Holding Onto Sanity Amid the Pandemic Lockdown in NYC
By Christopher Smith
Living in New York City as the global pandemic due to the coronavirus swept through has resulted in my experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. Having to undergo quarantine by staying at home didn’t bother me – as a freelance journalist, I was already used to working from home for years. It was a career path I chose because I love writing and more importantly, it was a way for me to be able to be a caregiver to my parents who were growing older. My mother and I share the same house with my older brother in the same southeastern Queens neighborhood that I grew up in, and my late father lived a short walk away. So when we first started to hear about COVID-19 through the news, we got a sense that it would be something very serious and prepared the best way we could by getting prescriptions filled and stocking up on food and beverages. As COVID-19 swept throughout the city, it got to be worse than we ever could imagine – a silent fear right outside our doorstep.
Being a Black person in the United States comes with its own multitudes of positives and negatives. But being a Black person who’s a caregiver to an elder parent in a pandemic that has had no mercy on Black people and the elderly, is something else. As March unfolded into April, it started to become apparent that the virus was affecting Black people and other people of color more at higher rates than other ethnicities in the city. In my zip code alone, the number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 is over 600 people to date, with 36 people losing their lives. The normal tranquility of my neighborhood that would get accentuated by airplanes flying overhead was now punctuated by the sounds of ambulances speeding off to hospitals. It was especially tough hearing them late at night, sometimes for 15 minutes straight or longer.
The sirens’ wail had their effect on me, adding to concerns about being outside even for essential trips to the supermarket and the pharmacy. I’d have on a mask, gloves, and have hand sanitizer stuffed in my pockets in order to quell the anxiety that would build up. The mysteries that still surround COVID-19 in terms of transmission fed into those fears, in addition to encountering a few people who were indifferent to practicing social distancing guidelines. My main concern was that I didn’t want to be susceptible to COVID-19, as there were already numerous stories of one person spreading it to their families. I could see that at times that those concerns got to my mother, when my siblings would drop stuff off for us and they wouldn’t come inside for fear of contaminating her. She had to settle for them waving to her as she was in the living room. We all worried and waited throughout the days for the curve to flatten.
Those concerns and fears hit home when we found out that an elder aunt who was in a nursing home took a sudden turn for the worse. Emergency services took her to the nearest hospital and upon seeing she had very low oxygen levels, tested her for COVID-19. Her results came back positive. Two days later, she died at the age of 89 on Good Friday. One of my sisters who was the point of contact for her wound up having difficulty even finding a funeral home to take care of her final arrangements. It made me think of all those people who couldn’t even be able to send their loved ones off or bury them. I thought about all those elderly in nursing homes, and those who didn’t have anyone to take care of them like I and my siblings did for my mother. But I came to realize that I didn’t want to be consumed by this anxiety. So I set upon a course of coping methods to mitigate the slow buildup of anxiety and trauma.
The water jug one sister gave me from her workplace has the saying, “you can’t give from an empty cup, take care of yourself.” So each day, I move in that spirit to have a daily routine that minimizes anxiety and helps me build up my energy. It begins once I get up. I make it a point to not roll over and look at my phone for any news updates, allowing myself at least a half hour without electronic devices. That time is set aside to pray, do my devotional reading, and to just exhale. I make breakfast and set up coffee for my mother for when she gets up. From that point, I sign into my laptop and get into work mode which includes answering and sending emails, drafting pitches, or working on assignment drafts. I try not to check anything news-related until midday. I used to go to the gym at least twice a week, but now I head out to my backyard and do laps for about 20-30 minutes.
Another thing that has helped me to cope has been to cook. The process of prepping and putting together a meal has become like a form of meditation to me. Yes, I’ve made banana bread which seems to be the popular trend in these days of quarantine. But I’ve also expanded my cooking repertoire to include dishes from my family’s homeland of Jamaica as well as dishes from other cultures. And I have begun to embrace the healing effects that come from yoga, which I’ve slowly incorporated into my daily routine.
In a time where it seems like everything is falling apart, these are the things I’m doing to hold onto my sanity for myself and my loved ones so it won’t be drowned out by the sirens and indifference from some parts of the powers that be.