coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, depression

A pandemic diary: Still a man’s best friend

September 18, 2021

I said I wouldn’t get paranoid about the virus again. I lied. Yesterday I almost walked into a restaurant without my mask because I’d distracted myself worrying about other Covid problems. I wake up most mornings exhausted from dreams where I’m struggling against some nebulous, formless foe.

I’ve always been the anxious type. I remember being spooked by a grade-school teacher’s warning that the Russians were about to “bury” us as Soviet leader Khrushchev threatened. In those Cold War days, we had air-raid drills in which we sat on the floor in the hall holding books over our heads: not as bad as active-shooter drills, not exactly reassuring to a kid either.  

Though the early days of the pandemic were far more harrowing than my childhood, the rush of activity — finding masks, learning to work on Zoom, relentless hand-washing etc — helped to calm the nerves. Even if things like wiping down groceries turned out to be wrongheaded, it seemed there were concrete, productive steps we could take.

Now that I’m vaccinated and masked, there’s nothing more I can do. Everything else depends on events and forces far beyond my control, leaving me as powerless as a grain of sand on a stormy beach.

Since I’m over 65 and got Pfizer I’ll be in line for a booster before long. I’d trade that for the knowledge that all of us are committed to fighting this nightmare together, rejecting hatred, making intelligent choices, and looking out for each other. Until that day comes I’m living by the words of John Cale. Take care and be safe.

Darkness warmer than a bedroom floor
Want someone to hold me close forever more
I’m a sleeping dog, but you can’t tell
When I’m on the prowl you’d better run like hell
You know it makes sense, don’t even think about it
Life and death are just things you do when you’re bored
Say fear’s a man’s best friend
You add it up it brings you down

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, depression, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Back into your life it will creep

July 22, 2021

Man in yellow hazard suit and gas mask holding spray bottle.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Among the current flood of bad news is the word that a few fully vaccinated people are testing positive. According to this widely-cited study, their most common symptoms are headache, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and loss of the sense of smell.

I got my second dose of Pfizer in March. I haven’t been in a big crowd since I went to the clinic for that shot. I know the vaccines are highly potent against the raging Delta variant, which is why 99.5% of the people dying are unvaccinated. I still wear an N95 in public places.

Unless we’re talking about University of Michigan football or basketball, I’m a pretty rational guy. Colleagues used to say I could keep a steady hand when things were falling apart. And except for the loss of smell, the effects of my seasonal allergies are almost identical to the Covid symptoms above. So why, when I woke up the other day with a congested nose and a mild sore throat – exactly the kind of allergic post-nasal drip I’ve had for years – did fear grab my insides while I ran to look up those symptoms?

Though it was probably wishful thinking, I thought I was done with pandemic heebie-jeebies. My anxiety went down several notches after we stopped sanitizing groceries and quarantining mail. When the first jab hit my shoulder, I felt real relief and hope.

What probably got to me is the roller-coaster effect: a terrible winter when cases soared, followed by a hopeful spring and early summer, normalcy popping out like the leaves on the trees, and now we’re hurtling backward. Again. A leading vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic says this about Delta: “Don’t be deceived that ‘I got this far and I am OK.’ This is a very different variant. It will find you. This virus will find everybody who is not immune.”

Even though I have as much immunity as anyone, I’m recalibrating. From now on I’m following the doctor’s lead and masking up in all public spaces, indoors and out. However, I will not grind myself down with paranoia. Again.

Doing rational things (and writing about them) helps keep the neurosis at bay. A cold shot of vodka on a hot summer day doesn’t hurt, and neither does some good old rock ‘n roll by the Kinks. Take care and be safe.

Silly boy, you got so much to live for
So much to aim for, so much to try for
You blowing it all with paranoia
You’re so insecure, you self-destroyer
— Ray Davies, “Destroyer”

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, depression

A pandemic diary: Loss and limbo

March 22, 2021

Kent Taylor.

Since I’m older than 65 and fully vaccinated, I’m apparently supposed to be out carousing with my fellow geezers, celebrating my return to a normal life. Instead, I’m worrying over the death of someone I didn’t even know.

That person is Kent Taylor (above), founder and CEO of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain, who committed suicide last week. His family and the company say he’d been suffering from post-Covid symptoms, “including severe tinnitus.”

I’ve had tinnitus for years. Though it affects over 50 million people in the USA alone, it’s largely invisible because no one else hears the ringing, hissing, and other noise in the ears that sufferers do. Probably for the same reason, it’s not a well-known effect of Covid. However, studies have found the virus can cause tinnitus and hearing loss, or make existing tinnitus worse. Like the loss of taste or smell, these problems may persist after the victim has otherwise recovered. The pure stress of the pandemic can aggravate the ringing, too.

When my tinnitus set in, I was bewildered and scared stiff. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that two million people have extreme, debilitating cases. For Kent Taylor, “the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable.” He not only battled back for himself, he committed to funding a study to help members of the military fight tinnitus. He gave up his own salary and bonus last year when the restaurants lost all their customers. He sounds like the kind we can’t afford to lose, yet he was just one of thousands who died last week.

Meanwhile, cases are trending up again, some caused by variants that the vaccines might not stop, and we’re still besieged by anti-vaxxers and non-maskers. Between all that and the prospect of another frightening flareup in my tinnitus if I get sick, I’m not celebrating. After making it this far, I’m damned if I’ll risk everything for a burger, a haircut, or the pleasure of trudging around a mall on sore feet.

If you’ve recently developed tinnitus or a long-term case has gotten worse, the ATA can help you understand what’s happening and find a provider. If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You’re not alone, just like none of us have been alone for the past year. Take care and be safe.

Update: These articles have more detail about the Covid-tinnitus link:

Covid 19 pandemic, depression, life, new old age

State of the (re)union

Though we’ve just plunged into 2021, I’m already musing about an unwelcome milestone coming in 22: my fiftieth high school class reunion. I have no intention of going, yet it’s looming on my mental horizon like a lake freighter with a cargo of memories, most of which I’d just as soon forget.

That period wasn’t terrible, because I learned a lot and went on to a great university. It wasn’t “Happy Days” or “The Wonder Years” either. My father died during my last semester of junior high (the 1960s-70s version of middle school), and I began high school depressed and shaken, always waiting for the next catastrophe to strike. Those emotions must have been written on my face because some wiseass in gym started calling me “Smiley.” All this was on top of adjusting to a new place and starting to think seriously about college. (I know I’m dating myself: today they probably hand out Harvard brochures with the apple juice in preschool.)

Eventually the black dog left my side, but I was still light years from being a cool kid or BMOC. Naturally shy, bookish, and hopeless at sports, I would’ve been a nerd or a geek if those words had been invented yet. I was even in the chess club (second from right, with more hair than I’ve had since).

Dave watching chess match with club members and faculty advisor.
Any future grandmasters here?

Instead of a Hollywood fairy tale where the ugly ducklings soar, high school was a slog, like a visit to the DMV or a stomach virus. Once I got to college, though, the bad vibes faded fast. At freshman orientation I partied, played Frisbee on the football field, and began to find my new self. I kept in touch with a couple of old friends for a while, but we soon went separate ways. I never made it to the tenth, twentieth, or any other reunions.

So why am I preoccupied by this one? I’m on the far side of 65, when we tend to think about the past and our mortality, especially now. I’m also reminded of those I’ve lost, including three classmates who died long ago, one from HIV, two by suicide. I realize that this reunion is my last chance to be with those who are left. I also know that some of them would look at my name tag and still see only the geek. I’m not going halfway across the country for that.

The best thing I took from high school was “Our Town,” and its message about life: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?” and, “Once in a thousand times, it’s interesting.” I won’t waste a minute reliving a past I never wanted anyway. I wish everyone a happy time; I just won’t be there. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, depression, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Dog doldrums

August 21, 2020

These are unquestionably the dog days of August. Not because people are rushing to find pups for companionship, often acting on impulses that both humans and pooches will regret. (Hint: Be sure you’re not dealing with a puppy mill, and if you don’t like early-morning walks, you’d best forget the whole thing).

Sleeping Dogs 1977 movie poster of Sam Neill holding pistol.
Streaming now

I’m talking about gloom and ennui,* the creeping, sometimes galloping pandemic fatigue that’s shadowing everybody. The soundtrack of my life, which used to segue from “Kick Out the Jams” to “No Surrender” to “I Feel Free,” has abruptly gone country, as in “My Give A Damn’s Busted.”

I still care a great deal about staying well, keeping others safe, and electing people who will lead us out of here. I just can’t muster the energy for much else, even writing, which should be the ideal job for an introverted grouch with time on his hands. (Of course, I don’t know anyone like that. Do you?)

There’s a lot of chatter these days about resilience, which is in danger of being co-opted by the marketing mob, like “empowerment.” As this article says, “resilience” is often code for, “You’re on your own.” (See Iowa derecho, Hurricanes Katrina and Michael, etc.) Of course, this interpretation also could sound like shaming: Are you being strong, or just letting the slugs take advantage of you?

Like most of us, I’ve seen enough adversity to become reasonably tough. The trouble is that I’d have to be 102 years old to have lived through a pandemic. We’ve lost our home field and the goalposts aren’t just moving, they’re doing sprints every time things seem to be settling down.

It’s no wonder that, as another article points out, our mental and emotional surge protectors are fried. This piece suggests several ways to stay sane, like “Focus on maintaining and strengthening important relationships,” and “Expect less from yourself.” That’s a hard one, because I still live by the advice I got when I started out in journalism years ago: Be your own toughest critic.

Said critic is already roasting this post and telling me to do something more productive, like binge-watching 1970s British TV. I can’t shut him up, but I can cut through the murk and end today’s chapter on a more positive note. Take care and be safe.


*My candidate for most overused word of the year. I promise not to use it again. Hopefully next year’s MOW will be something like “cure,” “vaccine,” or “recovery.”