First, thank you, each of you who sent encouraging messages the last few days. It has been appreciated, and helpful. I think things just hit critical mass, then I had some relief, and between the two my entire being said “screw you, I quit.” (general review of my world below the cut)
Second, the relief. I have been blessed beyond words. My day job is working in a call center for a large cell service provider. I’ve been in isolation since the first week the virus arrived in New Mexico. I hadn’t planned on that, but I came down with bronchitis and my doctor told me in very plain terms, if I caught the virus while sick there were strong odds I’d die. So, into isolation I went, with paid leave while the company tried to figure out what they were doing with all of us. They covered the first two weeks of pay for anyone who was classified high risk. As I have asthma, just had surgery, and have hypothyroid, that put me on the list. So for me, the first two weeks were sitting here at home.
It wasn’t a vacation though. I watched my coworkers, many of whom are friends, struggle through day after day of taking a sudden flood of calls as the nation saw unprecedented layoffs and business closures that left people wondering how to keep their phones turned on. I saw them worry about getting sick in an environment that transmits illnesses worse than any daycare ever could. Seriously, call centers are like little germ factories. One person sneezes and within a week the entire building is sick. The company had invested in extra cleaning staff, expanded cleaning parameters, and overnight sanitation, but the fear was still there.
For those who don’t know, call centers generally have people sitting in very close proximity to one another. Also, many offices have computer sharing rather than a dedicated workstation for each person. This is to reduce the space needed and is possible with staggered shifts. The floor plans are generally wide open, with a couple common areas where workers can get coffee or other drinks/snacks. Ours also has a cafeteria, which is another common area. It’s a perfect area for spreading any illness. I keep bleach wipes in my desk and go in early every day to clean my workspace, just in an attempt to reduce the risk to myself. Well, during normal operations anyway.
I also have adult children. Without going into the individual details, each of them are working in areas where they can’t limit exposure. One can clean her office (and has been) so she can enforce some level of control, but the others have no option. They just have to keep going and hope they don’t get it and take it home.
And here I sat, watching it all. I tried keeping up the blog, working on my stories, anything to stay distracted and feel like I could do something to support and encourage others.
The entire time I worried that my last trip to the grocery store had exposed me. I also wondered what I’d do after the two weeks my company was paying me ran out. I don’t have someone else’s income to fall back on and I had just returned to work after four months out of work while I waited for surgery to fix the two discs in my neck that collapsed. I made it through that because I tend to be careful-ish with money and had benefits that protected my job and provided some income, but by the time I went back to work, I returned 3 weeks before the doctors estimated I’d be ready just because I had no more funds available. Financially, this mess couldn’t have hit me at a worse time.
Then relief came through like a freaking tsunami. My company had worked out how to move employees to working from home! They ran a test round to be sure it would work and then shifted our entire site to home in something like 3 days. It was a phenomenal effort on the part of our IT teams, HR, coaches, and other leadership in the center. I have to say, I’m really proud of all of them for pulling it off. There were a lot of computers that needed work, and it was all done and the machines sanitized and packed, a VPN set up to handle the traffic we’d need, a security solution implemented to protect accounts and systems, and machines, monitors, and all equipment distributed to employees. I’ve worked upper level IT positions, and the thought just takes my breath away. Those teams deserve freaking medals, raises, and a month of paid leave.
For me, it meant I could get into the fight with my teammates and friends. It meant I would be able to continue supporting myself and not lose my home. It meant I could stay safe, which means my kids didn’t have to worry about losing me as much. (I mean, it’s a virus, there’s no guarantee that staying home will protect me. I’ve read Masque of the Red Death, I know isolation isn’t always the save it looks like. At the same time, the odds just dropped dramatically.)
So, at the time that happened, I got my system set up at home, made sure it worked properly, and fell the f*ck over. I had tangible proof of job security and personal safety. My kids are still out there, but if I’m working and safe, I’m at least not creating a drag on them by having them worrying about where I’ll live or if I’ll live.
I promptly fell asleep for four hours, in the middle of the day. I like my naps, but four hours? Heh. Then I ended up falling asleep just after 9:00 PM. Blog posts? Stories? What r? How do?
Thus, taking time away from the updates. I did work through the weekend, too, and knowing that it would be demanding, I made the call to just give myself some space and get through it first. My therapist will be proud of me. Our last conversation included her asking me if I should maybe admit that I’m human and have limits. I told her not to speak such blasphemy in my presence. Truth though, I’m a human, just a human, and man, the state of the world is just far too extra right now, isn’t it?
It was the right call though, and I’m back to feeling closer to myself this morning. I’ll be spending today to get the blog posts set up ahead of time like I was doing before the planet caught fire, so you can expect to have regular posts. I hope, so sincerely, that my primary focus on mental health is helping someone out there as they get through it. I hope being open about my own struggles right now, and how I’m getting through them, can shine a light for others.
I do want to share one thing from working the weekend before I wrap up. The news is full of political bullshit. Everyone is busily pointing fingers, the freaking president is holding medical equipment hostage because he doesn’t like some other politician, and I’ve heard rumblings of civil war and of letting people who are ill just die because of political beliefs. It’s terrifying, infuriating that people would sacrifice their humanity so easily, and it’s all the news is reporting.
I took calls for a total of 21 hrs over the weekend. Yep, two twelve hour shifts with breaks included. Almost every call ended with the caller telling me to stay safe, healthy, not give up, to remember that humans have seen terrible times before. Callers who, in the past, have cursed at me (yes, the way our calls route, I get the same callers), were thanking me for being available to take their calls and saying they’d pray for me. I heard stories of neighbors helping one another, landlords in LA freezing rents due to the virus, and so much more. It was the most encouraging and wholesome set of conversations I’ve had in years.
What the news is showing isn’t what’s happening in communities all across the US. What’s happening is people are reaching out to one another. Families are reconnecting, or even connecting in ways they never had before. People are meeting neighbors and talking over the fences of their yards – many who never knew each other’s names. The vulnerable are getting help from strangers.
The news is showing that the nation is divided and ready to blow up.
What I heard about was that we’re drawing together, remembering how to find strength in one another, and building the community that we’ve lost in the rush to be “productive.” This is a powerful ray of hope. We, the people who will never make the evening news, are uniting. This is how we will get through this, even as we face the inevitable tolls of a plague the likes of which we have not seen in hundreds of years.
Everyone be safe, stay healthy. Please don’t give up hope. Stay in touch with the people you care about. Help others as you’re able. Shower, get fresh air and sunlight. Eat! Sleep! And if you need a break, turn off the phone, computer and TV and take it! You can’t help anyone if you don’t take care of you.