On Not Believing Cassandra: My Covid-19 Anxiety


When the Covid-19 pandemic began, people barely believed in it.  My husband barely believed in it.  I was terrified for him.  When I tried  to explain why we needed to cross the street to avoid other pedestrians, he thought I was delusional.  “If you keep talking like this, I’m taking you to a doctor.”

Talk about Cassandra!  “So wait–you want to take me to a doctor for telling you about coronavirus?”  I was petrified:  the only thing worse than a psych ward would be the infectious disease ward.

Fortunately,  his boss sent everyone home the next day, and he started to believe.  I  am thankful he is working at home: I would not have had a moment free of anxiety otherwise.  Because, well, men try to be too brave.

Much of my time now is spent trying to be “normal.”  I have been anxious. The other day as I crossed a parking lot I realized I’d left my mask in the car, and loped back to get it.  I’m always on alert:  the  anxiety has settled in my vertebrae.

Today I did a yoga/meditation workout for people with upper back pain. Ah!  During the stretches,  I could feel the chest and back “opening up,” as they say.   The instructor kept telling us to breathe deeply–I can’t hold my breath long enough, though–and focus on what we were feeling.   I had a revelation near the end:  what I felt was rage.  

A lot of people are raging now.  Look at the protesters with guns, protesting shelter-at-home orders in Michigan, Wisconsin, California, and even Europe.  They want to go out!  They want to go to bars!  They’re spreading the virus, but they can’t stand to stay home.  

Then there are the many pouting moms writing essays about how hard it is to be home with their kids.  Yes, yes, but in the scheme of things, it’s hard to care.. They are (upper?) middle-class and made the  choice to have them.  And if they can’t  NANNY-up, too bad.  People are sick and dying. 

My own problems are minuscule right now.  We’re on top of each other, but at least we’re here.  

STAY HOME AND SAVE LIVES,  a plaque in the neighborhood says.

The politicians are…well, opening up the beaches.  But what wouldn’t I give to be on a beach, or at least on vacation somewhere.  Alas, I can imagine  inadvertently taking the virus somewhere or bringing it back home.  Not a good time for a vacation.

Reasons for Rage and Anxiety:  None of us have control right now.  None of us can prevent the stupid mistakes being made during the pandemic.

I think of all those women in 18th-century and 19th century novels, going on their walks. Have you, too, taken many, many walks lately?  Every time someone takes a walk in one of my books, I mark it.  The latest walk?  In Chekhov’s short story, “The Name-Day Party.”

11 thoughts on “On Not Believing Cassandra: My Covid-19 Anxiety”

  1. “ None of us have control right now” you say and that, I think, is the nub of the matter. When we feel out of control we panic and panic often gives way to anger and denial. We just have to hope that the anger doesn’t turn too often to rage and that rage into violence.

    1. Yes, these are scary times! I find reading the news especailly upsetting, so I do think breathing deeply and stretching is part of the answer for me. As for the armed protesters…they’ve gone way too far!

  2. I’m with you: I’ve increased my time on the mat this year and sometimes scatter shorter sessions through the day instead, just to reconnect with the breath, as they say. It’s my sanity saver, for sure. Although good food and rest help too: the basics. And books. Always, books. Looking forward to reading about your various walks. Keep on, keeping on.

    1. Oh my God, yoga helps so much! I’ve done multiple short sessions sometimes. Yes, let’s keep doing yoga, walking, and reading.


    Dickens used to walk throughout London often instead of sleeping. When you read something in Dickens about the poor or the plight of a near-hopeless family you can be quite sure it is based on people he met on those walks. I do not know what he would have done in these days. Would he have chosen the Tolkien route into the forest to commune with the trees, the weather and the Road? The pandemic has made it hard for everyone to choose their own road now that so many of our roads are now open, very wrongly I think, to individual choice. In today’s world it is unlikely that Dickens would have survived past Pickwick. How would Tolkien have fared? He so much enjoyed the soul refreshing solitude and sharing the wisdom of the trees.
    My wife and I decided on the more-Tolkien of our choices. We bypassed the bars in Cold Spring Harbor where people ran around in the street maskless and carousing. Where the police looked on in some sort of official stupidity as one popular restaurant uncovered their outdoor picnic tables so strangers could sit across from each other and talk in aimless spittle. No, we knew where we were headed.
    The arboretum named The Planting Fields which accounts for about 50% of my iPhone photos in the past years. Always we had found the grounds to be quiet and welcoming. A place not so much to commune with Nature but rather to give to Nature the upper hand and willingly follow its lead. The old Coe Mansion looks over the huge estate and, I always think, broods on the fate of the piratical family who built it to gaze in frozen architectural wonder at the new families keeping it alive. We raised two kids there and their children too we have introduced to everything from the cactus room to the oldest pathways.
    During the earlier pandemic we had found the arboretum welcoming and quiet. All greenhouses and restrooms and other such places were closed. So the huge parking lots were us and a few other cars. Walking around the grounds then meant to keep your mask at the ready but odds were you would be alone with trees from all over the world with other-culture stories to share as to what makes for beauty.
    Now we needed to go somewhere that did not have the freedom-loving crowds of mass idiocy governed only by selfish relief. So we bypassed the bars and crowds and authority lacking Authorities and headed again to the Planting Fields. Tolkien over Dickens. Seemed the way to go that day,
    Imagine the horror of being turned away because all the parking lots were full! Never once in all the decades we had visited had they been closed for crowds. Perhaps they were just trying to social distance by limiting cars? I would have hoped. But the look of horror and the million-mile stare from the above mask eyes of the guards waving us off — no, there were crowds more than milling round for sure.
    So that was on Sunday which we went back home to “enjoy.” Next day was worth another shot I thought. So we drove out there again — about 45 minutes on roads now strangely no longer cold and lonely pavement under a cold sun but covered again with streams of metal and glass. But a ride is a ride is a ride is a ride. It was nothing but a ride I figured.
    So we drove to the arboretum gates and they were open. The parking lot was maybe 10%. I guess on Monday there were a lot of ZOOM meetings! We parked and decided to forego where the other people seemed to be headed to the main areas of closed buildings and narrow walkways, Instead we went to our secret spot The Synoptic Garden. That is an outdoor garden where the plants, ferns and trees are arranged in alphabetical order just as some weird God of Academe thought best.
    Sure enough we were mostly alone. A few others and us and all were careful to mask-up when we came closer, Not even one shouting child running in unreleased freedom to cough. As the day went on we noticed it was time to leave as others began to find the spot. But it was a good time, it was a Tolkien time.

    Roads go ever ever on,
    Over rock and under tree,
    By caves where never sun has shone,
    By streams that never find the sea;
    Over snow by winter sown,
    And through the merry flowers of June,
    Over grass and over stone,
    And under mountains in the moon.

    And sometimes even in quarantine roads can go more places than home.

    1. Thank you for this lovely comment on walking in nature in this very weird time. Poor Dickens! It IS difficult to imagine him surviving a pandemic. He NEEDED those walks around the city. He learned so much about London from those walks And now we’re darting from one side of the street to another!

      The arboretum sounds gorgeous, and what a pity others have discovered it. I wonder if they really care about it, or is it just a place to go? One woman here made a video of huge numbers of people flocking to one of our state parks, with no social distancing. She was so upset she didn’t get out of the car and drove straight home.

      I do think many are doing the social distancing here, despite the governor’s reopening of the state. So I’m thankful for that. It does get to be a drag. So go, Tolkein!

      1. Looks like my upload screwed up the paragraphing. Well, it’s a Joycean pastiche!

        This arboretum on a normal weekend (normal is so nostalgic a word!) does get hundreds of visitors. They have a main greenhouse which is truly gigantic with at least six or seven main rooms and some subsidiary ones. Then they have the Camilia House which when in bloom is one of the world’s wonders. Then there is Coe Hall which is an interesting view into robber baron architecture. The grounds are truly magnificent with huge green seas to walk upon. We have been going for literally 30 years and it has not lost its charm. I think that what is happening is it’s the usual group of suspects attending. The estate is called an arboretum and most of the crazies do not know that word. And Planting Fields sounds sorta boring. God forbid they should ever add the word “park” to it’s name!

        But I think on that Sunday they did certainly have more than the usual crowd.

        It could be like a bookstore around Xmas. I used to go then every day to spend a few hours at B&N and Borders just to hear the comments made by people privately one to the other. I once thought of collecting them all into an anti-seasonal book. Comments like “MY GOD have you ever seen this many books?” or “You sure he really likes to read???” or “I’m not buying you another book, grow up!!!” or my favorite “At least we only have to come here once a year.” I don’t think an arboretum would prove popular with them. Maybe. I hope.

        1. The formatting looked fine to me!

          Yes, I can see the arboretum vividly now. How lovely to have it so nearby! I’m sure everybody DOES want to go there. Too many…!

          We do have some lovely parks, but the rangers recommend going early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the crowds. It really IS a problem accommodating large groups of people. We do take walks in the vicinity, but we do need to find a place nobody knows about.

Leave a ReplyCancel reply

Exit mobile version