It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

For those who don’t know, “It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)” is an old song by R.E.M. Despite its title, it’s actually a pretty cheery and upbeat song. J put it on the other day before dinner and it just really seemed to fit everyone’s mood.

Everything in the world seems to be going to hell, and yet overall, I’m still pretty happy. My husband’s new job is great so far. Because he’s ranked higher in the company than at any of his previous jobs, he gets to work from home. We really enjoy being around each other so it’s been great having him at home.

I finally did my 2019 taxes yesterday after putting them off because I was afraid of how much I’d owe. But instead, J finally fixed his withholding and we’re actually getting enough back to pay off all of our back taxes. It will be so nice to have the government off my back after worrying about them for the past few years.

Plus, there will be about a month’s worth of rent left over, which is going straight into savings. If we get the stimulus checks they’re talking about, that’s also going into savings. (Though of the coronavirus passes and my husband doesn’t die, I’ve already stated that I want a new mattress.)

My husband is taking a chemo break for a couple of months until his new insurance kicks in or the immediate risk of the coronavirus passes. We will have interim insurance but it’s very high-deductible and doesn’t cover his oncologist anyway. He wants to try to build up his immune system after tanking it with chemo. Since he’s currently in the “no evidence of disease” state, it’s probably going to be okay to take a break. And that break means he’ll be feeling good, we can spend more “adult” time together, and life will be back to normal until he starts it again.

Of course, I hope the cancer won’t come back and be unbeatable this time. I live in fear of him catching the coronavirus because he probably wouldn’t make it. But despite all this, I’m still mostly at peace. I’m finding ways to help other people because it feels like we have so much abundance.

Maybe the worst-case scenarios will come true. After all, he already has cancer, and that certainly seems like a worst-case scenario come true already. But for now, especially because I don’t know how much time I have left with him, I really am trying to enjoy what time we have. Someone on my FB said they always knew I was brave. If this is bravery, it doesn’t feel like a heavy burden to bear.

Anxiety getting to me

This whole pandemic thing is starting to freak me out and it’s exceeding the level of my coping skills.

The grocery panic is a little surreal but I’m staying relatively positive about that. Instead of it adding to my anxiety, I’m looking at the random selection of food items as a fun new game.

Where the fun stops is when it comes to thinking of my husband getting Covid-19, though. His immune system is so compromised that I’m not sure he would survive it. On the other hand, though, I’m not entirely convinced that he doesn’t already have it right now. He’s had a bad cough (like horrifically bad) since Saturday and was running a mild fever—though his normal body temp runs low. It’s hard to know if his illness is due to Covid or just a garden-variety cold that his body couldn’t fight off.

My worst-case scenario all along in him taking this new job was what if he dies before the life insurance kicks in mid-May? I would be completely and totally fucked. I have two months’ rent in savings but I would have to find a full-time job before that ran out. And I probably couldn’t afford to stay in the house I’m in, which would mean scrambling to move. Neither of my two oldest kids are working right now and it looks like we’re heading into a recession.

But that’s the worst-case scenario. I’m hoping and praying that what he has right now is just a cold, not Covid. That he’ll make it through okay until he’s eligible for life insurance at least and hopefully much longer.

But I tell you: this whole pandemic has turned my whole world upside down because I feel like he’s so fragile. I just want to wrap him in a bubble and keep him safe so I can keep him here with me no matter what.

Life in America during a pandemic

Of course, it’s a total shit show so far. Did anyone expect anything less, between our national indifference and our president who’s proving exactly why he’s unfit to lead?

So let me tell you how it’s unfolded here so far. More than a month ago, before there were any U.S. cases yet, a friend of mine tipped me off that it was coming. I bought some extra bags of beans and rice, a couple bags of flour, and a big tub of oatmeal as emergency food. At that point, I think my husband thought I was crazy or paranoid. To be honest, I thought that maybe the friend who told me in the first place sounded a little paranoid.

Then the first wave of cases appeared in Washington state and suddenly the store shelves were cleaned out of both beans and rice and flour. Another week later, I wanted to get more toilet paper because I felt like we were running low but my husband told me to wait a week.

By that next week, there was no toilet paper to be found anywhere. I got creative and ordered one of the last cases of toilet paper from an office supply company, along with some paper towels and facial tissues. Within an hour, the office supply site was completely out of all of the above.

Now, in addition to all paper products being unavailable, now meat and eggs are also sold out everywhere. We don’t eat much meat other than chicken but that’s nowhere to be found. Stores have limits on how much you can purchase but it’s still all cleared out everywhere.

So instead we are preparing to go virtually vegan if necessary, eating a lot of starchy stuff I normally try to limit like potatoes and bread. We’re going to see just how creative we can get. In many ways, this level of scarcity reminds me of the time when I was the poorest. Only now, it’s not lack of money preventing me from getting more but the panicked behavior of others.

The truth is that I get why people are scared. I am, too. The news reported yesterday that they found a case about a mile from where I live. The virus is spreading through the community now, and no longer are those who recently traveled are at risk. The cases go up every day, exponentially.

Meanwhile, I’m still worried about my husband catching it because he’s on chemo. I’m worried about my parents (who are 65 and 70) and I’m worried about my 95-year-old grandpa who lives in a senior home.

I’m worried about the fact that this has already sparked a recession. Is my husband going to lose his new job? Are my oldest two kids going to be able to find jobs at all? And that’s just how it affects me immediately. So many small businesses will close. So many people who worked low-wage jobs in retail and service industries, who were already living pretty lean, will be out of work. There’s just more pain all around and that’s hard for me to deal with.

My youngest is a junior in high school and all the schools are closed now. Nobody knows how long this will last. He was supposed to take his SAT the day after they announced the school closure. When will he be able to make it up? A big part of his college depends on that test, especially because he performs well on tests.

Overall this just has my anxiety cranked up to 11. I can’t even reassure myself that everything will be fine because I don’t know if that’s actually true.

You can’t outrun the apocalypse

That title sounds either like something from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or about the coronavirus/COVID 19. But it’s not at all about the former and only a bit of the latter.

Usually, I have songs that get stuck in my head for days and days. Most often, they’re sappy, cheesy songs from the 80s that I find unpleasant to have in my head, but I don’t dare name them because inevitably I’ll offend someone who loves those songs.

But all this week, I’ve had a very coronavirus-inspired song by Ani DiFranco stuck in my head. The song’s called “Garden of Simple” and the specific lyrics that have been replaying in my head are:

The bacteria are coming

To take us down, that’s my prediction

It’s the answer to this culture of the quick-fix prescription

I always found that song to have the ring of truth to it. A global pandemic is not something that surprises me in the least. If you look throughout history, we were due for one. In fact, I’m actually a bit surprised that it didn’t happen sooner.

I queued up that song to listen to as I drove to Target in search of more emergency supplies. The scene there was nothing short of apocalyptic, with aisle after aisle full of completely empty shelves. It made me glad that a friend tipped me off over a month ago that shit was about to hit the fan and I started stocking up then.

But when I was listening to that song in the car, it instantly put me back in the same state of mind I was in when the album first came out. It came out in 2001 and I was still listening to it regularly at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

I guess 9/11 was the last time I had this sort of impending doom about the world around me, though in many ways that was better because people were more inclined to help one another than to hoard ridiculous amounts of supplies while leaving none for their neighbors.

But I also realized that it was in response to 9/11 that I finally decided that I needed to move back to my hometown. I wanted to grow my own organic food (which I was never motivated enough to do well), learn to sew and make bread and make soap. The latter two I did particularly well, I might add, and made my family’s bread for years and still make our soap.

Once I got back to my hometown, my wannabe homesteading interests didn’t last. I quickly regretted the move and wanted an undo button. But then I found out I was pregnant (surprise!) with my third child a couple months later. So part of me tried to hang on to this quaint idea that I’d save my whole hometown. (This is where it starts to have some fuzzy underpants gnomes logic, since I didn’t actually have any concrete plans for how I was going to singlehandedly save my town from itself and everything that sucked about it.)

The parallel between the last major panic I felt during 9/11 and this one is similar in many ways. The future seems even more uncertain now, especially since this time my husband has cancer. It may not be a faceless enemy this time but I still have that same sort of lurking dread that something bad is coming and I don’t know when or from where.

But the real difference between that time of uncertainty and this one is that I no longer think of running away. The place where I grew up doesn’t feel like a safe place anymore. Maybe my lack of desire to escape is due to maturity and wisdom or maybe it’s just a benefit of therapy.

What I do know is that this is not the time to run. No matter how uncertain and sometimes frankly terrifying my future feels, the only person I need to save is myself and the little family I’ve created. I need to summon up all the strength I have—which often doesn’t feel like enough—and stay and fight.

Panic (and not just at the disco)

I’m not particularly prone to paranoia. Okay, I have to asterisk that already. I can almost imagine my husband’s eyes rolling at that first sentence. I can usually manage my anxiety pretty well. There, that’s true.

But the exceptions are during transitions and when it comes to the unknown, especially when I have no control over the outcome. And for all the good news that my husband’s new job brings, it also brings a particular terror: that benefits don’t start on day one. We’ll get COBRA for him or go through the marketplace to make sure he’s covered. What we can’t do anything about, though, is the fact that he’ll have about 2.5 months until he’s eligible for life insurance again.

This right at the same time that there’s talk about how Covid-19 aka the coronavirus is spreading and could become a pandemic. We discussed it this weekend and my husband said, point blank, that if he gets it, he’ll probably die.

Maybe to him, in dealing with cancer and his own mortality, the thought of dying within a couple of months is completely shrug-worthy. But to me, it’s anything but. First and foremost, I’ve always thought about his death from cancer in terms of years, not possible months. Even the possibility that it could be so soon chokes me with sobs.

Secondly and much less importantly, what happens if he does die in that period in which he has no life insurance? What happens to me and the kids? I’ve got a little over a month’s rent in savings (it was more but we had to dip into it to help the kids with car insurance.) Would my landlord take pity on me and at least give me time to find some other option? We’ve been good tenants paying rent on time for 3.5 years, but I can’t expect him to give me free rent if my husband dies. I don’t think widows get the same breaks single moms do.

I know someone online who lost her husband to a freak accident last summer. She has a fairly large Twitter following and I was one of thousands of people who donated to her after her husband’s sudden death. All told, she raised more than $300,000. And I’m truly glad she did.

At the same time, though, I also know there won’t be a similar fund for me if my husband dies before that life insurance kicks in. I honestly don’t know what I would do or how I would make it.

Now I just have to figure out how to deal with this particular anxiety. I can’t be as blasé about it as my husband is because I have so much to lose in addition to losing him.

The anti-Karen

One of the long-running jokes about Amy among her friends (and can I just say how happy I am that she has friends now?) is that she unleashes her “inner Karen” on people who deserve it.

In case you’re not familiar with the meme, “Karen” is usually a middle-aged white lady who has had it with everybody’s shit and she’s not gonna take it anymore. Most often, you’ll find her asking to speak with the manager. Karen is assertive, loud, and kind of intimidating. She has a great air of entitlement. She doesn’t back down no matter what when she feels she is in the right.

Amy has had this trait since she was a little kid and it has some great applications, though it was also sometimes challenging for me as a parent. I’m very proud that she’s so good at sticking up for herself. She also points out that she never unleashes a tirade against first-tier customer service people or wait staff because they’re not the source of the problem and don’t have the power to fix it. But she is not shy about escalating matters when she thinks an injustice has been committed. Now when her friends have billing disputes, eBay transactions gone awry, etc., they all say: “let Amy handle this one.”

At dinner, when we were discussing this, I asked Amy if I was a Karen. After all, I am indeed a middle-aged white lady. To my surprise, she replied: “Definitely not. You’re like the anti-Karen, like Karen negative times a hundred.”

To be honest, I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted. But it’s true: I hate fighting so much that it takes a lot for me to get worked up enough that I’m yelling at managers—even if something legitimately unfair has been done to me. I try hard to be the type of person that people describe as kind, thoughtful, and generous.

I guess I can and do make a big deal when I feel it’s truly necessary, but I try to make sure that happens as rarely as possible. If it’s something that can’t even be changed, I don’t see the point of mentioning it, both because I hate the conflict so much and it often seems easier just to suck it up and accept it.

At the same time, though, maybe this is something I need to bring up in therapy. I’m seeing a lot of benefits from therapy in my self-esteem and ability to tolerate fear and anxiety. But I haven’t really addressed the fact that I’m not very assertive. And truth be told, that’s part of the boundaries issue—in the sense that mine are often poor. As a result, I’ve tolerated a lot of downright abusive behavior because I wasn’t assertive enough to put a stop to it.

Maybe I need to learn a little bit more from Amy about how to find and unleash my own inner Karen.

A super big win

Sometimes, things happen that are so good, you can hardly believe it. I’ve been sitting on this secret for a few weeks and now I can finally talk about it.

I mentioned about a month or two ago that my husband might be getting a different job. And he finally got the job offer and put in his resignation letter at his current job, so it’s all real real now.

This is the kind of good thing that doesn’t just happen every day. He wasn’t looking for other jobs but his boss from his previous job (now at a different company) called J up and said he wanted him to come work for him.

He asked about salary and J gave a bigger number than he’s currently making. Boss said, “well, actually I already got the budget approved for (much higher number.)” J said, “well, by the way, I’m currently going through chemo and will need regular time off for that.” Even that wasn’t a deal-breaker. Boss just said, “ok, we’ll use comp time for that.”

So J’s going to be making 30 percent more than his current job and will have comparable to slightly better health benefits. It’s also a significant step up in job title, too. He’s deserved the better salary and the job title for so long.

Even better, he’ll enjoy the industry much better. He’s currently working in IT security for an entity which cannot be named. And they have been really good to him, especially when his cancer was first diagnosed only six weeks after he started there. He has no complaints about how they’ve been as an employer.

But on the downside, it’s a very “good ol’ boys” network, very old-school Texas. Lots of casual racism and blatant conservatism. Tolerable, I guess, but definitely not work that matters to him or his preferred environment. And he’s been frustrated that he hasn’t had many opportunities to really show what he can do, instead being treated like a junior employee despite his years of experience.

The new job is doing higher-level IT for a business in the recycling industry, which is one of his most meaningful causes. He’s always wanted some kind of job where he felt he was making a difference for the environment. And now he’ll finally have that, as well as a much better salary than he’s ever had before. With this new job, he’s literally doubled his salary in a little over 5 years, when he first moved to Texas. (I feel like taking a bow for my courage in moving down here—literally 6 years ago to the day—to try to make a better life for my family.)

I remember on one of our date nights, he said that he wanted to have a job that mattered and matched his values, but felt like cancer had taken that away. And here, out of the blue, an opportunity came to him to fulfill that wish. I’m so proud of his work ethic and the fact that this is not the first job he was offered without even applying for it.

At the same time, I also can’t help but worry about him. His commute will be longer. He’ll no longer have to be on call 24/7, which will be a relief, but in exchange, he’ll have to work a lot of overtime. (That’s implied by the new boss saying J could use comp time for chemo.) He’s going to have a lot more agency and responsibility, which are good things, but which might become too much to handle on chemo days.

I see how J is on chemo and wonder how he’ll do with long hours and long commutes. I fear it may be too much for him and he may get too exhausted. At the same time, though, he really liked working for this boss before and loves the nature of what he’ll be doing. He’ll have to do some corporate travel (hopefully not until this coronavirus thing blows over!) and will eventually have people over whom he’s the manager. I hope that being so well-compensated and doing work that he enjoys in an industry he supports will outweigh the exhaustion factor.

Our lives are going to change in so many ways as a result of this job. Not just the more money but also when he’ll get home and how much time we’ll have together. I’ll have to take over cooking every day. Oh well, I’m in the process of changing my diet anyway, so maybe I’ll just have to switch the whole family over to my type of eating. (Evil laugh…but not entirely kidding.)

Time to look forward now, with a lot of joy and a bit of trepidation, too.