Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

22-3. Post-Covid Reluctance

Even though we’re not quite out of the pseudo-apocalyptic fear period, one can see a light that looks like freedom. And I’m not talking about transport trucks, just a small beacon pointing the way to a time of more choice, more options, and hopefully, more tolerance – more like the ‘olden times’ normal.

I for one have not been quiet about my general disagreement with the extreme measures our governments have implemented, following the advice our public health ‘experts’, to try to contain the effects of the covid pandemic. And who can blame our politicians? With very little precedent to go on, against a continuous cycle of fear and criticism flowing from our mainstream media, politicians found themselves between a rock and a hard place when it came to public support. Public health experts had only one objective – contain the virus – and everyone (except perhaps Sweden) seemed to rely on the WHO model, which looked a lot like the actions taken in the Republic of China. There seemed to be no interest in seeking to balance competing societal goals. In the circumstances, perhaps the politicians had no options, and hindsight is so wonderfully clear.

But all that is behind us now, or nearly so. Or so we hope. Mandates are being lifted, protocols are being relaxed, international travel is resuming, with fewer restrictions.

I can return to The Philippines and bring my asawa back to Canada. I should be happy. 

But, yet….

This return to some sort of former normalcy is yet another change. And, as we all know, none of us really likes change. We’ve all got used to being locked down and we’re a bit timid to venture out again. Even those adventurers among us who claim they do embrace change, something inside them whispers, ‘are you sure this is what you want?’

The human brain is a predictive machine, and it doesn’t like ambiguity. It builds up mental models of what it has experienced so far, what works in similar circumstances, and repeats behaviour when those situations come again. It becomes confused and anxious when the circumstances are unfamiliar, or when the old strategies don’t work this time. This is why we became so grumpy when we had to adjust our daily behaviour to the threat of covid infection. We doubted ‘the science’, we bristled at the restrictions, we complied to be socially conforming but resented our own complicity. Even those who accepted the public health claims and requirements, and retreated to the safety of their houses for the last 24 months, probably harboured at least some sense of loss.

I wasn’t fearful, but I sure felt the sense of loss. Doubly so since I lived alone, with my dogs dead, and my asawa 12,000 miles away. But surely these lockdown protocols were temporary. So we waited, and waited.

I was in The Philippines when the world-wide curtain came down, 2020 March 16th. I was scheduled to return to Canada March 23, but I had some sort of bug and knew it was pointless to present myself to airport security in Manila. So I stayed. This will pass in a couple of weeks, we thought.

It didn’t pass. By May I began to be very concerned that I couldn’t stay longer in The Philippines and have my medical insurance coverage expire. But it also was unclear whether Carmen would be allowed to enter Canada on a tourist visa, and not having ‘close family member’ status. Carmen was unwilling to risk being turned away by CBSA and be forced to return to Philippines, alone. And who could blame her? We should have risked it. The CBSA agent who met me when I arrived in Vancouver asked where my companion was; I told him and he said, ‘too bad, she could have been admitted’. 

But by then Filipino authorities had closed their borders to Filipinos leaving the country if they were traveling only on a tourist visa. Carmen was trapped in her own country and we were to be separated for the next 22 months. Thank goodness for Messenger and Skype for unlimited facetime, and Western Union for international money transfers! But it is not normal to sustain a long-distance romance by Messenger, and for such a long time, without physical contact. It is not normal to be separated by 12000 miles and twelve hours in time zones, for almost two whole years.

And yet, the brain adapts. 

Our new normal became internet calls four or five times a day, sharing cyber-meals and bedtime shifted by 12 hours (13 during EST!). Our new normal was me living alone in Kanata (and even more so when I had to have Bonnie euthanized last year), while Carmen juggled all her family dynamics in the suburbs of Trece Martires. Our new normal was Carmen reporting daily on her three little businesses, trying to save money for her old age retirement, while I confronted my computer, driving words out of it for my semi-monthly blogs and annual books.

And now all this is about to change. And I’m reluctant, nervous even.

Part of this reluctance is the obvious: My daily routines are about to change, again. So are Carmen’s, but she seems more eager than I. She tends to live in the now, where as I tend to worry about what the future will bring. I think I am more realistic, but that doesn’t make me more happy. We spent a year, in 2019 and 2020, in Kanata and then in Cavite, trying to see if we could thrive being together, as a couple. We were making real progress when our journey to resolve differences and accommodate one another was shaken by the Covid constraints on our lives. We adapted to being worlds apart and our relationship has persisted. But this was about to change. I was/am nervous about this.

I’ve written on this previously: 22 months of adjustment to society’s new regulations was a loss from normal expectations, from what we had expected our lives to be. For many it was opportunity, but for many others it was lost time, and loss of significant life experiences. When you are 30-something and your life patterns are largely established (or 40- or 50-something) these last two Covid years have been just a part of a life, replaced with different experiences than expected. When you are 15 or 19, these life losses are huge, because these years are highly formative and won’t ever come again: these young people will never experience the joy of playing a football game, or being in a school band, or go to the prom, or graduation day, or going off to university and experiencing frosh week, gaining independence from parents. For older people, like me, two years out of a shrinking reservoir of health years is a big loss.

In a strange way the two years lost may also have been perceived as not lost absolutely, only relatively. Maybe Einstein was right, [time slows with the increase in speed], only maybe it’s the reverse – time slows in the absence of activity. For me, and I think for many of us, the last two years became as one continuous event, an ever repeating ‘Groundhog Day’ movie, resulting in a fog of lost time. For me it even felt like time has been suspended. Of course my rational cognitive mind knows time continued, and there is evidence that many things have happened in the last two years, and things accomplished, but in terms of daily habit, everything seemed much the same. I was 72 when covid began, and two years later I’m still only 72. Or put another way, at 72 I had maybe eight more years of productive life left; now at 74 I delude myself into thinking I still have eight more years of productive life left. But my rational mind can still do arithmetic, and I realize I’ve been robbed. And not just robbed of time and remaining years of productive life, I’ve lost money too; the two years of suspended life still ate up two years of retirement assets (and then some as I supported my Filipino family devastated economically by covid depression). So even if I do have eight more years of vitality left, I may not have eight more years of sufficient cash flow.

But it’s over now, or almost, and we can get back to our original plans. Right? So why do I feel this post-covid reluctance? Well, some of it has to do with the ‘Seven Stages of Grief’ model, or even Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages model, both of which actually have to do more with change than grief: after we get over shock and anger, and then bargaining, we settle into depression, and even as we venture into testing new possibilities we have set-backs and regress to anger and depression.  The covid crisis may be over but I’m still in the last stages of anger and depression (and I think a lot of us are). We have adapted to a state of ‘learned helplessness’, a sort of agoraphobia, and that almost feels normal, so normal that we are fearful of venturing out again and living life vigourously. Moreover, we’re skeptical that this recovery is real, it’s merely a lull and the virus fear will come back and new restrictions will be imposed all over again, and the zombie life cycle continues. Or even if the recovery lasts it will take a long time to get completely back to the old normal of social norms and expectations, tolerance and acceptance. And time is something I no longer have the luxury of wasting. Of course, you might say, especially if you have been reading my blogs over the last three years, we never have time to waste, carpe diem, there are seven days in a week, and someday isn’t one of them.

So rather than dwell on the losses, or fuss about the uncertain future (well, let me rephrase that, the ‘future’ is certain, we just don’t know when it will happen) we need to live in the present. Manage our resources, act with prudence, but get on with life.

Still, I envy the Doug Jordan I was three years ago, hair on fire, and excited to go to The Philippines to find love and happiness.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

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