Note: This is long, and it is my attempt to respond to Beckett’s call in his article, “Letter to my Fellow Pagan Priests in this Time of Isolation and Uncertainty,” to be more vulnerable.
I remember sitting down to dinner with two of my friends sometime in mid-January, and we were discussing the earthquakes in Puerto Rico and how something like that had not happened in a century. We also discussed other historical storms. At one point, we talked about how the only thing that hadn’t yet happened was a global pandemic…as the last one had happened over 100 years ago.
That conversation still haunts me because it almost seemed to predict the situation we are facing now, with the Covid19 pandemic. The rational part of my mind knows that a conversation like that between friends cannot actually cause a global trauma to occur; the CPTSD that I live with every day makes me feel guilt and shame for even having the conversation because it tells me that somehow the conversation turned speculation into reality. That’s obviously impossible, but the trauma disorder twists my emotions into irrational and incoherent knots.
On top of that, when the virus hit NC near the beginning of March, I was at home dealing with allergic bronchitis that had turned into bacterial pneumonia. I spent nearly a week and a half feeling like I was going to die – I had to go into the doctor’s office for a nebulizer treatment, was prescribed Levaquin, Prednisone, and Albuterol (inhaler) – and that was the week before my university’s scheduled spring break.
When I had halfway recovered, I spent the entirety of that original spring break writing the rest of my thesis (which I am now revising). By the time that was done, I was still dealing with a terrible cough from the bronchitis-pneumonia and my school had announced a second spring break and a complete switch to online classes for the rest of the semester.
For me, that second spring break and the week following it felt surreal. I ended up going through periods of depersonalization and derealization; it felt like the world was no longer real and I had woken up in some alternate dimension to the reality I was supposed to be in. Because of that hazy-at-the-edge feeling of the world at large, I turned to what I normally do when I feel overwhelmed – research and the consumption of information.
I read absolutely every article I could find about Covid19 for two weeks straight, often spending entire days glued to my computer just to find out more information about the virus, how it spread, who was at risk, and what to do to lessen risk. I obsessively researched information about materials and liquids that were anti-microbial; I invested in a copper salt rinse because copper is antimicrobial (and I have bad allergies).
I bought hand sanitizer for the first time in my life – I hate hand sanitizer because the alcohol in it cracks my skin – and antibacterial wipes for my car. I dug out a relatively unused can of Lysol wipes from my cleaning supplies and sanitized every surface in my apartment; I started sanitizing groceries when I brought them home. I started opening mail, throwing away the packaging, then letting the items sit for 3 days before even daring to touch them. Every time I go out, I put my hair up and I twist on hair-ties to the end of my glasses to keep them from sliding down my face so I am not tempted to touch my face.
I bought non-medical grade nitrate gloves, and I have the materials to make a cloth mask…which I will use as soon as the county where I live has over 10 cases (right now it’s under that) because I cannot breathe well and thus hate wearing masks. I have asthma, exacerbated by allergies, so masks tend to reinforce for me exactly how hard it is for me to breathe normally. I generally have to breathe through my mouth.
I paid attention to the little details in news articles about what people were hoarding, what the poorest people were having the hardest time accessing, and I went out of my way to avoid those items, despite being a food stamp beneficiary myself. I refused to become a panic buyer because I knew that buying selfishly could result in the loss of someone else’s ability to feed their children, and I absolutely did not want that on my conscience.
I purposefully limited myself to no more than 2 of anything I picked up unless it was very obviously untouched/well-stocked (like diced tomatoes; I ended up with 5 cans of those). I bought no more than 2 of any meat item even though I knew from a friend who works in the meat processing industry that the meat supply chain was definitely impacted because meat processing plants around the country were shutting down. I did the best I could to avoid canned meats, knowing first-hand that often the only kind of protein that poor children get comes in the form of Vienna sausages, Spam, and canned tuna/chicken. Any item labeled WIC, I avoided, grabbing the cheapest non-WIC alternative I could find.
I refused to use cash, and any time a store employee asked about a store card, I gave them a phone number instead of reaching for my wallet to pull it out just to minimize contact for them, as they are some of the people most at-risk. I also used the antibacterial wipes I keep in my car after the grocery trip, wiping down my hands, my car keys, my door handles, my steering wheel, my phone, my purse, and the card I used to make the purchase. Once at home, I brought the groceries in, washed my hands, sanitized the counter, and used Lysol wipes to wipe everything down and threw away all of the bags that I brought the groceries home in. Normally, I keep plastic grocery bags to use as trash bags in the bathroom; I have enough stockpiled that I am not doing that any longer.
I went to my dad’s house before the stay-at-home order was issued in NC so that I could do laundry there instead of at a shared laundry facility with the rest of the apartment complex where I live. I didn’t want the added stress of having to sanitize the laundry room every time I used it. I bought a laundry additive to help kill allergens to help reduce the potential risk for me getting a second round of allergic bronchitis…my allergies/asthma put me at a higher risk if I do contract Covid19…so lessening the impact of my allergies right now is incredibly important.
After those two weeks of obsessively consuming information about the virus and how to lessen the risk to myself, I have mostly moved away from reading the news. I got what I needed from it – what I can do to protect myself and others to the best of my ability. I am doing those things. I am washing my hands, maintaining social distancing policies, and doing everything I can when I go to a grocery store to minimize contact between myself and others. I am sanitizing my car when I get out of the store and my groceries when I get home. I am doing everything I can, and, for me, that has been enough for me to regain some sense of reality.
The world doesn’t seem hazy now; I’m not experiencing derealization and depersonalization anymore. I have, for the most part, adapted to this new reality. I am still struggling to carve out time for doing work – I have a paper on Zimbabwe to write, a movie to watch and respond to, thesis revisions to work on, and all of my work as a graduate teaching assistant to do. I actually wrote out a schedule to follow this week, and that has helped. I’ve never done well working from home (too many distractions), so I’m having to find new and inventive ways to trip myself into work mode.
Religiously, I have started working with the Egyptian triad of Ptah-Sekhmet-Nefertm. Ptah is a creator god, essentially a god of architecture. Sekhmet is a goddess of war and disease, both the spreading and prevention of it. Nefertm is the god of beauty and perfume; some sources also suggest that he is a god of medicine. This triad of gods showed up for me almost as soon as Covid19 was declared a global pandemic.
Loki, of course, is as present as ever. Although not an aspect as well-known as his trickster aspect, Loki himself is a god of healing. Many Lokeans can attest to this, as he has helped many of us deal with emotionally and physically traumatic pasts. He is also a god of change, a catalyst for what lies ahead. While it is uncomfortable that the world is changing because of a pandemic, the truth is that it *is* changing. What awaits us on the other side of that is still unknown. I find that working with Loki helps me tolerate the uncertainty of what is coming more easily, and he helps me find humor even in my darkest moments.
Helping others has always helped me cope with my own traumatic past, one that was rife with being constantly told that I was a burden and unwanted. When I can help someone else, guide someone else through darkness, it lessens that gnawing uncertainty inside me that has me constantly questioning if my existence even matters. When I am able to help someone else, I gain a momentary respite and can breathe into the knowledge that I can have a positive impact on the world. That is the only legacy I need; the invisible hand of the actions I take that have helped others find their own way through the darkness. I don’t need stories told about me or worry about what will be left of me when I do pass. The knowledge that I have helped someone, somewhere, who has then been able to go forward into their own light…that’s enough for me.
I once wondered why Loki chose me to be his priest, but I no longer do. Like Loki, I often act as a catalyst. I end up in places where I am needed to create bridges across divides for other people; I show people paths that they might not otherwise consider. And then I let them make their own decisions because no one else’s path is mine to determine. Knowing that I have helped create those bridges, helped forge connections between people and groups…that’s legacy enough.
From here on out, I am available for those who need guidance from one of Loki’s chosen clergy. I have, as it were, put my own mask on first, so now I can help you with yours if you need it. It has taken time, but adjusting to change often does. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find me on Facebook in the Loki’s Wyrdlings group.
May luck be with you.