Me and COVID-19

I’m standing in front of the refrigerator, the door is wide open, searching for something to eat.  The cold air reminds me of crisp Fall mornings. Suddenly I’m longing for a warm cup of coffee, a blanket, and a porch overlooking the water.  I pop a blueberry into my mouth and pretend I’m somewhere else. I bite down, it explodes. My cheeks tighten, my mouth salivates – the blueberry is sour and yet I can’t taste the flavour.

I think I lost my sense of taste, I declare as my husband joins me at the refrigerator.

Really? Can you still smell? He asks.

I lift my arm and swandive my nose down to my armpit. I inhale deeply. No baby-powder scent, no muskiness, or BO.

I can’t smell anything.

I was aware of this symptom. I’ve known other people who lost their sense of taste and smell because of COVID-19 but I wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t prepared to lose something that I’ve always taken for granted. I could tell if the coffee I made was too strong, I could tell if I put too much salt or sugar in something, but I couldn’t actually taste the flavour of the food. A simple pleasure gone overnight.

I didn’t lose my sense of taste or smell until a week after I tested positive for COVID-19. My husband and I had already been quarantined since the day we knew we had been exposed. We’d held onto hope that we didn’t catch it but I started experiencing symptoms six days after exposure. It started with pain in my lower back that travelled deep into the muscles of my legs. I couldn’t sit still or lay down. I was restless and in pain. Next came the stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, mild cough, and extreme fatigue. For a few days I slept after every meal, unable to keep my eyes open to read or watch Netflix.

The aches and pains were nothing compared to the loneliness I felt quarantining in the bedroom away from my husband. I only left the room to use the bathroom and even so, I wore a mask and sanitized all surfaces after I touched them. We’d FaceTime after he brought me my meals so that we could still eat together. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss him.

I also missed my family. My bubble. Not seeing my nieces in real life for over a month was not easy. They’re growing so fast and I don’t want to miss out on it. Not being able to hug them, colour with them, or go for walks with them was driving me straight to the Depression Diner – table for one please!

Whenever my husband and I felt particularly lonely, we’d sanitize our hands, put on masks and stand back to back. We’d wrap our arms around one another the best we could. He’d tilt his head back so I could feel it on top of mine. We’d exhale in unison and I’d giggle. His hands on my body immediately warmed me up. The fear in my heart melted and for a minute or two I could breathe. No one tells you how much you’ll miss someone until they’re two feet from you and you can’t touch them. 

A few days after I tested positive, my husband did too. The good news was that I didn’t have to quarantine from him anymore. The bad news is pretty obvious. The day I started feeling better, my husband started feeling worse. His symptoms started the same way mine did. He even lost his sense of taste and smell (which still haven’t returned). For the next week or so I’d watch him hobble around the condo, pacing because he couldn’t take the shooting pains in his legs. He was frustrated, angry and in pain. We both worried  these pains wouldn’t go away, we worried about his varicose veins and blood clots. We worried.

As long as it took for the days to pass, having COVID-19 seems like it was over before it even began. It’s a whirlwind. A few weeks after my husband started having symptoms, he was back at work. Leg pains disappearing like a bat in the night. My sense of taste and smells has returned, although they flicker in an out.

I am grateful that our symptoms didn’t worsen. That we didn’t need a ventilator. That we are walking around with air in our lungs and antibodies dancing inside us. I am grateful that we are no longer contagious. I thank our bodies before I fall asleep every night for fighting, for not giving up because it could have been so much worse. 

It’s been over a month and it still feels strange to leave the house for groceries or exercise. Like I’m carrying around something that no one can see but I know it’s there. It’s the same feeling you get when your teacher hands back your assignment, face down on your desk and you both know you failed but no one else around you does. There’s a sense of shame that I have (had?) COVID. After working from home, having my husband tested three or more times a month, how careful we were, it’s a punch to the gut that we caught it.

peep the sticker ^

The fear I lived with of getting COVID has been replaced by the shame of having COVID. I feel guilty for feeling better when I know many many people have fared worse. I’m using this experience as a reminder to always be humble, to be grateful, to enjoy the moments I have IRL with the people I love. It’s a reminder to be kinder to my body and to take care of it – starting with getting my first does of the vaccine.

Thirty-Two

Today, I turned thirty-two. An age that felt so old when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I remember watching my older cousins celebrate their 30th birthdays in shock – how could they be so old? I remember thinking about all of the years I had until I reached their age, how much time I had to enjoy my youth and take chances. When they would tell me that time goes by fast, I would laugh – how fast could it go?!

I assume my neck aches and back pains are from the whiplash of my twenties; flashing by in a hazy blur. I know that thirty-two isn’t old. I know that I’m still young but with every passing birthday I fear that I’m running out of time. I look back on the previous year and end up feeling like I’ve wasted another 365 days. I didn’t take enough chances or use my time wisely. I read over the writing I’ve done and get mad at myself for not writing more, doing more, being more.

This year, instead of looking at what I haven’t done, I’m looking at what I’ve been able to accomplish during the 365 days of a pandemic. I’m looking at the number of books I’ve read, the chances I’ve taken and the breakthroughs I’ve made. My biggest goal for thirty-two is to continue to do things that scare me. Things like going to auditions or starting therapy or writing more personal posts, then giving myself grace when or if they don’t work out. This year I will be kinder to myself and to others.

Here’s to thirty-two!

Just One Thing

I look up from my notebook and watch the colours of my walls change, almost like magic. From grey to pink to orange and then red. The sunrise lasts for a few minutes, warming my home and igniting a flame within. When was the last time I noticed the sunrise? I can’t remember. My pen continues to scratch at my paper and I think about my nieces. As part of a game we were playing, they asked me to name one thing I love about myself.

I was stumped. My mind went blank. I could have said anything, even something simple like “I love my hair”. But after a moment my mind immediately went to the things I hate about myself. My stubbornness, my OCD and anxiety, my selfishness, my big legs and flabby tummy etc. My brother looked at me as I thought about these things and said Wow, you can’t name just one thing?

Eventually my nieces got bored and went to play something else. I’ve been thinking about this all weekend. I know what it sounds like but I’m not looking for anyone to say but Vanessa, you’re XYZ, how could you not think of one thing that you love about yourself? It’s not that I don’t love anything about myself, it’s just in that I am hardwired to think about the negative before the positive and that is something I desperately need to work on.

This morning I tried to answer the question again: what’s one thing I love about myself?

How about five?

  • I love that I can make people laugh – even if it’s accidentally
  • I love that I feel things deeply
  • I love that I can put my feelings into words
  • I love that I am strong and stubborn but still willing to learn and grow
  • I love my bum and my lips – there, I said it.

So, now it’s your turn – tell me just one thing you love about yourself – or tell me five – and celebrate the heck out of them!

From Scratch

The sound of the percolator nudges me awake before the scent of coffee reaches my nostrils. I’ve been setting the timer for 6:00 AM to coincide with my alarm clock. I find it easier to wake up when I know the coffee is already waiting for me. For the last week or so I’ve been waking up early to figure out how to turn one of my short stories into a novel. It was going great until I realized that I didn’t want to write about it anymore – the short story is set in the present tense and the pandemic plays a huge role. WHO WANTS TO WRITE A STORY ABOUT THE PANDEMIC WHILE THEY ARE LIVING THROUGH IT?

Not me.

Who would want to read about it?

Not me.

So now I must start again, from scratch. Usually a blank page fills me with a combination of doubt and excitement, anxiety and relief, fear and courage. Right now, opening a new Google Doc knocks the wind out of me. I am extremely fatigued, too fatigued to think about coming up with a plot and then writing 100,000 words. I’m trying to focus on the moment and the task at hand but it’s proving difficult.

It doesn’t matter how much self-care I’m doing, how much fresh air I get, how much I work out, or how many hours I sleep, I wake up tired and go to bed exhausted. I force myself to write or read while sipping my morning coffee, I shower, put on makeup and do my hair – even though I’m working from home and no one sees me. I find my energy draining faster than it used to and filling up my coffee cup a third time isn’t helping anymore.

Perhaps it’s just a funk or the I’m hitting the pandemic wall – either way I hope it doesn’t last too long.

Writing Update

A few weeks ago, I posted on Instagram that I FINALLY finished a manuscript I had been working on for four years. It started out as collection of my blog posts, then it turned into personal essays, and finally into a collection of short stories. After writing personal essays and blog posts for so many years it was a nice change to be removed from the center of the story.

Bringing together stories inspired by my Italian and Portuguese roots, the manuscript is a collection about feminism, family, mental health, and chasing dreams. Each story follows a path to pain and explores the strength required to get to the other side. I know that the word count for this manuscript isn’t enough to land an agent or get it published, but the collection feels finished to me.

Instead of shoving the stories in a drawer to be forgotten forever, I’ve broken them up and started submitting them to magazines and online platforms. Oh, one of the stories was published on Thought Catalog in their LIFE/FICTON section. There are two stories that I want to work on as longer works of fiction – ideally turn them into novels. If I’m honest, the idea seems incredibly jarring. Since finishing my manuscript, I haven’t written or planned out much of anything. All I really feel like doing is going for drives with my husband or grabbing coffee. Thanks to lockdown 2.0 and working from home (which I both understand and am thankful for) I feel a bit awkward when I’m out of the house. The last time I went to The Roost Cafe, I couldn’t figure out where to tap my debit card to pay for the coffee. I got flustered, my face turned red, and the person behind the counter had to show me a few times how to pay.

Stepping out of the cafe with my coffee in hand (and pulling down my mask to breathe in that crisp winter air) made the awkwardness totally worth it though!

New Year, Who Dis?

Every year I write out a list of resolutions, goals, things I want to accomplish and places I want to go. From December 31st to January 15th I push myself to eat better, work out every day, journal every day, go to sleep early and hydrate. By the 16th of January I’ve lost all momentum and suddenly I’m spending hours scrolling through Instagram with my 5th coffee in one hand and a bag of chocolate covered almonds in the other. I know a lot of people go through this too. They start the year with the best of intentions but the goals are too much, too drastic, too vain or too unrealistic when it comes to their lifestyle. Before they’ve even begun, their subconscious has already given up.

Before bed on December 31st, 2020, I wrote out 12 resolutions for this year. There’s one about writing and self-publishing, one about drinking more water, one about working out, one about eating better, and one about celebrating small moments. Reading them back this morning, I noticed that a lot of them were about my weight (because even when I write I will work out to be healthy I know I mean I will work out to get skinnier). Why do I feel the need to start each year with losing weight? Why do I feel the need to be smaller? What is wrong with my big hips, thick thighs, cellulite-infused ass?

From Gloria Steinem‘s THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE, BUT FIRST IT WILL PISS YOU OFF!

The short answer is NOTHING. Nothing is wrong with the woman I was last year, nothing is wrong with my weight or pant size. Over the last few years, I’ve written a lot about my relationship with food and body image on She Does the City and Healthy is Hot. It seems like no matter how many times I write about this subject, I always end up less than impressed with myself. Some days I love myself, I love my fucking body and I am proud of how it looks, how strong and healthy it is. Other days I can’t even look in the mirror.

So yes, I should drink more water because all of the coffee I drink worsens my anxiety. Yes, I should move my body more because when I don’t, I feel unhappy and restless. I should eat less processed and sugary foods because they aren’t good for anyone. I should get outside more because nature makes my soul feel free.

BUT, what I need more than anything in 2021 is to unlearn. Unlearn all of the things that I believe about the way a woman’s body should look. Unlearn the idea that women should be small and quiet. Unlearn fear. Unlearn the idea that I can’t do it (whatever it is) even though I’ve never tried. Unlearn the idea that perfection is the ultimate goal. Unlearn all of the negative ways that I talk to myself.

My first step in unlearning is asking why. Why do I feel guilty about not wanting to have children? Why do I think there is something wrong with my body? Why have I been taught that sex is secret and taboo? What else have I been taught (either by society or by my family) that I don’t agree with or want to live by?

The next step is to relearn. Read about other women who have chosen a childless life, look at myself in the mirror and point out what I love rather than that I’ve been told to hate, and stop my judgements of others before they hatch in my mind. Continue to ask myself questions about anything that doesn’t sit right with my soul. Read about them. Place myself in uncomfortable situations. Take risks. Try. Question. Repeat.

So here’s to 2021 – my year of unlearning and relearning.

My Brand of Happiness

I wake up to the sound of the Nespresso brewing rather than the sing-song of my alarm. My eyes open slowly, allowing the sun to kiss my eyelashes. I stretch my arms and legs; the side of the bed where my husband sleeps is still warm. The scent of coffee reaches my nostrils and I exhale with a smile. I flip onto my back and look around our bedroom. It’s cozy and safe. I pick up the notebook from my nightstand and write. Even a line or two feels right…

that’s my brand of happiness

It’s Saturday morning and we’re on the way to my parents’ house. Alex is driving, the windows are down, we have coffee in our cup holders, and we have 90’s music blaring as we sing along. We’re holding hands and cracking jokes. We arrive and I open the front door. It smells like pasta sauce. I hear my seven-year-old niece scream TIA’S HEREEEEEEE, while my five-year-old niece screams ZIOOOOOO!! They stomp their way to the front door and we’re wrapped in tiny arms. A moment later we hear the tiny bell around the dog’s neck as he waddles over requesting a belly rub.

that’s my brand of happiness

It’s Saturday evening and we’ve just finished dinner. We’re all sitting at the table, chatting, laughing, arguing. My mom tells a joke while my dad fills up the wine glasses. My sister washes the dishes we catch up. My brother helps clear the table and finds endearing ways to tease me at the same time.

that’s my brand of happiness

My phone buzzes – there’s a new message in the Family Group containing my in-laws (cousins, aunt, uncle and mother-in-law). There’s a video of the latest addition to our family, plus the regular ongoing banter, plan-making etc.

that’s my brand of happiness

As I sit in my family room and think about all of the things and people that make me happy, I’m also flooded with how much of 2020 didn’t include happiness. I’ve felt afraid, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, anxious, depressed, sad, and exhausted. There have been months of ongoing dread and instead of pretending that they didn’t exist, I let myself feel it.

I find happiness in a great cup of coffee, in a book, in writing down words, in time spent with my husband and family members, in conversations with my best Buddy, in sleeping in, and dancing around like fools.

Happiness is like success, we all have our own definitions and versions of it. Whatever your brand of happy, hold onto it and let if fill you up.

Gratitude is a better attitude

The physiotherapy office smells like Lysol and disappointment. The brand of hand sanitizer they require you to use burns your hands, as well as, your nostrils (even through my mask). I should be used to this by now, after a nine months of sanitizing my hands every minute of every day but I’m not.

The room that my mom and I sit in needs a paint job. The owners of the building opted for a greyish-blue rather than the usual beige or off-white that I’ve seen in other offices. It’s both interesting and off-putting. There are marks all over the walls and the baseboards are screaming to be dusted.

Thankfully it’s not long until we’re escorted to the back of the building. There is a bed for my mom to lay down on and a few very-well used pieces of equipment surrounding her. There’s also several fold up chairs and make-shift desks sitting against the walls.

They’ve asked my mom to try a new exercise. She’s given a long strap, kind of like a seatbelt. She places her foot in the middle and holds both sides of the strap, straightens her legs and pulls it up. Her legs flies up and I feel and intense amount of pride for the woman who not only carried three and birthed three children, but was limping around the house mere days ago from her knee-replacement surgery.

The physiotherapist is not as impressed as I am with my mom’s straight leg and speed. She asks her to slow down, a lot. You need to feel the muscles and you can’t feel them if you move too quickly. Mom deflates a bit but obeys, lifting her leg as high as she can and as slowly as she can. The physiotherapist asks for two sets of ten. Slowly, she repeats.

The first two are easy peasy lemony squeezy. The next 18 reps bring tears to her eyes. She grips the strap so hard that her hands turn white. Her leg shakes from the stress. Her breathing becomes heavy and laboured (the mask is not making things easier) but she pushes through – she always does. I grab her hand as she lets go of the strap, Great job, Mama!

After her appointment we stop at Tim Horton’s for our usual – two-medium-French-Vanillas-please. We do this after every appointment, it’s become a little tradition and one that I look forward to every week. On the drive home we sip our overly-sweet coffees and talk about nothing. I turn up the music as Mom rolls down her window and sparks up a cigarette. It’s a warm November day and my heart is full of gratitude and hope.

Unplanned

I don’t know about you but I can’t think about the future anymore. I was once the kind of woman who would go to bed thinking about all the things I had to do the next day. I would plan my outfits, my meals, my evening and weekend plans. I would have lists about lists and then, come up with more lists about lists.

A typical thought sequence before bed went something like this:

Okay tomorrow is Monday, so I’ll wake up at 5:30 and make my coffee and have a muffin. Then I’ll poop and shower, do my hair and make up and get dressed. I’ll wear my black pants and new shirt and boots. Then I’ll leave the house, grab a coffee and work. For dinner I’ll make pizza with Alex but before that I’ll work out, maybe a 30 minute Pop Sugar work out. After dinner I’ll shower, have a tea and get in some reading.

That is not an exaggeration. This is how I LIVED, always planning the next moment, the next meal, the next cleaning day. Every time someone would ask me so what are you up to this weekend? I would have many words to reply with. Since March, my answer has generally been the same. WFH, fitness, make dinner, read or Netflix, sleep. That is the general plan for all days and all weekends. I’ll throw in a stop at a coffee shop or a visit to my parent’s house but that’s it.

Honestly, I find that I can’t think past the next hour, let alone the next day. I don’t know what I’ll have for lunch or breakfast or what I’ll read next. Some days I find it insanely frustrating that I don’t have a plan but most of the time I love it. It’s added a level of calm to my life. For the first time I am taking life one moment at a time. Sitting in my feelings, stewing in my thoughts, marinating in the moments. Also, it would appear that I’m hungry, I think I’ll have some fruit.

To all the books I’ve read this year…

To all the books I’ve read this year…

I LOVE YOU. You’ve gotten me through the long months of quarantine and held my hand during the warm summer months. I’ve borrowed you and shared you, I’ve ordered you online and picked you up at my favourite local stores (A Novel Spot & TYPE Books). I’ve downloaded you on my Kobo, spilled coffee on you and marked up your pages. I’ve stayed up late because of you and have fallen asleep with you on my lap.

You’ve been my mirror, my confidant, and my one constant.

Thank you!

Thanks to quarantine I’ve had a lot of time to read this year. Here’s a list of all of the books I’ve read so far. I’ve given them each a rating out of five stars. Please note that this rating is purely based on whether or not I liked the book. I am not going into plot or character development or writing, the stars are simply my overall feelings. My mood at the time that I read the book could have very well informed the star rating.

  1. Ariel Levy – The Rules Do Not Apply 🌟🌟
  2. Ann Napolitano- Dear Edward 🌟🌟
  3. Patti Smith – M Train 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  4. Julia Armfield – Salt Slow 🌟🌟
  5. Patti Smith – Just Kids 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  6. Karma Brown – Recipe for a Perfect Wife 🌟🌟🌟
  7. Jia Tolentino – Trick Mirror 🌟🌟🌟
  8. Kiley Reid – Such a fun Age 🌟🌟
  9. Victoria James – Wine Girl 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  10. Joan Didion – The Year of Magical Thinking 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  11. Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  12. Samantha Irby – Wow, No Thank You 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  13. Emily St. John Mandel – The Glass Hotel 🌟🌟
  14. Joan Didion – Blue Nights 🌟🌟
  15. Jen Gotch – The Upside of Down 🌟🌟
  16. Julia Alvarez – Afterlife 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  17. Rachel Matlow – Dead Mom Walking 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  18. Desmond Cole – The Skin We’re In 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  19. Jacqueline Woodson – Red At The Bone 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  20. Maya Angelou – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  21. Celeste Ng – Little Fires Everywhere 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  22. Julian Barnes – The Only Story 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  23. Erin Morgenstern – The Starless Sea 🌟🌟🌟
  24. Zoe Whittall – Holding Still For As Long As Possible 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  25. J.D. Salinger – Franny and Zooey 🌟🌟🌟
  26. Souvankham Thammavongsa – How to Pronounce Knife 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  27. Fredrik Backman – Anxious People 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  28. Teri Vlassopoulos – Escape Plans 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  29. Zadie Smith – On Beauty 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  30. Heather Morris – The Tattooist of Auschwitz 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  31. David Chang – Eat A Peach 🍑 🍑🍑🍑🍑