There is no denying the fact that collectively as a world we are experiencing history making scenarios daily. Future generations will learn about COVID-19 in the same way that we were taught about the Bubonic Plague and the World Wars. This global pandemic has uprooted everyone and forced the entire world to re-evaluate priorities. While some countries have done an excellent job at controlling the virus (such as New Zealand or Mongolia), my country definitely has not. The risk is high.
Personally, I do not see an end in sight for those of us residing in the USA. That is a sobering reality, and one I must come to terms with. As I work to acknowledge this new reality while retaining inner peace, I constantly find myself evaluating every scenario for its risk / reward ratio.
But this is not a new skill for me. This constant evaluation is not a new exercise. It is not even considered a new routine.
I have been actively evaluating and re-evaluating the risk / reward ratio for every activity that I partake in since the day my endocrinologist first explained to me that my adrenal glands were dead and my stress response was broken.
And yet, something feels different in the year 2020.
For the first time, many of my “healthy” friends are having to make constant micro-decisions as they consider the risk / reward ratio.
Should we attend that out of state family reunion that has been planned for years? What about returning to work in office even though cases are rising in the area? Does one attend Grandma’s birthday party? And let us bring up school. Do parents send their children back to school or do they withdraw them from the public education system?
Finally, how should we interact with toxic relatives that refuse to respect healthy boundaries?
I would like to pause and remind my dear Clearly Alive Family that I am only thirty years old. I openly admit that in the grand scheme of things, I am still incredibly young. However, I came face to face with my own mortality for the first time at the age of fifteen.
The second more traumatic time, I was only twenty-three.
Those types of experiences forever change you. You will never look at life the same way. Those experiences are part of what drive my passion to remain Clearly Alive.
I am thankful that the majority of my peers and contemporaries have not experienced that life altering moment. For some, this pandemic is perhaps the first time that they have been required to acknowledge the fragility of health. What about the elderly that they love? What if it is their hug transmits the virus to Grandma? Or let us consider the immunocompromised mingling among them. At first glance, you would never know that I have a disease where vomiting can kill me.
So many decisions, with consequences.
This burden of information forces us to make constant choices, knowing that the consequences could be quite grave.
How frequently should we go to the grocery store? Is it okay to socialize with friends? If we are going to socialize, what is the safest way to do so? How do we determine an acceptable level of risk?
As I watch my friends wrestle with these constant decisions, I have noticed a recurring theme.
My friends are exhausted.
They are drained.
We are all now constantly calculating risk.
My empath heart aches with theirs. I know how exhausting it is to have to consider ever single scenario and attempt to compare the risk to the reward. It is my life.
Before COVID-19, I was an avid traveler. But I would spend hours strategically packing in order to prepare for unexpected and uncommon scenarios. The medicine for my cortisol pump is not something that I can pick up anywhere. I must plan in advance and prepare accordingly.
I struggle with social anxiety, especially in large group settings. Sometimes, attending the party is worth it. Other times, I am perfectly content sitting at home with my cats and cross stitch projects.
These constant micro decisions of determining the risk / reward ratio are exhausting. I know. It has been my life for as long as I can remember. To my Clearly Alive Family, please allow me to share with you some advice that has come from years of experience living in the chronically ill world. I am going to speak on three common questions.
1. Is The Risk Worth it?
Unfortunately, I cannot answer that for you. But I want to let you know that your answer to this question is allowed to change as more information becomes available! For example, in March I was uncomfortable going into any store. But we learned more. It is now late July and I no longer have fear of going grocery shopping. I wear a mask, I have my list, and I try to avoid human interaction as much as possible. To that last point, not much has changed for me. This nerdy introvert passionately hates small talk.
Another example of how I re-evaluated and changed my stance on something is haircuts. I went almost five months without seeing my amazing stylist. On my first visit back (with masks involved), she dyed my hair purple. To the outside world, that might seem hypocritical. But I evaluated the risk to both myself and my stylist. And we agreed that we could safely color my hair.
2. What if I choose wrong, and someone I care about gets hurt?
Let us stop immediately and re-frame this question. These micro-decisions are never “right” or “wrong.” There is no morality associated with them. It is not wrong to go to the grocery store or to hug Grandma.
Now each choice can be labeled as wise or unwise. The action could be considered prudent or foolish. One option might be considered better in the moment while the other is considered not as ideal.
Do not classify your choice as right or wrong.
And do acknowledge that what looks the most prudent to you might not align with that of your neighbor. Additionally, what is the most ideal today might change when new information becomes available tomorrow.
This is something I am all to familiar with due to my Addison’s Disease. Many well meaning individuals have scolded me for being “too” adventurous. They would never run half marathons. The would never work a high stress job. They would never move to Asia once, let alone twice! And then they point to the amount of times I end up in the emergency room as “proof” that I am managing my disease “wrong.”
I have cut their voices out of my life.
You get to decide your own acceptable level of risk. Do not feel the need to justify it to others. And do not judge others if their acceptable level of risk varies greatly from yours.
And yes, occasionally you will make an unwise decision that will result in someone getting hurt. Acknowledge that. I think back to one chicken lunch in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that resulted in a three day hospital stay due to food poisoning. Eating that chicken was risky, and yet I still did it. At the time, it appeared to be the wisest option. It was not, and I suffered some consequences from that choice. That is ok. That is life.
Do not be all consumed with making the “right” choice that you become paralyzed. There is no “right” or “wrong” choice. Please do consider all information available, and try to act prudently.
3. How do I interact with those that do not respect my boundaries?
Woah. Let us acknowledge how this current situation has brought out the ugly from merely being hidden in the shadows to fully exposed and impossible to ignore. Toxicity of family and friends is no longer sidelined but rather it is on public display for all to see. Many of my friends are wrestling with the ugly truth that their relatives are not as kind or safe as they once believed.
Ever since escaping my abusive marriage, I have become much more protective of who I allow into my inner circle of trust. If you do not respect my boundaries, you are cut off. This applies to coworkers, acquaintances, friends, and even blood relatives. I will never be cruel in my interactions with those that are cut off, they just will not have access to details about my life.
If someone continuously discredits your reality, refuses to acknowledge your truth, and is constantly trying to get you to change in order to become acceptable to them – Cut that toxicity out of your life.
I do not care if it is your parent, your sibling, or your best friend for as long as you can remember. And they don’t even have to be overtly toxic. When you leave their presence, do you feel drained or refreshed? The world outside is chaotic enough as is. Do not let the world inside add to the chaos. Create your own sanctuary of peace and calm. You need it during this trying time. Surround yourself with those that encourage you.
In summary, only you can decided if the risk is worth the reward. And you are allowed to change your answers. There is no right or wrong choice. And please severely limit the toxicity that you allow into your life.
Through this all, may we remain Clearly Alive.