The photo is of the toilet paper aisle at our local supermarket taken on March 3, 2020.
Late January, my entire family went to an all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant to celebrate Lunar New Year. At the time, the outbreak of Coronavirus had begun to take hold in Wuhan, and Chinese authorities had just closed off its borders. The problem was largely affecting China, so we weren’t concerned about eating out and being in public spaces. The World Health Organisation had yet to declare Coronavirus a global health emergency.
And so, we celebrated with food and drink in the crowded restaurant. Several people sneezed on my sister-in-law as they walked past her to get to the food trays. We joked that she might catch the virus as a result. A few days later, we discovered that an infected man had dined in the same restaurant. Fortunately, for us, the man visited the establishment the next day, so we avoided being exposed to infected staff and surfaces. It was a near miss!
This close experience made me hyperaware and set me on a path. There had only been a handful of confirmed cases in Australia, but I had slowly begun building my pantry supplies, cooking and freezing meat meals, and preparing for the worst. My anxiety was heightened from the close call, and I became a prepper. I had been ready before the pandemic was even announced.
Fast forward two months and what has happened? People are panic buying everything. By the start of March, toilet paper, tissues and hand sanitisers were out of stock. Then canned foods, long-life milk, pasta and rice became hot items. Last week, meat, eggs and potatoes began to run out. Now, it seems people are stockpiling asthma relievers, children’s paracetamol and prescription medicines. These days, it’s not uncommon to see bare shelves in supermarkets, big crowds queueing at opening times, or agitated people yelling at staff.
Our family no longer participates in extra-circular activities like sports, swimming or gym (everything is closed or suspended). We don’t go out to restaurants or cafes. We don’t browse in shopping centres. We don’t go to parks or play centres. We don’t visit friends or extended family. We simply don’t go out, except for short walks for exercise and fresh air.
My husband is working from home. My three-year-old son has been pulled from childcare. I’m no longer volunteering as a classroom helper as the neighbourhood centre has closed to protect the community and staff. The only person exposed to public spaces is my seven-year-old daughter who still attends school as per the government.
The disruption to everyone’s routine is immense. Ever try keeping a three-year-old from barging into the study while his dad is on a video conference? Damn near impossible.
From a mental health perspective, these challenging times have, unsurprisingly, made me more anxious. The constant focus on Coronavirus in the news and social media have heightened my anxiety. I find myself reaching for the phone all the time, scrolling for any news on the pandemic. It is always at the forefront of my mind. There are nights where I can’t sleep, worrying about when schools will be closed. I think about worst-case scenarios – job loss, mortgage stress, maxing credit cards, children getting ill, hospitalisations, death. The list is endless.
Recently, my husband put his foot down and demanded I stop reading news on my phone. He insisted that it did nothing good for my mental health. I was exposing myself to massive amounts of negative information, mostly conjecture, that was making my anxiety spiral out of control. I was wasting all my energy and time on something I had no control over, and not keeping things in perspective. I was making myself miserable by trying to do the impossible – forecasting the future and preparing for unknown variables.
My husband encouraged me to redirect my focus on my health and well-being. That meant eating healthy, drinking more water that didn’t have caffeine, putting down the phone, going to bed early, going out for walks to get fresh air and trying to spend more time with the kids. All sensible and logical advice that I was not doing. We can try to put ourselves in the best health position to battle the virus, should we become infected.
So I’ve started walking instead of driving for school runs and hating every minute of it. I’ve reduced phone time and go to bed early. I started having breakfast that wasn’t just coffee. And whaddya know, I have begun to feel better. The sense of impending doom has lessened, and I’ve stopped feeling so panicky. The sight of bare shelves and people scrambling for toilet paper doesn’t make me want to rush in too for fear of missing out. I put back that pack of toilet paper that I didn’t need so that someone else has the opportunity to get one. I’m stepping away from the herd mentality. I feel like I have my anxiety under control.
Am I still scared about the future? Hell yes, but what can I do? The number of infected people will surely continue to rise. There will be overwhelming strain on our health system. People will die. I can only try to keep calm and live one day at a time. I’ll aim to keep in touch and blog our experience through this pandemic.
Keep safe and well everyone.
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