The Shadow Pandemic

Do you remember where you were when you knew things weren't going back to normal last March? I was in my office with a colleague when I heard in person classes were cancelled. "Where's the whiskey?" My office mate shouted. "We need whiskey."  Most of NYC felt the need for such comfort as our restaurants, bars, and theatres shut down, some for good.  We lost the best part of living in here--physical community--in a matter of days. 

"Celebration for One." Alt Text: Picture of an empty, individual-sized Prosecco bottle sitting on an old mailbox.

You might  be asking what a post emergency pandemic life looks like after a year of being apart. Because even if you quarantined by yourself or with family, each of us experienced little deaths of ourselves, dreams that we had at the beginning of 2020 that were either put on hold or dissipated altogether amid loss, sickness, and financial insecurity, and relationship struggles. 

"Trapped among Treasures." Alt Text: A crouched masked girl peering out from a square mirror. A lampshade sits in font of her while a skirt hangs on the railing behind her.

Many of us have changed in appearance and shape, transformed by a long year of isolation and unprocessed grief. We sought comfort in whiskey, working out, wearing sweatpants or making bread. We scrolled Tik Tok and binged on Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Prime. I watched my face grow more lined and angry, and was secretly thankful for public masks and long walks along empty streets that held cast-off treasures. Mirrors left on the sidewalk transformed into uncanny reflections of a shattered city while flowers continued to bloom. 

Blooms and Ladders. Alt Text: Sideways mirror on NYC sidewalk reflecting fire escapes from unseen building. Above the reflection, a batch of tulips bloom around a tree. 

Like you, I tried to be thankful every day and hold onto good news. Like you, I tried to be there for my friends and students, often failing miserably. We were, and still are, collectively dealing with deep grief and unmediated depression and anxiety. The mirrors in New York City either reflect or contain that Shadow World, which, at some point, we must navigate in order to find healing. 

"Gothic Chelsea." Alt Text: Picture of a mirror reflected a gothic church door and partial tree. At its base, a strange mask and to the side on the wall, some interstitial creature with horns, perhaps. Or just dried brown pain. You decide. 

This Spring you might find yourself being simultaneously hopeful and exhausted. You might not know who you are anymore--alone, or with other people. I've had sporadic dinners with pod friends over the past year, but nothing close to real, sustainable community, no touch longer than quick hug. I wonder what I'll look like by the time I can be in a group, maskless and yet changed, a time traveler finally trapped by time. 

I am probably not the only one. Many people have now shared space with those of us who have dealt with anxiety and depression for a long time. I often feel like there is a sheet of glass between me and the world, preventing me from feeling fully human. The pandemic only flattened that space--a mirror squared. As we slowly come out of this winter, I hope we  can look at each other with the same appreciation we give our spring flowers: amazed at their beauty, resilience, fragility, and temporality. It might be a long time before we find ourselves again. 

Alt Text: Picture of a girl in yellow dress looking out from round mirror, crouched beside an umbrella as big as she is. Behind her, a fire escape. One will take her up and away. 



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