The first thirty-six hours in Germany
Flying to Germany for a long weekend of intensive taiko and late nights with friends would have been enough to wipe me out for weeks. But I wasn’t in Germany a full day before the president announced that he would cancel all flights from Europe to the United States. This would be in effect the very next day and last for thirty days. Trump’s false announcement about flight cancellations caused pandemonium across Europe, and it personally affected me and my well-being.
I heard this Thursday morning, the twelfth of March, having arrived the day before. The stress from this shock, my new isolated pandemic reality at home, my business problems, and pure physical exhaustion was enough for me to slowly – but surely – slide into an anxiety-ridden depression by the first half of May. This happened despite the use of all the tools I learned over the past thirty years to stay grounded and not overly anxious. I did all I could to ward off the darkness, but in the end I lost the struggle. I am forever grateful that I knew how to climb out of the hole fairly rapidly, without too much stress on my family.
Having landed in Frankfurt on Wednesday, I took the train to Duisburg, where my friend picked me up. We went for coffee and then back to her place where she fixed me a nice, vegetarian supper. We had a couple glasses of wine, and I was in bed about 11:00, just hours before Trump’s false announcement.
Waking to havoc
I woke around 8:30 on the twelfth. Still prone, I picked up my phone and was surprised and alarmed at how many messages I had. I cannot remember the first one I saw, but I quickly sat up in alarm, grabbed my computer, and entered multi-tasking mode. Trump had indeed announced he would cancel all flights from Europe to the US.
I read that another American who had also landed the day before had left in the wee hours of the morning. He was already in London! From there he checked in with me since we were to be at the same workshop. His wife had called in the middle of the night to tell him of Trump’s sudden move. A friend in Hamburg wrote saying he could find somewhere for me to live for thirty days if necessary. I didn’t understand yet why I might need to stay in Germany for a whole month. Yet I started to think something was really wrong.
With a little help from a friend
My friend joined me with her computer and phone. I didn’t have phone service, so we used hers to call the American embassy. After several attempts, we gave up because no one was answering. At the same time I was on hold, we googled the news, tried to get into my ticket, and read more messages.
The first time I got into my flight information in the KLM app I saw the same message I had seen for weeks. It said that flight changes were free because of the virus. But with multi-tasking and the app not letting me contact customer service, the second or third time, the message was gone. They rescinded that promise! My friend called KLM but couldn’t get through to them either. We later learned the airlines all over Europe were overwhelmed with thousands of panicked Americans. They price gouged customers for changes and new flights.
More multi-tasking while trying to stay calm with an unstable leader
I continued googling, and we both sat there for a while trying to understand the situation. I tried to stay calm, but it was difficult because of the time, energy, and my husband’s frequent flyer points I had spent to travel. If I had to leave right away all that would be wasted. We found the actual document from the White House and saw that it stated that the decree did not affect American citizens. Trump had misspoke.
However, because the president is unstable, I felt unsure that I could trust the official document, the situation, or him. I wasn’t sure what to do, so we planned to go to the Düsseldorf airport to see about a flight. I had a train ticket for later in the day from Düsseldorf to Hamburg. My friend’s thought was that if there were no flights, at least I would know I had tried different options. Then I could enjoy the weekend playing taiko knowing I couldn’t have done anything else. I would just assume and hope that I would get home to my family without too much hassle.
Tried to get a ticket home, oblivious to the outrage toward Trump across Europe
The airport was surprisingly empty. Later I saw in the news the pandemonium that happened in many airports across Europe. Düsseldorf is a smaller airport, though, and maybe that’s why. Yet it also was already almost 11:00 am, hours after many airports were filled with Trump-caused chaos.
I went to a counter and asked about getting a flight home before the Trump deadline. The attendant said everything was booked, that there were none left. He and the attendant next to him said they had heard I would probably be allowed to go home. They said I might need a health certificate either to get into the US or before I could board the plane…but they were not sure. One of them also mentioned the possibility of a quarantine, but had no further details. They were relying on rumors because of the American president’s unclear declaratives. Basically, it seemed, no one knew what was going on.
So now what?
No flights available and the rumors about maybe needing a health certificate or a possible quarantine had me reeling. In shock, I focused on breathing. I imagined being in quarantine for a couple of weeks with strangers and only cheese and salad for vegetarians. I’ve been through so much during my travels and at home. I sometimes have a hard time being rational about what the future will hold for me. But I know I was among tens of thousands of people the president more than inconvenienced because of what he did and how he did it.
Time for another coffee
Having no more questions, we decided to have a cup of coffee while we thought about all that we knew. My friend still had a little bit of time, so we thought this we thought this was a good plan.
There was a cafe nearby, so I wheeled my bag over, and we ordered a coffee each. I joked that I wanted a glass of wine. She thought I was serious and said as much, but I shook my head, knowing that wouldn’t help me. I got my computer out to do some more research. My husband’s phone still wasn’t letting my calls through.
I could have tried to travel to other airports or call multiple airlines. But I had a feeling this would not get me a flight home before the new policy went into effect. I felt anxious about having maybe missed an opportunity to get on a plane right away like my friend had. This was despite not being sure I wanted to fly home and miss the special taiko weekend I had planned. So, I had mixed feelings. I was excited to still be heading to Hamburg to drum. But a growing sense of dread filled me. I knew I would have to have faith that I would get home safely, without someone putting me into quarantine somewhere.
The panic felt real and was amplified because of my PTSD from complex trauma
My thoughts were running wildly about what would happen. It seemed possible that the system would sweep me up by authorities who didn’t care about me as a person or my rights. When I left, Germany had only approximately ten thousand confirmed cases in a population of eighty-three million. Minnesota was recording its very first cases and had fewer than ten. Despite the extremely low numbers, a friend and my father had hoped I wouldn’t travel. Still, to cancel had seemed nonsensical to me. Now, without the trust of a stable leader, I felt I could be punished for traveling to Europe in the middle of a pandemic.
It felt like I was back in Soviet-run East Germany in the 1980s. The police had taken me aside to a room to search and question me. I had absolutely no clue how things were going to work out, and I was scared. On top of it, this time I was jet-lagged and tired. I could feel the strength of the adrenaline surging through me. I know my PTSD from complex trauma made it even more difficult to stay calm and in the present.
We thought to call the US Embassy again, but had no luck getting through. We also tried the health department. By this time, I was purposefully taking deep breaths and didn’t think I could make that call. I also felt a little shy to admit this to my friend, but she understood. We were talking with another person in Hamburg at the moment. She asked him to call the health department there since that was where I was heading.
He called, but they didn’t know anything definitive. They did say they hadn’t heard about Americans having to have a health certificate. Besides, we reasoned, that would be a long process since I, along with so many others, would have to make an appointment for the next day. It was already Thursday, and my flight home was on Monday.
It was time to leave, so we finished our coffee and left for the train station. I kept taking deep breaths to calm my inner turmoil. It felt surreal on the outside, and on the inside I was fighting this rising sense of panic and fear. By now, I could feel my brain had shifted into PTSD-survivor mode. I was trying to stay focused on not bawling or shriveling up to the mercy of others to help me. I had a train to catch, my friend had an appointment, and I had this!
The fun drumming weekend was still on!
It still felt unsure that I would make it safely home to my family, despite having tried different options. There were no flights, the embassy didn’t answer, and the health department had no answer. Now I know the embassies, health departments, and airlines across Europe were overwhelmed with panicky travelers they couldn’t help. Trump hadn’t prepared European leaders, embassies, travel agents, airlines, or anyone before making his announcement just hours before.
With the free time I had, I had tried to get a flight home earlier, but couldn’t. I just had to wait to see what would happen and hope for the best. Once I got a hold of my husband, maybe he could find out more information about how and when I was to come home. I needed to put the issue on the shelf and enjoy what I knew was going to be an awesome taiko weekend.
Düsselfdorf Main Train Station
We said good-bye with a corona hug (air hug, a few feet apart). I went into the Düsselfdorf Hauptbahnhof (main train station), which I know so well, despite its many changes since my first visit in 1984. I just had my roller carry-on, a back pack, and a billfold I hung over my shoulder. Because I felt the pervasive fear surrounding the virus, I strategized about when and what I should purchase to eat. Could the virus be on all those sandwiches? I also only wanted to use the bathroom. It was such a the hassle with luggage and digging out coins to get through the gates.
My original plan had been to visit this friend in Duisburg, but stay in the Düsseldorf suburb Unterbach. My Mutti, my German mother from my time as an exchange student in the 1980s, lived there. Because of her age, we canceled my visit for fear of her contracting the virus from me after traveling. With the changed schedule, I now had a couple of hours to spare.
Texting while trying to stay calm
I was very emotional when I arrived in the station. At first I was standing not far from the main entrance and texting with the workshop organizer in Hamburg. He is an extra kind person and considerate toward all people. I confided that I was panicking and feeling like I used to when bad things happened to me when I lived in the GDR. He sent me a comforting emoji. I kept trying to get a hold of my husband, who wasn’t answering.
Upset and worried, I walked a little further into the station and found a place to stop against a railing. I had tears going down my face. Three young police or security officers walked over. At first I thought they were going to ask me if I was okay, but they headed to the same railing where I was leaning. The three of them stood laughing and talking.
I wasn’t in horrible distress, sobbing or anything. Still, it was a little sad that they ignored a person standing right next to them obviously crying. Of course, I knew they couldn’t do anything. Still, it felt a little alienating to have someone whose job it is to provide public safety to not acknowledge me in distress.
On the other hand, maybe they thought I had just gone through a tearful good-bye with my boyfriend. LOL. And it’s true, with all my traveling, I have done a few of those over the years.
Food (for now and in the train) and my one trip to the bathroom
Having composed myself somewhat, I went to buy some food. Because of the pandemic, this felt harder than it normally would, even with little luggage. It felt like the virus could be on everything, including the food. I touched the tongs to grab a sandwich, which caused me great concern. Then, when I paid, it was stressful with my luggage, the European credit card machines I was still (again) getting used to, and the entire time thinking OMG I touched the virus.
The World Health Organization had just declared the coronavirus a pandemic the day before, on the eleventh of March. Most people did not yet understand what was going on yet. Plus, the danger seemed to many to be so far away. Some people weren’t worried, and others, like me, were extremely paranoid. The science hadn’t developed, so I thought the virus was literally everywhere. Even touching it momentarily would bring doom. In my mind, I would come home sick, get my family sick, and one of us would die shortly afterward.
I went to the bathroom, having timed my run perfectly so I only needed to go once. As usual, it was a hassle with luggage and having to deal with the payment machine and the gate. In Hamburg I realized I could pay with credit card, which was much easier than dealing with coins. But in Düsseldorf, it either wasn’t possible or I just didn’t notice the credit card option since I wasn’t expecting that.
Peace in the sun
I finally went out of the back of the station and sat on a bench in the sunshine. The selfie I took showed my face was all scrunched up in worry. I sat, felt the sun, looked at the sky, breathed deeply, and felt lighter. I took another selfie, and my face reflected my lighter emotions.
My chosen spot lost its sun in a bit, so I moved to the fountain area to feel the sun again. I had to move one other time, down a foot or two, to stay in the warmth. A woman asked me a question, and we spoke. She seemed lonely, I remember, but after she went on for quite a while about her life, I was tired of the conversation. I apologized that I needed to do something on my phone. Usually, I would have spent more time with this lady hoping to lift her spirits and feel connected with her. But I just didn’t have the mental strength.
By this time my husband had answered my call. He planned to contact the Minnesota Attorney General to confirm that this new order didn’t affect American citizens. He also tried to figure out my plane ticket, but misread my messages and called the wrong people. Still, over the next few days, it became increasingly clear that my flight would be fine. Plus, the attorney general’s office returned his call and assured him I should be able to come home without incident.
Flashback train ride to the 80s
It was time to leave. I made my way to the platform where I caught the Flexbus train I had booked. This company had refurbished trains after the war. It was a nostalgic trip back to the 1980s, riding in a closed car with up to seven other people. But for the virus and Trump’s false announcement, I was ecstatic to relive the experience. The vintage windows, trash can, ashtray, old hooks where the curtain used to hang, the top luggage straps, and dark green seats brought back many memories.
Traveling by train is one of my favorite ways to travel. I had spent so many hours rocking back and forth, especially while living in East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down. Back then, it took about four hours to get from Jena to Berlin in the old Deutsche Reichsbahn trains. Now it takes a fraction of that. And I’ll never forget the extremely loud, squeaky brakes in East Germany. All conversation ceased when a train arrived in a station.
However, because of the coronavirus I was nervous about being in a closed compartment. Almost no one had masks on in the train, and in my compartment there was an older couple and a middle-aged man, none of whom had masks on. I had a scarf that I kept hitched up over my nose and mouth.
The train was supposed to have wifi, but it didn’t. I couldn’t reach my friend I was to meet at the Hamburg station. She is a scholar who also researched German military brothels during the war. She ended up not feeling well and had left by the time I got there. This was a disappointment, but understandable.
Arrival in Hamburg
At almost eight in the evening, the station in Hamburg was extremely crowded, unlike Frankfurt and Düsseldorf. The majority of COVID cases were in and around Duisburg and Düsselfdorf, with the main nearby cluster in Heinsberg. Therefore, on March tenth, the state of north Rhine-Westphalia banned all gatherings of more than one thousand people. The state had rapidly climbed to 648 cases. The risk to me was still quite small, since the state had more than 17.93 million people, and I wasn’t hanging out in crowded bars or other places. But because of the rapid local rise in cases, more people were home, and the train stations were almost deserted. Hamburg, in contrast, was bustling as usual, and people were not social distancing or wearing masks. It was as if the virus did not exist.
Taking a moment to breathe and have a bite to eat
I needed some food and so sat for a few minutes with German potato salad and a beer. I was exhausted and had a hard time deciding where and what to eat. Again, it was scary because of the virus despite the few cases in this regions. I still felt I had to be careful not to touch anything. Everything just felt surreal to me.
After eating, I made my way to the S-Bahn. I couldn’t find the ticket dispenser, but a kind woman helped me. After checking the arrival time of her train, she even left the crowded platform and walked me back up to the busy street to show me exactly where it was. I got my ticket and rode the packed train, being careful not to touch anything.
Finding the dojo, vacilating between panic and confidence
When I exited the station I was in a residential neighborhood. The area was sparsely lit. I checked to make sure I had gotten out at the correct place. I pulled out the map my friend had provided and figured out which direction to walk. As I turned away from the station, heading toward the sidewalk on the back side, I saw a man in the dark across the narrow street. With my carry-on and back pack, I felt vulnerable and scared. I circled back to the station and tried to figure out if there was another way to go, but there wasn’t. So I headed back out and walked as fast as I could past where he was. The more I walked, the safer I felt, seeing a person or two once in a while.
The way seemed long in the dark, which I made even longer by missing a turn. I had to double back after a gas station attendant helped me figure out where I had gone wrong. I had no phone service, so I just kept telling myself I WOULD find the studio. Plus, I was using google maps that was working intermittently. At the gas station, I used the bathroom and was again nervous about the virus, especially carrying the key to and from the restroom. (Now, having lived with the virus for months, I would not be so scared. We know that if we wash our hands and don’t touch our faces, we should be fine.)
Being lost was another trigger to my PTSD. In and of itself, it would not be a big deal to anyone, but I had so many triggers over the next month that I know they all added up to change the chemistry of my brain.
Flashback to Estonia
Once, I got off the ferry in Estonia in the evening as the sky became dark. Despite having done research, I was not able to find the hotel I had understood as being near the docks. It had looked to be a safe and short distance for me to walk. It was not dumb or naive of me to have arranged my arrival in the near-dark. I was under time pressure to work during the day and travel at night. I was quite aware of the dangers, already eight years into my healing from my own sexual assaults.
The hotel, according to my research, was supposed to be right past the dock. This error in either my reading the 1990s internet information or in the information the hotel provided would not have caused most men the trouble it caused me. The men had cat-called me, which scared me out of my wits since it was getting darker and we were alone. I happened to see a car with a family inside, waved them down, and practically begged them for a ride to the nearest hotel. I ended up paying a lot more for that night’s stay, but I was safe.
When I got to the dojo, two friends were sitting in the lobby. I was exhausted, having walked so far and having had such a day. It was already getting near 10:00 at night. My friend had invited me to come in and watch the local group with the visiting artist rehearse. But I was so spent, when I arrived I collapsed on the first couch I saw. I stayed there until they finished and chatted with the two friends, whom I had met at the fourth European Taiko Conference (ETC4) the year before.
It sounded so wonderful to hear the sounds of Kion Dojo and to know that my friends were just down the hall drumming their hearts out. When they finished I apologized for not having gotten up to watch. People said hi, and I chatted with a few. They were busy moving drums and getting ready to go home. We left soon after for my friend’s (the person had called the health department) place, which was maybe a twenty-five minute drive.
The day ends safe and sound with an exciting three days of drumming ahead
There we sat, talked, had some wine, and checked our phones. I was still quite nervous about my flight home. Rumors were flying around in the press and in messages to me about having to quarantine when I returned home. There were other rumors I cannot remember, but at some point I realized some facts that calmed me down. For example, the U.S. wouldn’t pay for so many thousands Americans to be in a separate quarantine housing after having come from Europe. I realized that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) would just ask travelers to self-quarantine for two weeks upon return.
The last taiko workshop before the world shut down
We rose early to get back to the where the workshop was to be. My friend thought he needed to help unload the drums. It turned out they had already unloaded them prior to our arrival. We just needed to bring them into different rooms for the workshops. It was a fun hour, helping to carry drums and stands while also saying hello to people I hadn’t seen since ETC4. Plus, I got to meet some new drummers.
After the initial welcome session with everyone, we separated into two groups – those newer to the song we planned to perform, ELEVEN, and those who wanted to do polyrhythms.
Polyrhythms in German
I took the polyrhythm class, which was a lot of fun for me because of the material and also because it was my first taiko workshop in German. Since everyone could understand German, it was easiest for the group if the instructor spoke German instead of English. At first, I counted along in German, which came easily to me. But at some point the rhythms became more complex I had to switch to counting in English in my head while focusing on the drumming. It was a lot of fun and challenging for the brain.
Drumming our hearts out, sharing our lives, connecting
After the polyrhythm workshop, the rest of Friday, all of Saturday and Sunday morning until noon or one was with the visiting artist. Physically, her workshops are always challenging. She has so much energy. American taiko artists tend to have the group drum for five minutes or so at a time. Then they talk more. Then we play for a few minutes. This Japanese player has people drum for at least ten minutes, and sometimes up to twenty or longer. It’s also never low-key drumming. She inspires her group to play with full energy because she does herself. After a day or two, when she says we will start again, I feel like, ”oh god, I can’t drum anymore!“
But then we start. The energy is always so amazing I drum again and again with my whole heart, soul, and body. When we stop, I again feel I cannot do anymore, and I must have an extended break. But then I drum some more! And this cycle keeps repeating, for days. It is extremely cleansing for the body and the mind.
The schools were to close that Monday, along with other kinds of businesses. The person who had organized the weekend, said we were at the last taiko workshop before the world shut down. This was a perfect way to describe how we all felt, never before having lived through a global pandemic and not knowing what was in store for us.
Despite the fun, I could feel the worry at the back of my mind…
Saturday evening, the taiko rock star of the workshop, admitted that she had been nervous about coming to do the workshop in a period when the world was starting to shut down. Because of the situation, one of us had departed in the night to make sure he made it home to his family. Two others, one from Spain and one from Italy, did not come. Italy had already shut down, and the situation in Spain was changing rapidly each day (on March 13 the prime minister declared a state of emergency). Europeans didn’t want to chance traveling in case borders closed, which they did on March 17.
For the duration of the workshop, people constantly washed their hands and tried to open and close doors without touching handles. But it was impossible to not be close to people. We didn’t hug or touch, but we sat next to each other and drummed without masks. To pass the popcorn, we used a small dish to scoop it out instead of having people put their hands in the bowl. I felt a little scared. I wondered if I had made a judgement error in not canceling my trip in the first place. One night while trying to sleep I felt congested, which made sleeping even harder! I was fearful I had indeed caught the virus, proving I should not have traveled to Germany.
Rumors and reason
Rumors about how Americans were to get home were still flying also, which didn’t help. I was having so much fun drumming with my European friends, but in moments of reprieve, my angst over how and if I would get home rose up. Friday and Saturday I was still getting messages from friends encouraging me to breathe and enjoy the drumming.
Additionally, Friday evening, a taiko player reasoned with me that it wouldn’t make sense for Germany to pay to screen Americans before I got on the plane, because Germany surely figured that America needs to foot that bill. They would put me on the plane and let the American authorities deal with those returning from Europe. I hadn’t thought of that angle, but this made sense and helped relax me.
The end of an amazing taiko experience
So physically and emotionally, I was exhausted, but the three days of drumming were amazing, thanks to the instructors and all the other wonderful European taiko players. We ended the weekend at an Italian restaurant – sitting closely together (this would end the very next day when schools and restaurants would close). We had walked outside on the docks of Hamburg and had a wonderful meal full of spirited and uplifting conversation.
My German sister came around 9:30 or so to pick me up. The drummers and I said tearful good-byes and a couple of us even gave in and hugged or semi-hugged. My sister and I left for her place. There, her daughter, she, and I stayed up till 2:00 am or so, with my sister and I lasting the longest, trying to get all caught up with our lives before I had to leave in the morning. Unfortunately, my original flight had been canceled because of the slowing of flights around the world due to the virus. So this was the only time I had with them because I left early in the morning.
After intense taiko weekends, there is always a period of emotional exhaustion because of the return to normal. I expected this, along with extra exhaustion because of the travel to Europe. What I didn’t expect was how quickly the changes in the world, the lack of American leadership, and the spread of the virus would affect my mental health.
My flight home
The flight home was stressful, but not horrific. Delta changed my flight at the last minute to fly me through Detroit, because the CDC didn’t have COVID screening in Minneapolis. This added an additional three or more hours of traveling with the added flight and layover time.
The Amsterdam airport was strangely empty, even more so than the Frankfurt one. There were some people with masks, but most people were maskless. Cashiers had gloves and masks, which was a new sight to see for me. A mom in the bathroom was trying to get her kids to wash their hands for a long time and to not touch their faces. Afterwards, the boy touched his face right after washing his hands. The mom, though, looked so tired she left with her kids without making him wash again. In hindsight, it seems that people were mostly focused on the virus being on surfaces, not so much in the air. It felt to me like the virus could be on everything I touched.
The airlines were completely overwhelmed, rerouting thousands of passengers. This was clear by the messages I received. The funniest came when I was already seated in the plane from Detroit to Minneapolis. I was settled in and read an email that the flight I was on was changed to the next day. Because I was so exhausted, I had a moment of panic, thinking, OMG, where will I spent the night? Then I realized, “wait – no! I’m in the plane now and they likely wouldn’t take me off – it’s okay – the airlines are just confused!”
The CDC, blind-sided by Trump’s abrupt announcement about flight cancellations, set up COVID screening in a hurry
The news showed that over the weekend, thousands of panicked Americans and others who lived in the US had filled airports from Thursday morning all through the weekend. So many had had found earlier flights home so there were thousands of people routed through the few CDC screening areas in the country. The problem was that the CDC also didn’t know this was going to happen and so had to set up the COVID screening stations in a hurry. Donald Trump had made his announcement without any preparation, so airports and CDC staff were acting on the fly trying to organize the arrivals, movement of passengers, and the screening. This meant that the screening to help prevent the spread of the virus actually caused it to spread more because thousands of travelers ended up in crowded halls for hours with few masks and no social distancing.
By the day of my flight, the situation was more under control
By Monday evening, they had streamlined the process. Flights were interspersed, and there were no excessively long lines. Because of this, it was actually better for my health that I had stuck with my original travel plans. Still, I had to go through six or seven different checkpoints: passport, two different people to check my papers for the screening, the temperature check, the short verbal CDC presentation, customs, a dog sniffing, an x-ray luggage screening, and then regular security with everything scanned to get onto my next flight. It was more than I had ever had to do even while traveling in the eastern block countries in the 1980s.
It felt like the screening in Detroit was pathetic, and I knew even at this point in the pandemic that it was not really preventing much, though hopefully people would self quarantine just in case they were carrying the virus. The idea of contact tracing was in its infancy in the US. The CDC provided no instructions to contact them in case I did come down with COVID-19, so the process felt incomplete.
I made it!
So, I finally made it home…This felt like a huge feat, but I couldn’t foresee the slide into depression that I would be getting on.
My daughter picked me up at the airport. I texted with my husband while she was on her way. He said she had the van. I thought that was odd because I had so little luggage, and I asked why not the civic. He explained that they had thought that there would be more space between us in the larger vehicle to help prevent the spread of the virus, if I had it. I had already thought to sit in the back of the civic, but with the van there would be even more room. They were scared I was bringing the virus home, as was I.
The first month home
The next days became surreal and stressful, in part because of my physical and mental exhaustion. I had brought a lot of small gifts, each one of which we wiped down with a disinfectant wipe. We made a rule that we couldn’t put our hands into the Haribo candy bags. Instead, we agreed to pour the candy out. This would be the same with other snacks or foods.
Additionally, we agreed to wash our hands before taking something out of the refrigerator. We wiped down all the door handles and didn’t hug. We agreed I would be the only one to use my bathroom (this was mostly the case anyway, but now we emphasized this). The kids had been to Disney on Ice the weekend before, so it occurred to us that they also could have gotten the virus there. We were scared.
In hindsight it seems paranoid, but we wanted to be safe. We even took our temperature a few times! Every night I checked the news. I counted where Minnesota was on the New York Times list of the cases and deaths in each state. We hovered around number twenty. I took screen shots most nights of the world and U.S. tally, as well as the totals for each state from the top and then one that included Minnesota. I waited for the apocalypse to hit us (it’s June, and I still don’t know anyone who has COVID-19 or even a friend of a friend, let alone alone a family member. There still isn’t anyone I knew who has died! Of course, we all realize this is in part because the stay-at-home plan worked well in Minnesota).
Jet lag and the general situation
The first week home, with the surreality of thinking the virus was everywhere, having my husband home working all day in my space, still being jet-lagged and recovering from travel and little sleep for a week, I hardly did anything except some cooking and a little work. I even took a day or two to reopen my online store. I cannot remember actually when I opened it, but I remember thinking it was a new behavior for me to wait. Business was slow the first week home anyway.
The unemployment figures suddenly started skyrocketing. This didn’t affect me except that I felt extra fortunate that we still had much of our combined income. As time passed, though, this only made me feel guilty for being so fortunate, as I slid into feeling like I was a failure. The news out of New York, Italy, Spain, and around the world was horrifying and filled with sadness, sickness, and death. The University of Minnesota shut down, so my daughter prepared to get her belongings to stay home and my husband started working from home, setting his office up in the dining room.
My husband went and bought enough groceries to last about five years during this time. He did two runs and seemingly bought out Costco. It was embarrassing. We had enough for a food shelter and still do, despite the kids and I having donated bags of food when the George Floyd riots started. I couldn’t see anything in the freezers or fridges or shelves because they were too full. The pantry food overflowed to the left side where the water heater is, where now boxes and boxes of food, chips, pre-made Indian dishes, and whatever else there was. The authorities were telling us not to panic buy. He read the news, so why did he do this?
When I was first emerging from my exhaustion and starting to do more than the basics, I wanted to make split pea soup. They were hard to find since people bought out all the beans and dried legumes. He found some, but instead of purchasing a couple of bags, he bought bags and bags of all sorts of legumes! In June, I have only cooked two bags worth. There were other things as well, but it just shows the stress we were all under.
A couple of times my husband acted completely childish, for which I haven’t had tolerance in years. But now it felt even more awful, and I felt trapped with everyone here all the time. I didn’t want to argue in front of the kids, so I texted. Two times he came to the basement where he still acted childish, passive-aggressive, and engaged in gaslighting and sarcasm. Of course, he was also burdened, but that doesn’t mean he can act like he did without me calling out the behavior as hurtful. The second time I pleaded with him to stop these behaviors for the sake of all of us, and especially for the sake of the kids. We were all in this together, having to live 24/7 in the same house. We had to remain positive and could not have sarcasm or overt hostility.
His big sighs and fast, angry movements raised the stress levels in whatever room we were in. He said my complaints were “abuse.” This was especially ridiculous because pointing out hurtful behavior in a respectful way is not a form of abuse. It is a healthy way to set boundaries that took me a long time to learn how to do. I tried to ignore what I could, but two times I raised my voice to him despite the kids being nearby. My inability to not raise my voice those two times showed me how physically and emotionally exhausted I was. But his behavior improved slowly.
Working at home, together
Additionally, it was a transition to have him in the downstairs bathroom all day long, leaving the sink and toilet dirty. I was rarely in this bathroom because of our agreement that I just use the upstairs one), so it didn’t affect me too much. But it was just another change to accept. At first I would come down to work on my computer in the kitchen or front room for part of the day as I usually did before heading to my office, but he was there talking to his co-workers, often without headphones so the voices filled the house. I missed my previous life where I had hours of silence except for the animals and any noise I wanted to make.
I felt trapped, tired, and stressed. To avoid conflict and have some privacy, at some point I started spending a lot of time in my bedroom where I could be alone. I exercised there, practiced rhythms on a toy drum, sat and wrote, or worked on the computer either while sitting and looking out the window or in bed. When anxious, I would listen to the news while I played Words with Friends or Word Chums on my phone.
At first, my husband and I also talked a lot at first in the mornings when I came home, which was nice. But after one too many times feeling patronized (even if the comments are unintentional, they still drag me down), I started having my coffee alone. The last month we have been having coffee together again.
Family time, Netflix, games
My daughter and I also binge-watched Game of Thrones. I beat her and finished the eight seasons first, lol. I don’t think the violence disturbed me (years ago I could not have watched it because of my own trauma). Plus, I often fast-forwarded it. I do think, if anything, it helped to have such an all-consuming distraction, one that I could discuss with her.
I so appreciated my kids during all of this. We went for family walks, went to the park with the dogs, played catch, watched movies, and more. The up-side to the pandemic was all this nurturing time families had together, and we enjoyed that. All four of us.
Minnesota and other states were discussing when to shut down, and we got the stay at home order about three weeks after I made it home. People all over the country no longer could gather, play taiko together, go to weddings or funerals. The university sent students home from the dormitories, and kids just stayed home after spring break. In Minnesota, my eighth grader got an extra week off while the administration figured out what they would do during the stay at home order. The University of Minnesota got an extra two days of break, and then everything went online.
Oh no! Grocery shopping with the virus!
It was a momentous decision in late March to just go to the grocery store because of the virus. I ventured out for the first time to get groceries maybe a week or two after being home. The first time I went, my daughter had asked for something that I forgot. I almost ended up in tears at home because of this. It felt like a huge deal because when would one of us go again to this store?
The second or third time I went I was almost in tears in the aisle, worried my daughter would be mad because I couldn’t find a certain tea she wanted. The shelves had so many empty spaces because of people hoarding, but also still all these different flavors, prices, and quantities. I stood there perplexed and not able to figure out the options because they didn’t have exactly what she wanted. I seriously wanted to curl up in the aisle and bawl like an infant. Under normal conditions, I easily could have figured something out to get her. This was my first clue that I probably needed help.
Now I realize my PTSD made it seem like the consequences of a wrong decision would be catastrophic, when of course they wouldn’t. She might be a tad disappointed, but not angry. And even if she were angry, that would be more her problem, not mine, even if it would feel hurtful. I stood there for FAR too long before giving up. As I walked away, I worried I was disappointing her again. I can’t even remember if I grabbed some tea or not. Ha!
I knew already that I needed help, but it took me until mid May to ask for it…
Overkill to kill the virus
When I came home with the groceries, my husband and son took over and unpacked and wiped everything down. We kept things downstairs until we needed them. This was to give the virus time to dissipate. Despite my own fears, this started to feel like overkill because Dr. Fauci and others were starting to talk about how small the chances were to get something from a package of food. The main point was to not touch your face and to wash your hands, and the science was showing more clearly with each day that the chances of getting the virus from food packaging was quite low.
My fight against depression
Despite realizing in the first weeks of being home that I might need help and that I was at risk for depression, I hoped I would be able to keep my anxiety under control using all the tools I had learned over the years. Because I felt trapped and knew I didn’t want to slide into a dark place, I tackled the stay-at-home time with ferocity. I describe how I fought off the depression in a couple of essays on my website. I tried to keep a schedule, exercised almost every day, FaceTimed and talked with a lot of people. Additionally, I emailed and texted to stay in touch with friends from all over, including with my German sisters.
Drumming friends and thoughts of the future
I joined drumming sessions from Europe regularly. Most of these were small group situations where, if people were checking in, everyone was asked to speak, even if they didn’t volunteer. It was really nice to hear how people were faring during this odd time! I joined a couple of national taiko meetings on zoom. These were larger, but both times they broke into small groups where, again, everyone had a chance to speak. This somehow made the human connection more real for me despite the internet, and it helped my mood.
For my own drumming group, I also wanted to hear more about how members were doing. These meetings had less structure, so usually the same people spoke. It really was the tyranny of structurelessness. This usually isn’t an issue, but with so many people’s lives in upheaval, it made me feel more alienated, not knowing how things were for people I cared for and also not sharing too much about myself. I requested check-ins during our zoom meetings where everyone would speak for a few minutes. We did this once or twice, and it was good to hear all the voices.
Additionally, I tried to work on my plans for the future after my business died down, write a little, and most days I practiced taiko drills.
Exercise and more old-fashioned phone calls
In keeping with this idea of trying to stay above the darkness, the second week home I started to exercise with my neighbor. We walked, keeping our distance, and also did a lot of FaceTime exercise (I would prop my phone up so she could see my iPad and I would run a routine. A couple of times, we did her videos, but usually she would say, “so what are we doing?” and I would set up different videos for us from YouTube. I also did walk and talks with another friend in Nebraska, and then I started reaching out to chat with other friends I hadn’t spoken with in a long time.
Amazon stole my business because Bezos apparently needed some extra money
At home, I also had to face my online business debacle. Having been in business for over twenty years, I was faced with losing most of my income because of Amazon’s desire to control the sales of name-brand products. In February they wrote a letter that signaled the end of my home based business as I knew it and disallowed me to sell Schleich on Amazon and only on my website. But no one shops on my website, in part because of my choice to keep my business a part-time endeavor, but also it is the rare citizen who chooses to take the time to click again and go to the merchant’s website instead fo purchasing it through Amazon from that small merchant.
I had always wanted to write or do something else besides retail, so I hadn’t invested in my websites to make my business a full-time endeavor. Because of this, I was sitting on maybe eleven thousand dollars worth of inventory that I might not be able to sell on Amazon shortly. Because Amazon had for years made it difficult for me to keep my listings up or list new groups of toys I had, I didn’t trust that they wouldn’t suddenly take all my listings down, despite the fact that my groupings of toys only add to the diversity of options on Amazon.
The attempt to sell out at cost
The toy company, Schleich was not answering my requests to return inventory despite having reassured me that if anything happened with Amazon they would figure out how to help me. So, on one of our first social-distancing walks, I asked my friend about the accounting issues with selling things at cost versus donating the inventory. Business was so slow, I marked many items down to cost. I felt I was working for nothing, mailing out items for no profit. She said, no, it’s still better to sell than donate it all because you get some cash back. So I imagined selling most items at cost to get rid of them. I didn’t know if or when Amazon would pull my listings. This meant I couldn’t wait until the winter holiday season to sell everything at a more affordable price.
One month of increased sales
The country was shutting down state by state, and parents were stuck at home with their children, helping them with their online school or homeschooling them. It must have been toward the end of March that suddenly I was getting almost fifty orders every twenty-four hours. It wasn’t like the holidays when it gets to over one hundred, but it was crazy busy with many hours of processing and packing each day. This lasted for at least four weeks! Of course this was an economic plus for me and a way to get rid of the inventory, but the resulting exhaustion only added to my slide into depression.
Perimenopause and too much alcohol in the house
I also know that physically, I was under great stress because I was, with no previous symptoms and a completely regular period, suddenly perimenopausal and experiencing hot flashes. It started at night, and I thought it was the bed (a foam bed that gets hot), but somehow it felt a little different. Still, I wasn’t sure. Then it happened for the first time during the day while I was on the Roman chair doing my back exercise.
It slowly increased in frequency during the day and at night. They only lasted a minute. I don’t know how many a day I get. I haven’t counted. It’s June now, but I suspect maybe five a day and at least three or four a night. The night ones are the worst. My entire body gets covered in sweat. I think the mattress makes it worse, but they probably would be bad regardless. By July they have greatly decreased in frequency and intensity.
Because of the stress, I wanted an alcohol-free house
I met with a close friend for a distance meeting just to talk. During our visit, I told her about all the alcohol my husband had in the house and how it bothered me because we were all at home. I had asked him not to drink while we were all together, but he did, stating that we were always together because of the pandemic. I had been fine with it before, secure in my drinking habits (I only drank with friends once in a great while, like at drumming events), but now it felt much harder.
The refrigerator was completely stocked, there was a box of wine, and a bottle of whiskey. I had already insisted all the alcohol be moved into the garage, but we used that fridge a lot, and I still saw the other stock. It was nice to talk to my friend about our new normal and how we were losing feelings of enjoyment. It also empowered me to again set boundaries with the alcohol.
The summation of the stressors resulting in depression
So, all this was happening. The fear I brought the virus home to my family. The fear of the virus in Minnesota. Jet lag. Getting over the trauma of the shock of being in Europe, not knowing if, how, or when I would get home because of the stupid US president. The impending doom of sickness and death surrounding the Twin Cities. My business ending and Schleich not responding to my requests to return thousands of dollars of inventory. The future loss of income and complete economic dependence on my husband. My daily life transformed by having the entire family here all day long, which of course was in many ways wonderful, but having my husband here all the time made me took an adjustment (through which we have survived). But overall, at this time I felt very sad, trapped, and lost.
May 11 and May 12 I was in bed almost all of the day. I did the few orders I had, but that was about it. I remember crying on and off all day. Eating? I must have, but I don’t remember what or where. Nor do I remember sleeping. I don’t know if I watched Netflix, YouTube, the news, or if I just played word games. My kids checked in on me several times each day. I remember that. I told them I would be fine, but that I was just really sad for now. They were reassured that I knew I would get out of the hole I clearly was in.
Writing and reaching out for help
I wrote, shared, and went on medications
In the evening of May 12, I wrote an essay about how my low-level anxiety had morphed into a huge depression, rendering me feeling useless and incapable of doing much. I got up the next day for a bit longer than I had the previous two days. My daughter made me walk several times that week. At first I didn’t feel better walking, but I knew it was necessary, and already either on the first time but for sure on the second time – I admitted I felt a tad better at the end…
May 18 I was able to see my doctor over video. She recommended medications, so that day I started down that path again. It had been years since I was on any kind of therapeutic dose of anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. I know this was the right time, though. By the time I saw her, I was already feeling much better just from the support of my kids and friends. The medications helped immensely, and I will stay on them for the foreseeable future.
I have since deleted the screen shots of the climb toward insanity in the US, except for the one showing that we hit one million. As I finish writing this in June (it will take me until August to finish the editing because of a non-COVID medical serious issue we now have with our son), we have had more than three million cases, and are recording over fifty thousand new cases a day. We have been blocked from traveling to Europe and other places.
I healed and felt my strength
I have been feeling well for almost two months now and am grateful that I had the tools to do the work, that I had my loving children who kept visiting me when I lay in bed the two days weeping on and off, and that many friends reached out to encourage me and send me well wishes.
Now, I bounce out of the house to walk, garden, bike, or play basketball. My husband and I have adjusted to being at home all the time, and we have been having coffee and conversing much more, and all throughout we were able to keep playing basketball, catch, or four square with the kids. We also went for family walks, did our first outdoor dinner in a restaurant, played lots of Mario Kart, watched movies, and had countless dinners at home together.
We are still in the middle of the pandemic, and now, as I finish editing, there are great concerns for my son’s well-being. Because of his issues, I am extra grateful that I feel strong and ready to be there as support and also to help move this world toward a more empathetic and just place. Thank you to all those who sent me kind and encouraging messages. My son needs my strength now more than ever, and I have it.
This essay about Trump’s false announcement in March was almost ready to publish in late June or early July, but I became involved with a non-COVID medical situation in our family. Since the time of writing…well, that’s another essay!