Unpacking the Sausage: Deja vu all over again

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I stayed awake for 43 consecutive hours last week.

It was a new record for me. My brain was stuck on a news clip of the White House press secretary comparing changing course in the face of a worsening pandemic and mounting international tensions to asking for “bunny rabbits and ice cream.”

Bre KidmanEvery time I tried to close my eyes, I’d think about it and get angry again. My rage at her callous dismissal handily outstripped every over-the-counter sleep aid I could throw at it.

My therapist suggested I stop looking at the news.

I already had. Sometimes a headline too flashy to scroll past will snag me, but for the most part, I avoid the news except for once every other week, when I’m preparing to write this column. 

She asked if I absolutely had to read the news to write the column, and I boggled at her. How can I “unpack the sausage” of today’s world without engaging with what’s going on outside my house? 

She told me to focus on how I’m experiencing it. 

It’s tough advice to take, but I’ve heard it from enough angles now that I feel like I have to give it a shot. 

I still worry I’m writing too much about COVID-19. So much of the world has moved on that it feels like I’m beating a dead horse.

The problem is people like me still can’t safely move on. If things continue on the same trajectory we’ve seen since December, it’s possible we never will.

I know that sentence sounds dramatic, but so does return to a self-imposed lockdown. With the world determined to call itself “post-COVID,” it’s a decision I question daily, wistfully hoping it might be overkill.

After all, Portland’s City Council got rid of the emergency order (and with it, hazard pay for the city’s minimum-wage workers). Sure, councilors enacted a mask mandate in the next breath, but they insisted the acute emergency had passed.

This is just maintenance. Never mind the national seven-day average hovering around 2,500 human lives lost per day. Omicron be damned, vaccines and masks will probably save most people. That’s good enough, isn’t it?

For some people, it might be. Others aren’t lucky enough to have a choice and have been forced back to crowded workplaces with lax protections. Many of those workers never left.

Still, one of the few stories I couldn’t scroll past this week reaffirmed my resolve to shelter in place. A new study showed that “long COVID” correlates with several health markers I have. Taken alongside my history of poorly understood autoimmune vasculitis and the Centers for Disease Control’s “everyone‘s got a date with COVID” approach to public health, the article spelled out what I’d already suspected: I do, in fact, have to continue living out the plot of “Groundhog Day” for the foreseeable future.

So, what does it feel like? 

I temper the despair and existential boredom of isolation with gratitude for the privilege that allows me to prioritize my health. Going back to lockdown after a few months of relief sucked, but I’ve been doing it for long enough now that I have a pretty stable routine. It’s not very exciting, but I’m in killer shape and I am decidedly more interested in continuing to be alive than I have been for most of my life. 

The days and weeks stack up neatly around pillars of exercise, work, cooking, cleaning, and vegetating. I’ve gotten really into Animal Crossing (which I missed out on in 2020) and virtual reality stationary bike tours of Google Earth. I put a dance pole in my kitchen. I count down the days until spring brings outdoor socialization.

Occasionally it feels like a game of hide and seek that’s gone on so long I wish someone would find me. 

Mostly it feels like I’m training for something. I’m not sure if I’m training to enjoy the warmer seasons to the fullest or training to survive the end of days. I have decided to get myself ready for whatever is coming, whenever it comes. 

Here’s hoping I make it that long. And, for all the other high-risk folks trying to cobble together a life in this mess, here’s hoping you do, too. With any luck, we can pop our heads back out in another six weeks. 

In the meantime, I’m going to try to stop looking at the shadow and get cozy in my little nest. Maybe I’ll get a little sleep.

Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].