A Dose of the Real World

I had an appointment with my epileptologist on Friday morning. Since he needed to check my VNS, an implanted device, I had to go to the hospital to see him.

There happened to be fresh snow on the ground. I was admiring the pureness of it and pulling on my winter boots as I waited for my Lyft to arrive when I realized that this would be the first time I left my area in months. At least two, but almost definitely more; it’d been so long I’d lost track.

It’s weird, this COVID world. I’ve settled into a rhythm at home, do my best to get out of the house for a short walk most days—it makes a difference to my mental health, but it’s hard to find the motivation when there’s nowhere to go and it’s bone-chillingly cold—and have managed to stay pretty connected with friends. To be honest, lockdown has made some aspects of my reality more tolerable. It’s attenuated the guilt I’d otherwise experience about doing less than I’d normally push myself to, and it’s made many activities more accessible to me than they used to be. Not to say that there aren’t things that I miss and look forward to doing once it’s safe and possible to. For the most part, though, I’ve done a relatively good job suppressing my frustrations when they arise, telling myself that I might as well accept that this will pass when it passes, filling my time pretty efficiently, and avoiding thinking about what I’d rather not think about. This, my friends, is a real skill, and believe me, I don’t take it for granted.

Travelling beyond the confines of my neighbourhood pushed me out of the precarious state of semi-ignorance in which I’d been hovering. What’s happening in the world now feels very real and very scary, and using my greatest superpower (yep, that’d be avoidance) to distance myself from it has suddenly stopped working.

My Lyft driver provided a jarring start. A minute or two into our drive, he asked if I plan on being inoculated when the vaccine is available. Aren’t I afraid of having a microchip injected into me? Uh oh, I thought. He pressed on. Isn’t it suspicious, he said, that COVID-19 cropped up almost exactly a hundred years after the Spanish flu? I politely suggested that it was likely just a coincidence and then quietly panicked for the rest of the ride. Real, living people believe this stuff? I wanted to go back to a fairytale in which only faceless, anonymous, easy-to-ignore internet phantoms spout conspiracy theories.

The extent to which the hospital had changed since the last time I was there on an outpatient basis increased my anxiety. Downstairs, only a few of the outlets in the food court were open, and all of the tables and chairs were wrapped in plastic to prevent virus-spreading loitering. Things got even weirder when I got to the epilepsy clinic. I had envisioned a waiting room full of socially distanced patients wearing masks; instead, the reception desk was closed, and I was, eerily, the lone soul in the area. Despite having received a reminder call a few days earlier, I kept wondering if I was in the right place at the right time until my doctor came out and brought me to an examination room. (I asked him how often he sees patients in person, and he said almost never—he sometimes goes weeks having only virtual appointments.)

I can’t figure out exactly why Friday’s trek has affected me so much. Nothing actually went wrong—on the contrary, the visit was productive—and I didn’t encounter anything I shouldn’t have expected to. My mood, however, has been a little low ever since. I’m sure I’ll slowly slide back into my former state of acceptance, and I keep reminding myself that this, like everything in life, won’t last forever. At the current moment, though, it’s just plain hard to manage. But it’s probably OK and normal, given the circumstances, to feel insecure and inadequate, wonder and worry about the future, and want to see family as I continue to deal with my health issues and push forward in the best way I can.

Time to order a new LEGO set.

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