Not Making Sense of the Virus

corona virus

By Troy Headrick

I’ve been AWOL for about a month.  Now that I’ve shown back up for duty, I need to begin with an explanation.  And an apology (or two).

I’d like to accurately recreate the experiences I’ve had these past several weeks, but everything blurs together in my mind.  About three weeks or so ago, the college I work for dismissed for Spring Break.  Of course, before we went on holiday, there was lots of talk about COVID-19, but the virus seemed to be a kind of abstraction.  Then, lo and behold, there was a case in San Antonio, Texas, the place where I live.  The carrier was identified as someone who’d been abroad.  This reinforced the notion—a widespread kind of thinking among Americans not that long ago—that we still had time, that the sickness hadn’t yet rooted itself here, that it was something foreign.

I had lots of plans to write blogs and do artwork over Spring Break, but my plans all went out the window.  Instead of writing and making art, I spent hours in front of the TV and online.  Day in a day out, from the moment I got up until I went to bed late at night, I sat transfixed in front of the television.  When I wasn’t watching news about the inexorable spread of the virus, I was reading about growing pandemic.  I felt this very deep need to learn everything I could about the sickness and how it was affecting people in every country of the world.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn and the less I felt I knew.

Then, suddenly, it all started seeming very apocalyptic.  I felt like a character that had been given a part in a dystopian science fiction movie.  I began having strange dreams and found myself shying away from people the few times I left the house.  One morning my wife began to cut up old articles of clothing to make homemade masks.  By the time she’d gotten out her needle and thread, I’d already been days into the act of washing my hands with so much soap and hot water that I’d developed something akin to a cleanliness compulsion.  Of course, after cleaning them so well and so often, I didn’t want to take the chance to dirty them up again, so I taught myself how to open doors using only my elbows.

Of course, after Spring Break, we never went back to our physical workplace and have been doing our jobs remotely ever since.  Now, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, I spend hours sending and receiving emails.  A few times a day I speak into my telephone and hear disembodied voices speaking back.  There are times when these voices are accompanied by faces that I can see on my computer monitor.  A thing called Zoom has given me the opportunity to reestablish my belief that human beings do, indeed, exist, out there, in the void.

Those are the facts of my current life.  The facts are easy to record, but what do they mean?  I’m not doing journalism here; I’m doing something else.  I feel like I want to go beyond the facts, to see the bigger picture.

In some ways, this time period reminds me of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.  When I compare this experience to what I lived through during those scary days now nearly a decade ago, I see some interesting similarities.  Then, as now, I felt hamstrung as a writer, which explains why I wrote very little about the uprising while it was taking place.  Similarly, this is the first thing I’ve written in about a month.  This points out how living through a particularly memorable period is one thing; writing about it is another.  Even now, as I try to finish this blog, I struggle with direction.  Where do I want to take this piece?  What am I trying to say?  What is my focus?  What do I want readers to get from this?

The fact that these questions are front and center in my mind are indications that I’m still struggling to make sense of everything that’s taking place right now.  Yesterday, when I sat down in front of my laptop to begin this piece about life during COVID-19, I felt like I knew what I wanted to say, but with each passing sentence, I feel less and less sure.  Now that I near the end, I feel like I have failed miserably.

So, I finish with two apologies.  The first one is me saying sorry for having been absent for so long.  The second one is my apology for having tried to write a piece with some purpose and coherence only to have it fall apart at the exact moment I was putting it together.

Thanks for reading whatever this is.  I look forward to your responses.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.


63 thoughts on “Not Making Sense of the Virus

  1. Thank you Troy, for reinforcing what I am feeling. There are no clear answers, so many questions and no map to follow. The best we can do is to be kind, be positive , and be our best selves one day at a time. 🙏 Namaste.

    1. Namaste! I keep thinking about how much of an opportunity this is. This slowing everything down gives us a chance to ponder, to engage in self-reflection. There is lots of truth to the notion that hardship teaches. I hope I take that opportunity to learn what I need to learn, and I hope others take that opportunity too. Thanks for the comment.

    1. Thank you. I had to listen to that deep part of me that KNOWS. I tried on several occasions to sit down and write but something always felt amiss. The time wasn’t yet right; I didn’t want to do anything that felt contrived. I feel like I’m back in the saddle again and it feels good. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. This is a big hit for all of us. Regarding our feelings we are reacting appropriately given these dysfunctional circumstances. But for Americans it is one of many hits we’ve taken over the last decade. Other countries are significantly doing better than us in critical areas, including technology, medicine, and education. Being an older white male I really thought we were much further along in what we referred to as race relations. Yet, I see outright racism exploited and championed by politicians as if their beliefs were based on principle. With past elections and agenda based media groups, all mainline media groups on all sides obviously twist the truth, all believing they are doing so for the common good. For the first time in my 65 years I have come to tears realizing America has always been on the verge of falling behind. Now I see our slow and poor response to this pandemic and the banter of politicians, right and left politicizing something that is bringing us together. For me it is not just the pandemic, but the realization Americans have been living in a bubble and now that bubble has burst. So I am in grief over loosing my naivete. Certainly, I am in fear of “catching” a disease, but what I most feel is the loss of freedom, real freedom. This pandemic really makes us look at what freedom is, who restricts it, how it is restricted, and how societies distribute “our” freedom. I feel powerless as one person, sitting at home. That is a normal response to a bad situation. But, this last decade has awakened in me a real fire to join with others to challenge what I have taken for granted … and that is a blessing. Take care. I appreciate your honesty.

    1. Wow! I am so impressed by your comment. I spent nearly two decades living abroad. Some of the places I have lived some would call “third world” or “developing,” terms I find very condescending. I now realize that I knew almost nothing about my home country until I left it and could observe it from afar. Like you, I now believe that America needs to quit puffing out its chest. Now is the time to quit bragging about how much better, richer, more enlightened, more developed we are than are other peoples and places. Yes, we are rich but so are many other places. There are places that may not have the same money America has, but those places are rich in many other ways. There are lots of ways for a place to be “rich.” Most people admire humility in people. We should admire it in nations too. The value of this experience will be lost if we don’t let it teach us how to be humble. We don’t have to be “number one” in everything all the time. In fact, the mere effort of always trying to best others is psychologically damaging to the one who makes such attempts. Let our greatness be demonstrated by our humility and good will towards all. And, as an educator and a proponent of teaching critical thinking, I think we can learn how to be better by becoming better thinkers. Thank you so much for your really insightful comment.

  3. How does one make sense of mysterious chaos? You don’t. We ride out the storm and just write what comes out. Think of it as a rough draft. Sketches to be turned into something cohesive when the madness subsides.

    1. Absolutely! I’m always a bit disappointed with every piece I write, and I feel the same thing about this one. I guess that’s because I’m thinking too much about product and not enough about process. You’ve reminded me that this is a “sketch”–a perfect term to describe what I’ve put together here. Thanks so much for the comment.

  4. I could so relate to this post and your feelings Troy. Try to instead take care of yourself, through exercise, looking after your skin with moisturisers and creams after washing your hands, and just being kind to yourself, this really helps. Also, switch off the news and limit yourself to consuming it only once per day. This really helps for your mental health, I have found. Take care and stay safe

    1. Thanks for the advice. I do have a compulsion about watching the news. I’ve always been a politics and current events junkie, so obsessively trying to watch televised news is a fault I need to work on. I totally agree that this is a time when we need to take care of ourselves in every way possible. We also need to be as sympathetic and empathetic as possible.

      1. It’s difficult I know to not watch it I know, especially with so much going on 🙂 I read an absolutely brilliant book about it called The News, about why objectvity is pretty much non existent and how the bias towards bad stuff and overlooking the good stuff people are doing everywhere which leads to feelings of fear and anxiety, such a great book it totally blew my mind 🙂

    1. Yes, Texas will survive, but I worry about my father, mother, and stepmother–and all the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. my folks are not as young as they once were and have health conditions that make them quite vulnerable to the virus. The worst is ahead of us in Texas, though. I am pleased to see that most Texans–at least those few I come in contact with–are taking the whole social distancing thing seriously. Thanks for your comment. I wish the best for you and yours.

  5. I feel like I’ve written a few posts myself that haven’t gone anywhere lately. Lots of things on people’s minds. I don’t find the flow of writing to be as easy in the last few weeks. I missed posting twice in one week which I haven’t done in maybe a year. I feel like grabbing the cameras and jumping in the car, going out and coming back with a few hundred new images, but don’t want to put myself public again right now. I should set up a home studio and hone those skills. The future is all about adjusting/adapting.

    1. I used to be into photography myself, when I was a younger person. (I’m old enough to remember the days of darkrooms if you can believe that; in fact, I had one for many years and was pretty serious about black-and-white photography.) There’s some truth to the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yes, some measure of understanding has to come before it’s possible to write anything worth reading. I’m still struggling with that part of the process. I guess you got knocked off your rhythm by this sickness. We all have, in some form or fashion. Thanks for the comment. I really appreciated reading it.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Yes, it came straight from the heart. It’s strange that we’re all “social distancing,” but I feel more connected to people than I have in quite some time.

  6. I’m finding what I write isn’t as important as just writing. When regular life resumes (in whatever form that takes) you’ll be able to take this piece and match it with the others that I hope you write and see the whole picture. No one expects a full story when the ending isn’t visible. Thanks for giving us a piece though.

    1. Thank you for sharing such wise words. I’ve long felt a kind of odd disappointment every time I’ve completed a piece of writing and shared it with others. I suppose that’s because any essay or whatnot is really just a snapshot in time. One’s body of work is that “whole picture” you mention in your comment. I think it would be cool to read a collection of COVID-19 essays once this is all behind us (if that’s how this turns out). I think it would be interesting to see this time period from many different points of view.

  7. Is there any logic or way to appropriately respond to something of this level? Sometimes it feels like there are two major responses 1) hide, and try to ride it out with a can of catfood and some old packets of peanuts, or 2) act like nothing is wrong, and take advantage of other’s fears. The truth lies in the middle – we have to go out, and have some things done with as little face to face contact as possible – even if it’s just to sit in the yard and marvel that you can actually hear the birds. But we can’t take for granted that the last person to handle the apple we bought has washed their hands, and that means we need to make changes in how we view what comes into the house.
    I’ve been feeling very 9/11 about this – that the country I’ve loved will never be the same. Is that a good thing? Maybe – because we’re looking at issues we haven’t REALLY wanted to face before, and we’re adapting. It is my hope, and my “light at the end of the tunnel” is that we will come through this kinder, and perhaps a little less entitled.

    1. Hi, Liz, I’ve missed interacting with you these past few weeks. I think one really good thing that might come out of this is a greater appreciation for those who keep the grocery stores and public transportation systems running and such–those at the bottom of the food chain of our economy. Americans have long looked up to celebrities and those with deep pockets, but there is an appreciation of those among us on the “front lines.” I also hope we become a more politically progressive nation and realize that unless we look after everyone that no one is really looked after. The point of social distancing is this: We’re all in this together and that we all have to make sacrifices to achieve a common good. I’ve long thought that America’s economic system–one that emphasizes competition and rugged individualism–would end up destroying us. Perhaps we can rediscovery–during this challenging time–how interconnected we all are. A person can dream, can’t he? Thanks for reconnecting.

      1. It would be fantastic if more people appreciated those doing jobs they can’t/won’t. It’s going to be up to the people to recognize these worker bees, and continue to appreciate them long after this mess is done.
        I admit to being perplexed by the looking up to celebrities and mega wealthy – often in the same name. There are so many that I find plain tacky, that I’m not impressed. The ones who are doing fundraising or donating $1B, like Jack Dorsey. It’s also amazing to me that people like Christian Sarino are stepping in and making masks instead of multi thousand dollar gowns. This is what we should be looking at and supporting – not people sulking because they had planned an event and can’t have it now. Aren’t people more important than getting your a$$ kissed? *sigh* For some, the answer is “no”.
        As always, lovely to read your thoughts and look at what’s going on in your world. Stay well, my friend.

  8. “felt like a character that had been given a part in a dystopian science fiction movie.” – my wife and I have been talking about having the same feeling, and also about a feeling of floating down a river, being borne away by a force that is too strong to fight against. All the best. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay home. 🙂

    1. I’m find that this is a great moment for irony too. For example, a week or so ago, I read an article about how some Mexican protesters were blocking carloads of Americans from entering Mexico at a checkpoint located in Arizona. They were worried that a horde of disease-carrying Americans were about to enter their country and spread sickness among them. While reading the story I had the thought that maybe Mexico would end up paying for that wall after all.

  9. “Open windows with elbow” 😀 How is it that I once developed similar symptom too – switching on/off lights with elbow (because electric equipments can’t be washed with water for the fear of short circuit) ? Well, now I have stopped doing that (but started doing some alternative).

    1. Hi. I’m glad you picked up on the humor of that sentence. I intended it to be funny. This period is a perfect opportunity to laugh at those dark things that can be both feared and laughed at.

  10. “Where do I want to take this piece ?” – on the contrary, I have been longing to return to my nonfictional blogging, that has finally taken place through latest article #33 – “Is it time to panic or hope ?”, owing to the objective – blog to bring clarity.

    That’s what you could aim for – clear your mind through writing. The message to readers would be just a consequence. Perhaps, it is more than feeling the flow with a dip in water, but to let it flow while standing on the bank to observe the crystal clear water. I’m rambling.

  11. Oh, I’ve been thinking about you during this “sudden” crisis. As you always worry about “sudden necessities”, the present situation would certainly appreciate your wise standpoint and perhaps, fine tune your future planning too.

  12. Thank you for your transparency and being vulnerable. As a counselor, I used to say to my clients that “I don’t know,” was an honest answer. Some experiences take longer to process than others. It is good that you can think deeply about your subject. Perhaps in one of those odd dreams an answer will reveal itself.

    1. Thanks for your comment. A part of my job is similar to what you do in that I lead a self-help group with students who are “at risk.” Before putting my group together, I did lots of research about groups of this type and found that great healing power is bestowed upon the person during the telling of his or her story. Those things which go unspoken have a way of holding a kind of unhealthy power over us. I suppose I saw the blog I was writing as simply an opportunity to speak what had gone unspoken. Take care, my friend, and stay in touch.

  13. Dear Troy
    I think it is obvious to be stressed and worried by the prevailing circumstances. As a responsible human being it is but natural to be worried about our people. I wish and pray for everyone’s good health and well being. My elder bro is also staying in California and we too get tensed by hearing the news update everyday. I really wish this all to be over soon and bring us a new ray of hope and love among the people around the globe. Apologies accepted😀😀
    but now keep writing frequently and keep sharing more and more. Keep enlightening. Stay blessed always.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement and kind words. My thoughts are with you and your family during this trying time. Yes, now more than ever, we need to realize that national borders are artificial contrivances and that we are all part of one great human family. Again, thank you for reading my blog and commenting.

  14. I, too, had a compulsion to read everything coronavirus-related. I felt like I wasn’t getting enough information, or not getting the information that would set me free from it. Madness.

    1. Wow! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! All that reading and getting informed was just my way of trying to free myself from the virus by getting to know it. If fear is a byproduct of ignorance, then courage should result from becoming educated. Now that I look back on my life, this has always been the case for me. Whenever I find myself in an especially challenging situation, my first response is to want to know everything possible about my circumstances. Knowledge truly is power, as is often said. By the way, I looked at your blog and really like your art. Thanks for your comment.

  15. The closer the virus hits home, it seems, the more we obsess on the Corona pandemic. A month I thought wearing masks was a silly hypochondriac overreaction. Now I live and breathe with one on as if were second nature. The uncertainty factor with no precedent to reflect on with this pandemic compounds our fears. I hope we keep writing as you never know who needs our comforting thoughts now.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. It took many of us a bit of time to understand the true magnitude of what we were facing with this virus. For me, the moment of awakening came when I saw the online drone footage that was taken in the city of Wuhan during the period the place was locked down. Not seeing a single person on the streets in a city of that size told me that this was no mere flu. Countries don’t take action like that unless it’s truly warranted. Stay safe, my friend. I agree we all need to keep verbalizing during this interesting and scary moment in world history.

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words. I agree that focus is important. We also need to educate ourselves and be careful to listen to the right people during this time when there’s lots of chatter coming from many quarters.

  16. Thanks for this, Troy. Thanks for your honesty, and for being a part of this community. These times are, simply put, fucked up. While there are many wonderful people, dedicated workers, and silver linings (working at home as a new mom), things are scary. And it’s okay to feel that. It’s okay to say it. The last time I was at the grocery store (a month ago) I almost had a panic attack after seeing so many bare shelves. Hearing the automated announcement say, “Please practice social distancing. Remain at least six feet apart from all customers and associates” was like a scene straight out of a Stephen King novel. It feels unreal, but it is. Anyway, while you apologized for this piece, I thank you for it. It is human. We are human. And we will be okay.

    1. As a student of human nature, I’m really wondering what this experience is going to do to us, how it will change us. I hope we become kinder, gentler, and more empathetic. These are truly interesting times. Thanks so much for your comment.

  17. I think this has become a really coherent post! It has really become challenging times and we had to change many things we relied on. It is a big task for our mind and body, so taking this break was the right thing to do. I find it hard to be as active on the blog for the same reason.

    1. I have heard the same thing from several friends that write. Many got sort of “stuck” or paralyzed early in the pandemic. I think writers need to process, to understand things, before they can record them. This was certainly the case for me. Thanks, Betul. I hope your family in Turkey is doing well.

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