Quarantine Care

It’s been a minute since I’ve written in here, and the world has gone to hell. I wish I could tell you I’m exaggerating. I wish I could admit I’m blowing things out of proportion, but the times are fraught with fear and selfishness. In some places, it’s even getting worse.

It is now Day 50 since I started sheltering in place, first out of precaution, and then mandated by a San Francisco public health order. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last few months are a blur. I now live day-by-day, which, if you know me, is extremely difficult for me. I’m a planner. I like to know what I’m doing months from now.

But let’s first rewind to January. I was about a month and a half in at my new job at the West Portal Branch before I became acting manager there. And it was another month later that I left for my first trip to the Philippines.

I was almost a week into my vacation when coronavirus fears exploded. Cities and countries started to shut down, closing their shops and borders amid fear of growing contagion. We watched the news every day, and every day the noose got tighter. Metro Manila was closed to any travel in or out, and President Duterte instituted a daily curfew. Finally, we thought it best to return home to the United States.

I’d love to write more about my experience in the Philippines at some point. To simply call it magical would be selling it short. But that’s a post for another day.

After returning to the States, I spent a day in Carson with my dad and grandpa before flying back to San Francisco. By then, all SFPL libraries had already closed, so I was only going home to my cat and my plants, no work. We were put on paid furlough at least, so that gave me some sense of security. The mayor of SF had already instituted a shelter-in-place order by then, and I found myself noodling around in my apartment all day and all night.

It was a disaster.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had plenty I could do between chores and more leisurely activities, but I couldn’t muster the verve and will power. I was bored and lonely, my anxiety simmering beneath my skin. By midweek, I’d already had enough. A friend and colleague of mine had been activated as a disaster service worker (DSW) for SF, and he’d been filling me in on what he was doing. It didn’t sound so bad. Stable routine, free food, some semblance of normalcy.

By the end of the first week of shelter-in-place, I was activated as a DSW. I’ve been working at the Emergency Operations Center downtown since then, aiding in the fight against COVID-19.

Me in my little red vest.

I think it’s been a saving grace for me. Again, it gives me a comfortable routine. Otherwise I’d be staying up at odd hours and sleeping away the days. Working as a DSW has also helped me save money on groceries, as they feed us lunch here every day. It also gives me the social interactions that I need to foster social connections. Through therapy, I’ve learned that about myself. I crave social connection. Without it I get lonely and moody, and then I tend to self-isolate, which doesn’t seem like it would be the right reaction but that’s what I do. As a DSW, I’ve had the opportunity to meet other public servants from a wide variety of departments. And I must admit it’s been pretty fun. Hectic and harried, but fun. I feel useful and productive, which are other things that I need to feel OK.

The #stayhome extension is now through the end of May. I’ve been working in the EOC for about five weeks now, with at least another four ahead of me. I really miss my actual job, everything from the patrons and staff, to the multitude of program planning we do. I even miss looking at our yearly budget. In some ways, my role as a DSW makes use of my years as a journalist, so the work itself isn’t entirely new to me. But there is a reason I switched to librarianship, and that is people. I need people. I need to be around them to help them.

Strange for an introvert to admit, I know. I still relish my private time and need it to recharge, but I find I’m my best when I’m around good people with similar… missions? Philosophies? Sympathies?

Weekends have been my time to try new things. I have no energy during the work week. For the last three weekends though, I’ve cooked different Filipino dishes: salmon sinigang, pork binagoongan, and kare-kare. This week I’m making an ube cheesecake, but for one reason or another, I haven’t done it yet.

Cooking my mother cuisine has been a soothing balm to my anxiety. I don’t know if I can say that it makes me feel closer to my heritage, and I admit I’m still too shy to share my Filipino cooking with other Filipinos, let alone anyone else. Trying out new recipes has always been a way for me to unwind and live squarely in the present. I think many of us are seeking out warmth and comfort in the ways we know best during this pandemic. What else can we do?

Here’s this silent, isolating killer that has struck the world. I’ve read too many stories of people dying alone, surrounded only by hospital staff. Not that they don’t care, but I hope when I go, I’m with people I love. I excel at putting myself in other’s shoes, but the grief is unfathomable. How do you begin the mourning period? How do you move on? Frontline workers deal with so much, even trying to help people maintain connections to their loved ones in the outside world.

I’d like to think this is an opportunity for us all to reevaluate our priorities, but I know that’s a luxury. Many people in the world are just surviving as best they can. And that’s painful for me too. Sure, suffering is universal, but it isn’t all the same. I’m fortunate to be on a stable ship in stormy waters with a solid support system, whereas others are barely holding on to scraps of wood. It makes me feel guilty. I see no good reason why I’m where I am. It’s all circumstantial. I was born at the right time, to the right family, in the right place.

It does make me think about what drives me. Why don’t I give up? Do I have too much to lose? Would the people who love me even let me slip? I’m not desperate for anything. On the surface, I live a very charmed life. I try to keep things in perspective and remember that there is as much beauty and good in the world as there is pain and suffering. That it’s really two sides to the same coin and that’s just how life is.

But I’ve always been a glass half empty kind of person, and the sheer amount of terrible things in the world weighs on me when I stop to think about it. I can’t live blissfully unaware.

I think that’s why I’ve gravitated toward public service in my career choices. I’m trying to help in the only ways that I’m able, and though my efforts may seem small, I’m grateful to see glimpses of success here and there.

Hmm, stream-of-consciousness there. I meant to only write about how I’ve been occupying my time during this shelter-in-place but I tend to wax philosophical and stumble upon ideas of grandeur. Good versus evil, ethics and empathy. The world at-large.

I tend to feel everything. Even when I’m outwardly calm, my insides might be in turmoil. It’s one of my greatest strengths, to be sensitive in a world that wants to beat that out of you. I learned at an early age that I should keep my feelings close. But again, I feel everything and if I’m not careful, I could have my heart ripped out of me everyday. It’s a difficult position to be in and sometimes I want none of it. Sometimes I wish I could be stoic and resolute. I want to be stone cold.

Bleh, feelings.

And even though this is public and it will make me cringe to reread it or have someone comment on this, at least it’s honest. I only let my feelings out in two places: my writing and in therapy. I should probably write more to balance things out.

It’s silly, but there’s something poetic about smashing out words in the wee hours of the morning. I’m alone but not lonely at dawn.

Anyway, it’s already 6:30 a.m. and I’ve been up since 4:30 a.m. I had trouble falling asleep too, so I probably only enjoyed three hours of actual sleep. I’m always wary of my insomnia coming back, but I find my mind is most clear in the morning when it’s still dark out and everyone else is asleep.

It’s time for me to press some frozen spoons to my eyeballs and get ready for the day. Thanks for reading.

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