A COVID-19 Update from an Alaskan

I haven’t written in awhile…I think I went back to work as a dental assistant three weeks ago. At first the recommendations from the state weren’t allowing us to do any procedures that create aerosols (fillings, crowns, etc.) but this week things have changed slightly and we can do all procedures.

I was having to take my temperature three times a day…now it’s just once…but since this all began we’ve been wearing full surgical gowns, level three masks (or N-95s), surgical caps, full face shield and gloves. I used to only have to wear my scrubs, a normal mask, gloves, and some eye protection. It’s strange how quickly I became used to wearing all of the extra stuff, taking patients temperature, and being even more aware of “clean” and “dirty”.

The first official week back to work with all the new requirements was overwhelming… I really feel for the medical community…its a lot to process, plan for and execute. We had one patient get upset that he had to wash his hands and fill out a COVID questionnaire so he stormed out of the office and didn’t get his teeth cleaned.

It’s interesting living in this little slice of heaven, the End of the Road, Homer,Alaska, because most people are either all for COVID-19 precautions, happy to wear a mask and social distance, or believe that this whole virus is a plot to take our personal freedom away and ruin the economy. I myself land in the middle…I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist.

I’m interested to see how the virus plays out this coming fall. Currently we have had really only one case in Homer that was from community spread (the other three that have been mentioned have details that make it clear that the people didn’t even reside in Homer). Testing is supposed to be free, or so we thought (or at least cheap) and I’ve been informed by several people that they are being charged a little over $1,000 dollars by the hospital for a test.

Summer is our tourist season, fishing season, where people from all over the world (yes all over the world I’ve met people from Germany and China who have come to Homer to go salmon and halibut fishing) to visit this place. This towns livelihood depends upon tourists buying from our local small town art galleries, shops, restaurants, boat charters, bear tours, etc. Normally during this time of year the “Spit” would already have hundreds of RVs parked along it’s edges. Normally I would be pulling my hair out sitting in traffic because the one road that goes in and out of town also goes to the “Spit” and is where our grocery store is located…it’s almost impossible to turn right in the summer, ha. I won’t lie I am enjoying the fact that I can live my life with a lot less people in town but I know it’s hurting others.

Even though tourists aren’t coming from out of state we still have people from Anchorage who take long weekends to get away from the city. Last night I saw two large RVs in our grocery store parking lot and this weekend I won’t take my dog to the beach during low tide or any “perfect” weather because there will be so many people.

I worry about the virus this fall because I am already more relaxed. I wear full PPE four days a week so by the time I’m done with work and get to the grocery store I really just don’t want to put on a mask again. The virus hasn’t really done much damage to the physical health of the people of Alaska and our enemy is invisible so it’s hard to believe there is a pandemic. With all the relaxed feelings and visitors from Anchorage and other communities I can’t help but wonder if Alaska is going to take a large hit from the virus this fall. I hope I am wrong.

I wish I knew who I could trust and believe as a source during this pandemic but I guess I just have to trust myself and do what I think is right for me and those around me.

Hope everyone is well. Thanks for reading!

-Rachael

Shame Monster

I read another bloggers post recently about their perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic here in the United States. It brought up some feelings inside of me or rather one feeling: shame.

According to Brene Brown, a well known shame researcher, author, and TED Talk giver, shame is defined as,

“the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

Brene Brown from blog post “shame v. guilt”

Although the blogger made it clear during the post that she did not want her readers to think their feelings during this pandemic were invalid I still felt like shit.

Throughout the post she described a time in her past where she was living through a similar pandemic situation in a country that was not her own, where she did not know the language and had to deal with the challenges of having a very sick significant other along with teaching and raising her child. Basically her message was, ‘Buck the fuck up I’ve dealt with much worse you pansies’ or at least that’s how I read it. I’m not writing this to criticize the blogger I’m writing this because I have had this feeling before but never knew what to name it and her post inspired me.

When I read about what she went through during a pandemic it made me believe my experiences and feelings during this time were not worthy or ‘enough’. I felt shame for feeling anxious and upset because I couldn’t go into work or have a normal day. I feel shame because my job is ‘non-essential’ and I can’t do anything to directly help like doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, etc do. Essential workers are wishing they could be at home with their families and here I am sitting at home unable to take action. Shame doesn’t make me want to ‘buck up’ it makes me want to not exist (not in a ‘I don’t want to live’ way) because I am not worthy, I’m not enough.

I won’t lie, at first when I was reading posts on Facebook, about how upset high school seniors were at not getting to walk the stage and graduate, I was thinking, “Dude that’s not even important right now, high school is such small shit compared to what you will do during the rest of your life, it doesn’t really matter.” It’s easier when you’re older and have already experienced those parts of your life to look back and think it didn’t matter but the truth is IT DID MATTER. It did matter to your eighteen year old self whether or not you got to dress up and go to prom with your friends. It did matter if you got to go on spring break to the beach or whatever the hell you liked to do as an eighteen year old that you wouldn’t be able to right now in the year 2020. I was wrong to judge the validity and worth of the class of 2020’s feelings of grief over the loss of their senior year. I am sorry.

Feelings are subjective. Don’t let anyone make you believe that your feelings during this time are not valid because someone’s suffering is worse than yours. Do you remember what it felt like when you were little and thought you lost your mom/caregiver at the grocery store and would never see them again? Would you ever tell your seven year old self that those feelings are bullshit compared to how it feels to lose one of your friends to suicide? No you wouldn’t. Because the feelings and perspective of your seven year old self are completely different from your 18 year old self. You shouldn’t compare suffering. We are all human and our experience of suffering is something that should unify not divide us.

Feel free to share your feelings.

* Brown, Brene. “shame v. guilt.” Brene Brown, 14 January, 2013, brenebrown.com/blog/2013/01/14/shame-v-guilt/.  

Sleeping Tiger

I have been self-isolating at home here in Alaska since March 19th, 2020. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic the governor of Alaska and several dental associations and/or societies decided that it would be a good idea to close dental offices for all procedures (with the exception of emergency cases). That means as a dental assistant I am shit out of luck for work anytime in the near future. Fortunately…or unfortunately…this gives me plenty of time to sit and think.

This whole virus thing is a lot to wrap my brain around. Sometimes I wake up and forget there is a pandemic and enjoy my time not being at work and then other times it feels like I’m going to crawl out of my skin. After all, who are we as Americans if we’re not working, making money, busy, and stressed? A lot of our identity is cemented in what we do and often that is the first thing someone asks us when we’re meeting them for the first time: “What do you do for work?”

During this self-isolation, when I start to ‘lose my shit’, I often listen to podcasts to stop my mind from racing. The other day I saw somewhere on the internet that Cheryl Strayed, the author of the book Wild was going to start a podcast up again during the pandemic titled Sugar Calling (her previous podcast was called Dear Sugar). During this podcast Cheryl calls her friends and mentors to talk and gain some wisdom and insight during these difficult times. After listening to two episodes my mind was much more at ease. Hearing other people, people who are wiser than me, talk about how their lives are being affected by this virus gave me new perspective on my thoughts and feelings.

Cheryl spoke to her mentor and professor from the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University, George Saunders, and asked him to read aloud a letter he wrote to his current students. This part of his letter really resonated with me and I wanted to share it:

“The world is like a sleeping tiger and we tend to live our lives there on its back. We’re much smaller than the tiger, obviously, were like barbies and kens on the back of a tiger. Now and then that tiger wakes up and that is terrifying. Sometimes it wakes up and someone we love dies or someone breaks our heart or there’s a pandemic. But this is far from the first time that tiger has come awake. He, she, has been doing it since the beginning of time and will never stop doing it and always there have been writers to observe it and later make some sort of sense of it or at least bear witness to it.”

George Saunders
*see citation (1)

How God damn accurate is that depiction of the world? A sleeping tiger and we are barbies and kens. We think we’ve got control over the tiger but really we’re living by its rules, its movements. I think that is what bothers me the most about our current situation; I have absolutely no control over when I can go back to work or if I can fly across the country in September to see my friend get married. Anyone who has anxiety can agree that the loss of control over a situation can be crippling. We just lose it. We can’t move or make decisions.

In another episode of Sugar Calling, Cheryl talks with her friend/fellow writer, Pico Iyer about his past experience dealing with adversity. Pico tells Cheryl about the loss of his house and all his possessions in a forest fire and how it effected the trajectory of his writing career. In this discussion he said two things that have really helped me during this time, the first was,

“I don’t see that fire as entirely a bad thing in my life and I see it as, in many ways, liberating me from the habits I was kind of sleep walking with through my life.”

Pico Iyer
*see citation (2)

The second,

“We have much less power over the world than we imagine but I feel we have much more power over how we respond to the world than we suspect and really its our responses to circumstances that define us much more than the circumstances themselves.”

Pico Iyer
*see citation (2)

These last two quotes speak for themselves and there is no need for me to dilute them further. They are raw and true. I hope they can help you all cope during this time like they have helped me. ❤

Happy Isolating to you all! And thank you to all the workers who are keeping us healthy, fed, safe and sane!

(1) Cheryl Strayed, narrator. “Everything Always Keeps Changing.” Sugar Calling Season 1 Episode 1, Luminary app, 2 April 2020.

(2) Cheryl Strayed, narrator. “Joyful Participation in a World of Sorrows.” Sugar Calling Season 1 Episode 3, Luminary app, 15 April 2020.

ADD Rambling

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It’s Sunday morning and I’m waiting for the feelings to hit, but nothing yet.

My chocolate, silver colored dog with amber eyes in rolling back and forth on the floor thoroughly enjoying herself.

I made it my goal, this morning, to like whatever kind of coffee I put in front of myself (I waste a lot of money trying to find the perfect coffee). I know it’s all in my head-the fact that I only truly enjoy cappuccinos from a very specific, over-priced, Seattle based coffee chain. I’d like to win every battle with my brain, like the coffee battle, I think I’m winning today.

Yesterday was a different story.

I forgot to bring my ADD medication with me while I went grocery shopping 2 hours away. The drive there was fine but the drive back threw me into an existential crisis. I’ve decided in those quiet times in the car when I could distract myself to instead sit in the silence and go with my feelings, not fight them.

My thoughts were racing…how can I live here for the rest of my life? How could I raise kids here? Buy a house? What’s the point of all this if we just get old and die? I felt weird, out of my body, detached.

Now some would say that this was like some sort of psychosis, but I’ve come to understand these times as moments of clarity; realizing that I’m not just a body but a soul and that I am finite (as far as I know). Scary? Hell yes.

I made it home to my dog and my boy, took my meds, ate some food and hoped I would feel better.

I did, slightly, but I still ended up crying in his arms and talking until I got it all out. He’s so good to me.

The only thing that has every truly helped me has been baths. Very long baths. I have been taking 3 hour baths since I could sit in the tub alone and play with barbies. People used to ask, “Where’s Rachael?” and my family would say, “In the bathtub.”

Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces or maybe it’s the calming sensation of the water but it always brings me back.

At one point I felt very guilty about taking baths so frequently, wasting water, relaxing when others were suffering. My AA sponsor talked me out of that thought process-thank God.

So, after watching several YouTube videos in the tub on existential crisis I learned that it’s possible to move forward from this freaking out point by deciding to make your own meaning out of life; the big and little things. This wasn’t the first time I’d learned this but I know from experience that it takes me more than two times of failure to really succeed at something.

Let’s hope this lessons sticks.

The Truth Ain’t Always Pretty

One day my co-worker told me they watched people. And yes, they were quite perceptive but when you get down to it you can never understand a person completely.

I remember sitting in the car with my father and mother one day, driving past the drug store on the way home, they were arguing, and my father spat out, “You can’t know exactly what I’m going to do!” to which my mother replied, “Yes I can! Because you’re so predictable and I know you!” That has always stuck with me. My father fighting for his last rights of freedom: his mind, his thoughts, his actions. He was very passionate that day in the car.

I don’t watch people, like my co-worker does, I listen. They notice if there is a stray hair clinging wistfully to someone’s sweater or if there is something on their face but I hear people’s contradictions, their tone of voice, and the disingenuous phrases that pass their lips all too frequently. People want to hide their insecurities and meanness; the things that make them ugly.

This bothers me. Mostly because I am an open book, easy to read, and I feel better saying, “Yeah, I’m anxious to do X, Y, and Z but I’m going to do it anyways because I have to.” How else are you going to grow? Why hide your insecurities and doubts when someone else is or has worked to overcome the same obstacle you face?

Lately I’ve been listening to my co-worker. Have you ever met one of those people who after every sentence that could be slighting to someone they say, “Just kidding!”? After listening to that a thousand times a day the expression loses its meaning and I no longer believe that my co-worker is ‘kidding’. It’s more like they accidentally let the truth slip out and now they’ve got to back pedal and cover up their ugliness.

It pisses me off but I also want to tell them, “it is okay to be human and say stupid shit…it’s not ideal in the very social world we live in but at least you’re being genuine.” I can’t stand fake people.  

 I had a friend once who did not hold back her honest thoughts and opinions; she was authentic. Two times during our friendship she gave me her honest to God opinion of my life situation and both times it hurt me, deeply. You know why it hurt so much? Because I already knew what she was saying was true and I didn’t want to believe it.

The truth ain’t always pretty.

What I learned scrolling through social media just now.

I just got in the bathtub and started scrolling through Instagram and found a post from a former high school classmate who is involved in a project for victims of sexual, physical, and psychological domestic violence. The website that the post is linked with, https://www.the-ing.com/stories, features people sharing their stories via documentary/interview style videos in hopes of helping others heal (that was my plug for the-ing) but not the point of this post.

I saw that post on Instagram, thought about my blog, and instantly thought, “what good is my blog doing for anyone…it is nothing compared to this amazing project.”

Why was that my first thought? Why wasn’t my first thought, “Oh man this is so wonderful I should support them!” It’s because society as a whole has always been based upon competition and survival and we are all a product of “social media”. Survival, in the first world (which the term is absolutely ridiculous), is more about social survival and doing better than our neighbors…who happen to be now conveniently giving us the details of their lives on social media (this is not an original thought I know but important to mention none the less).

I have always found it difficult to be happy for other people who have the things I want or are better than me.

I’m human…I’ll admit my faults.

But being human doesn’t give me an excuse to quit doing something I love, like writing my blog, just because I don’t think it’s as good or as important as someone else’s work. Being envious of others makes me give up…it doesn’t fuel me.

Who am I to say that writing my blog isn’t helping someone or changing someone’s thoughts and opinions? Also, why do I care if it does? Why do I feel the need to accomplish something great and important? It’s never going to be enough…as a species we’re always striving for more (the Hedonic Treadmill).

So what I learned scrolling through social media just now is that we all just need to take a step back, breathe, and be happy for the damn co-worker who did something better than you even though you’ve been trying your hardest, the friend who is pregnant and you’re not, or that girl who posts perfect pictures on Instagram and you can’t stand it.

Nobody likes a jealous a$$hole and you don’t need the worlds validation to make you feel better about yourself.

Thanks for reading as always!

❤ Rachael