m surrounded by books of all kinds. Some textbooks are on the floor, while books of fiction and research are plopped on the bed beside me. My desk is a standard pillow, fitted with a cream-and-blue case; the bed acts as an imaginary foot holder as I sit at my “desk.” There’s either a travel mug full of coffee or dainty, floral teacup and teapot on my nightstand, sitting somewhere amid the sea of highlighters, pens, and pencils.
This is my office, COVID-19 edition.
Professionally, I’m in that awkward position of graduate-student-who-also-teaches; I’m pursuing a Ph.D. degree in English literature at Washington State University, a college that’s settled among the rolling hills of the Palouse in Pullman, Washington. Oddly, I’ve gotten used to isolation since I traded in Universal Studios and a five-minutes’ drive to the beach for a town with three okay restaurants and no Target.
But the quarantine has revealed that I have an invisible, unhealthy tendency: I bury myself in my work.
Hours go by as I prep to teach my Women’s Studies class or finish a task as president of the English Graduate Organization, or work on future research to (perhaps) get published. I excel at meeting deadlines, and I’m killer at working ahead. But, as I sit on my desk-bed, I’ve begun to notice that I work and work to bury what’s really bothering me. And, the COVID-19 quarantine has made me realize this.
I can control my workflow, but I cannot control my life. My brother is a struggling alcoholic who’s relapsed on more than one occasion. Alcoholism is an invisible disease that not only sneaks up on the person who’s battling it, but the disease also robs those closest to the person. Missed birthdays, ruined Christmases. Rolling around in bed at night, wondering if that person will see the sun the next day. This is a part of my life that I fold into a box and quietly store away. And I, instead, work toward the next deadline, and the next.
But humanity can only take so much. I had a breakdown this week, allowing myself to cry and cancel a Zoom meeting with my WST 101 class. Because sometimes we need to rest and cancel commitments. I haven’t allowed myself to creatively explore my buried-deeply-down emotions that result in perpetual stomach pains. But writing even this helps me cathartically come to terms with how I feel.
In a way, I’m grateful for this strange, isolating time. I don’t mean that I’m glad that this pandemic is occurring; there are so many demographics of people – which doesn’t discriminate against gender, class, dis/ability, race, or age – that are suffering from the physical, economic, and social effects of this medical situation.
But I think a key takeaway from this startling event is to remind ourselves of our mutual humanity. Maybe we can settle feuds, take extra time to check in on a friend, or maybe even reconnect with a family member. Perhaps we can purchase a gift card to support a local restaurant or whisper prayers and blessings over those afflicted. Maybe, we can even extend grace to ourselves. Life is short; we aren’t guaranteed another minute.
Being bogged down by the rat-race of academia, I sometimes lose my sense of what’s important. Is it really all about earning an award or recognition? Or is it supporting those around you, if you’re mentally and emotionally healthy and able? Or, perhaps, is it about acknowledging your hurt and confusion and allowing yourself to be just mad and sad?
So, at the end of this rambling, I’m still not sure how to come to terms with my stress and sadness. But I do know that there’s a community around us that we can take care of and wants to take care of us, too. And that’s all that really matters.