Thursday, May 21, 2020

Let the bubble burst: Corona Chronicles ~ Day 62

bubble and baby feet in La Jolla, CA
📷Suparna Kudesia

what do i want to give you?
what do i want to leave behind?

money? shelter? memories? legacies?


 -- of how to stand up when you fall
and when to get out of gravity's way?

how to catch a bus
and not a cold without losing your cool?

how to pause
and never forget how to play?

i could leave you with a handbook on putting your guard up -
which fences work well to keep your demons away
what materials are the strongest
and which crumble over time
sticks and stones rarely work though
that much I know

i could teach you to show up, lift up, fist up
and other metaphors that basically mean
what you always say when I ask you
what do you want to be when you grow up

i could show you how to fight for yourself
when you want to freeze
and run as fast and far as you can
and i can remind you it's ok to freeze and flee too
sometimes though
you need to fight a bigger fire
i could help you find your own reservoir

i could show you how to really see water flowing -
it might teach you a thing or two about
how to move mountains with your fiery tears

and then
there are things i still don't know
those i'm still learning --

how many times to wash your hands
before the voice in your head tells you
you're clean
you're safe
you're enough

how to quiet voices you never
gave permission to scream

how to live right along death
knowing that all we really have
is a countdown to all this ending

we get to choose
do we want to stare at the clock ticking down
or move in total violation
to dance holding each hand of that ticking-down clock
in a flashmob so furious and gorgeous that time
s t o p s
to give you a standing ovation

i don't know how to do these things


so while i practice
i tell myself

and i have more to give you
than a collection of compulsions

i have more to share with you

like --

when you put on your mask
i hope you'll check
if it's on right
if you're comfortable
and who you're letting in
while keeping the world out

i have more to ask you

like --

what do you see
in a sink full of soap bubbles?

i hope you never see the loss of

and what do you see
when we blow bubbles outside?

do you see a little dreamy part of you flying away?

what will you call these bubbles -
full of your dreams?

what will you wish for these bubbles -
as they float away - awkwardly

what will you tell your bubbles -
as they leave you?

and what will you do when they burst?

My dear M,

Long before I met daddy, I already struggled with OCD. Every time daddy got sick, I would blame myself and wondered if I had been careful enough. I washed my hands again and again as if I could wash away all the world's germs that might get daddy sick. I learned through therapy and healing work that I could only control so much and learned to understand my triggers. Through years of CBT, EMDR, psychotherapy, storytelling, group-work, etc., I slowly felt like I was getting a handle on things. I would calm my reptilian brain by activating my prefrontal cortex and my parasympathetic nervous system through meditative, energy-based, and kinesthetic techniques I've practiced over the years. I felt like I wasn't becoming my triggers, my compulsions, and my intrusive thoughts. I felt stronger than them. I felt like I was healing (another letter for another day about what I'm healing from).

And then this pandemic happened.

And we got very sick. And as a parent, it's my job to keep you safe. As daddy's partner, I take his care and advocacy very seriously. I felt like I failed on every count. I felt like I didn't do enough to keep you and us safe. On a typical pre-Covid day, I would always have hand sanitizer with me, washed my hands frequently, avoided being around sick people, and double-checked anything I thought could keep us safe. Since Covid-19, the whole world seems to have been given the same directive I have been following without any help from the CDC, and only assisted by my own trauma and resulting compulsions.

In some ways, I felt less alone. Hey - I wasn't the only one washing my hands for 20 seconds! People started posting the perfect songs to accompany their 20-second routine. I've had a playlist full of them I've curated over the last 20 years. People started sharing memes about good hand-washing techniques. I'm usually ready for surgery after a single hand-wash. So in this way, I felt seen.

In other ways, I felt like my cushy little spot on the rug I had finally carved for myself got pulled so violently from under me. An example of something I'd tell myself in the time of B.C. (Before Covid) is, "It's okay to touch the doorknob. My hands are clean. No need to wash them again." In the time of Covid, I couldn't do that. My coping mechanism was rendered dangerous and totally not feasible.

And we still got sick.

You'd think that the fact that I couldn't control daddy getting exposed would rationally help me see the disconnect between the cracks in my hands and the sickness. But that's not how OCD works. The more out of control I felt, the more control I tried to (re)claim through well-practiced choreography of soap and water.

And it's exhausting. It's exhausting being this anxious, feeling this scared, and hearing this loud voice in my head telling me I'm never going to get better.

And I want to be different for you. I want to show you that healing is as much a process as it is possible. And I'm well on my journey in this process of healing. Covid definitely created a roadblock - a deep swamp to wade through, a hardened hillside to climb - but I've got a lot to fight for, and a lot waiting for me at my manzil.

Thanks for being a big source of my strength and my most resilient teacher. Always,
Your mamma

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Scars: Corona Chronicles ~ Day 57

Dear M,

It's been 57 days since my first symptom of Covid-19, and I'm writing this between alternating puffs of inhalers and deep reaches for a full breath (I went for a walk for the first time in over 60 days and after about 5 mins of slow walking, my whole body was shaking and I was breathless). Everyday, I imagine what I will tell you about this time when you're older, but each day you are getting older, and I still haven't figured out all the words I want to say to you. I fumble, but as you will assuredly learn about your mamma - words are what I do best. So here goes...

57 days ago, my throat randomly and suddenly started hurting, my tummy started giving me trouble, and this happened after a couple days of what I thought was an allergy-induced runny nose. I didn't think much of it - the weather was changing, and one thing was sure until 58 days ago - it couldn't have been Covid. How could it?

To tell you a little more, I have to go beyond 57 and even 58 days ago, to about 30+ years ago.

33 years ago, your daddy was born a warrior - he came out blue and ready to fight - for air, for a chance, and for his life. He was not even a few hours old when he had his first ride in an ambulance to get his heart looked at carefully. He would become a pro at heart surgery by age 4. As he got older, he kept fighting and grew stronger with each fight. When I met daddy, he was already a trained fighter, and I was glad I got to be on his team - fighting with him and for him.  Sometimes people don't understand what it takes to fight like this. Fighting for your life on a daily basis leaves different types of scars and also different stories to go with each scar. There are scars from the time daddy couldn't breathe, others from the time he was so sick for over 6 months because he got exposed to someone who wasn't vaccinated against a really preventable disease. Some scars I still see - like the one he got from getting exposed to germs that made him so sick 2 years ago that he developed life-long food allergies and he (we) had to completely alter his (our) diet.

It's these scars that haven't fully healed that make it hard sometimes for mamma to go to the kitchen - because for 2 months everything I cooked made daddy so sick and we didn't know why. It's these scars that haven't healed that lead us to change plans when someone we want to hang out with is sick, or when there's a mumps or measles outbreak in your school, and we keep you home. And every time we do, it feels like someone is jabbing deeper into daddy's scars when they ask, "What's the big deal? It'll help your immunity!" The thing is though - not everyone's immunity looks and behaves the same way - and it's not okay to force someone to disclose their scars to prove that they have a legitimate reason to be careful.

I want you to know about one of these scars in today's story...

In December 2019 (as far as we know), the first case of a superbug called novel Coronavirus showed up in the world. For most people, a scary bug somewhere far away may not spark fear, but I remember turning to daddy and asking, "What if it spreads everywhere and you get it?" in December 2019! You'll learn this about your mamma - I excel at imagining and voicing worst-case scenarios, and daddy excels at calming me down.

By February 2020, it was still only slowly spreading in the US (as far as we know), and by February 29 - daddy and I had begun cancelling all plans for travel March onwards. In the first week of March, there was only one known case in all of San Diego county, and EVERYTHING was still open - schools, colleges, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, cafes, malls, parks, playgrounds, beaches, etc. We went to the grocery store on February 22nd and that was the last time for us before everything closed (and to the day I write this). In the first week of March, daddy and I began to make plans to start staying at home - we stocked up on dal, chawal, soap, and diapers. We started telling colleagues, professors, classmates, and your school teachers that we were going to stay home. Often we were met with confusion or questions. Others offered us placations and told us it wasn't a big deal. We didn't know if we were overreacting, but we knew we couldn't afford to find out. What we did know was that Covid-19 was new, and was killing elderly folx and people with compromised immune symptoms (like daddy), underlying conditions like, heart disease (your daddy), respiratory illness (your daddy), and on immunosuppressants (your daddy).

So we began our usual "care-taking routine". We stopped going to crowded places, stocked up on essentials as much as possible and was responsible, and stepped away from public commitments. We decided on a Tuesday evening that it would be your last day at school and I'm still sorry you didn't get to say a proper goodbye to your friends and teachers that day. None of us thought that almost 2 months later, we would still be in this position. I'll write you another letter about the emotional rollercoaster you (and we) have gone through, especially when you don't fully understand what's going on, but you do know that everything you knew has shifted.

One thing was different in this time's "care-taking routine" - Daddy came out. Daddy decided this was important and big enough that he needed to let his friends and colleagues know why he was going to be staying home even before everything else shut down. The stakes were much much higher than pink eye going around. Though we also know how painful that was! This forced coming out that daddy had to do has a lot to do with the world not always understanding invisible disabilities and illnesses. We live in a pretty fucked up colonialist-capitalist world where often times our lives are measured by how much "work" we can produce, at whatever cost. I hope you always know how hard we are fighting to build a different world with you. So anyway, daddy decided he was going to go for one last meeting to tell his friends that he wouldn't be going to work physically anymore. It was at this meeting that daddy got exposed to Covid-19.

But we didn't know then. And we didn't know until 58 days ago for daddy and 57 days ago for me what was happening to us.

It was really confusing at first. Daddy got sniffly, his throat was hurting, he was tired and weak beyond belief and without explanation, his tummy was hurting, he was coughing, and he couldn't breathe well. We thought allergies...a cold...a random bug? Until we found out that someone at that meeting had also been sick and traveled. 58 days ago, we found out. By then, daddy already had been sick for a few days, and so you and I had already been exposed.

I felt so stupid, so utterly humiliated, bewildered, and completely defeated. We had tried so hard. Friends were helping us with grocery shopping, we hadn't even gone for walks, and we had been SO careful before this was being taken seriously by most people. And we still got sick.

The cut had been made.

And it's only now, very slowly beginning to scar over.

We keep surfing along. Love always,
-your mamma

Sculpture of (safe) surfer wearing a mask in Cardiff, CA.
📷: Suparna Kudesia