Awaking is a pause these days. Not the full-body stretch, wide yawn, and ready-for-motion exercise it once was. No, a long morning pause is my new not-normal.
First, I survey my breathing and congestion. I have allergies. This year, our North Florida spring started the first of January and is still an April work-in-progress peppered with late winter and early summer days. Bushes and trees that normally bloom once have done so multiple times, painting pollen like a thick sickly-green paint over everything. A car washed at 9 am looks unwashed by 10:30. Lawn, patio, and porch furniture must be wiped down before sitting, even if they were cleaned a few hours earlier. Springtime clouds of pollen are normal for us but not for three months going on four.
Most mornings of my life and in spite of a nighttime allergy pill, I awoke with congestion — so normal for me that I can’t remember what that normal felt like. Now, I must try to remember so I can compare it to the possibility of very abnormal virus symptoms.
Was my nose this congested/runny before the new not-normal? Did I always have a pillow of phlegm in my throat when I woke up? In the days of old normal, did I want to cough upon waking as I do now?
Are these symptoms old normal or new not-normal?
I squeeze my eyes tight, hoping to trigger memories of how I used to be, how this 65-year-old body used to feel at 6:30 am. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember normal, common, routine.
I rise and prepare myself for dog-walking in the new not-normal world. I blow my nose. Is the result more or less than it used to be? Is that the beginnings of a sore throat that I feel? Damn, I want to cough! Did I always cough before brushing my teeth? Sigh, I can’t remember.
Once I am on the sidewalk in our residential neighborhood with a dog trotting eagerly ahead, I breathe in the cool-ish morning air. Immediately, the urge to cough overcomes me. Did I cough while walking in the old normal world? I try to suppress the cough, morphing it into a sneeze that I also try to suppress.
I am so hyper-vigilant of sneezing and coughing that I can’t do them normally anymore. To do so would strike fear in anyone nearby and in myself.
After 45-minutes of walking, the air no longer feels cool-ish. In fact, I feel warm, flushed. It can’t be more than 60 degrees, which doesn’t come close to “warm” in Florida. I feel the need to slip off my sweater. Am I sick? Do I have a fever?
I pause as I did when my eyes first opened almost an hour before and survey my body, thinking about the walk that is almost over. My dog stopped less. She kept up a steady, quick pace. My legs feel a little tired. Maybe, I should be warm. Maybe, being warm is the normal way to feel right now after such a walk. Maybe, I am okay.
And, so it goes, all day, every day. A sneeze, a cough, a throat tickle, a feeling of warmth, a wheeze, a wave of fatigue — each one is a panic button.
Speaking of fatigue, this constant state of fear, confusion, and focused-attention is exhausting. Trying to juggle working at home with working in a frightening, virus-riddled world adds to the energy-depletion. Some duties don’t conform well to the new not-normal.
My new not-normal is a balancing act to stay appropriately informed about the global health crisis without being news-blasted into depression, curled in a cocoon of fear, unable to be anything close to normal.
Every bit of this is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.
Perhaps, it’s now normal to feel drained before breakfast and zapped by dinner.
Maybe, this is the new not-normal.