Unpacking the Sausage: Nothing to sneeze at

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As it turns out, I am literally allergic to running. 

I used to make that joke to get out of gym class in high school. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined I’d spend a pandemic getting into the best shape of my life.

Bre KidmanA few weeks ago, the year-plus of training went to my head and I decided I wanted to get faster. Around the same time, I started sneezing profusely. With Maine’s case count on a meteoric rise (and a few jam-packed indoor performances in my recent past), I feared it was COVID-19.

My doctor’s office said that sneezing alone isn’t a COVID-19 symptom, so I wouldn’t qualify for a test. I decided to isolate for a few days anyhow, just in case.

When I took a day off running, I sneezed less. When I ran again, I sneezed more and my airways burned. The sneezing became so violent that I started Googling. Long story short, this afternoon’s worry-fueled drugstore trip yielded allergy meds for exercise-induced rhinitis and a $23 at-home COVID-19 test.

As soon as I opened the test package, I felt silly. I knew it would be negative, but somehow I also knew that if I hadn’t bought the test I would have turned a friendly brunch into a superspreader event. I recognize the foolishness of believing I have that much control over anything. Still, part of me feels like if I can anticipate and accept the worst-case scenario, I’ll be pleasantly surprised by a slightly more manageable reality.

I don’t know what they’ll be saying about the Omicron variant by the time this piece runs. Maybe it will sound paranoid and we can all laugh about how wrong I was. But I am scared about Omicron. About Maine’s surge. About an even bigger holiday surge – or whatever else comes next in our “post-pandemic” world.

Until March 2020, a deadly global pandemic was my worst fear. I caught a few minutes of “Outbreak” as a young kid and had nightmares for years. I feared being helpless and trying to stay quarantined from an invisible enemy, all the while knowing it would eventually find me and my loved ones.

In retrospect, I hadn’t even begun to conceive of all the things I would actually find scary when faced with my lifelong bogeyman. I am still scared of getting sick and losing people. I never thought I’d be so afraid about the broader societal fallout.

About the ways the global capital machine forces poor people into harm’s way for poverty wages to avoid economic stagnation. About the ways our elected officials will use an even more devastating surge to justify more vast transfers of resources into wealthy corporate hands without any guarantee of return on investment to the public. About how the ubiquitous blending of information and misinformation will continue to create optimal conditions for civil unrest and virus mutations to flourish. I am afraid of another lockdown. I am equally afraid of our government refusing to declare another lockdown when some extra-deadly variant that moves faster than our vaccines comes around.

I wish I could say I believed competence or common sense or empathy were coming to save the day, but nearly two years into the pandemic I’m making peace with the idea that we’re going to have to save ourselves.

This isn’t to say “everything is doomed” so much as it is to say “everything changes.” 

Adjusting expectations becomes a way of rationing resources for survival. Letting go of the hope that our government will do the right thing frees up energy to plan for when it fails us. The quicker we commit to adapting to whatever lies ahead, the less time we waste gaping in existential horror.

I still think it’s worth asking our elected officials to pay attention to the people who can’t fund their campaigns when they make policy decisions – and shaming them when they fail to do so – but I’m finding that contributing to local mutual aid efforts and preparing my living room for another COVID-19 winter feels much more efficient. 

Anyway, I popped an antihistamine before my run today and I haven’t sneezed at all. 

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 (or your weird pandemic hobbies) at [email protected].

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