Honestly I Just Want to Get Off This Ride

Illustration: Elena Scotti. Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock.
Illustration: Elena Scotti. Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock.

Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? How are you coping with reopening? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and provide as much detail as you’re comfortable with.

Authors’ identities have been verified, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.

Anonymous, grocery story worker, Michigan

I work for a company that owns a chain of grocery stores. Nearly all of our stores (and there are a lot of them) have had — or currently have — at least one employee with covid. It’s easy to get stressed out, worrying about who among your co-workers might get covid next, wondering if you might be the next one to get it. And there’s no end date in sight. This has been going on for months, and we have no idea how much longer it’s going to go on. So the stress just builds up and builds up.

Financially, I’m doing great, because the company I work for keeps handing out bonuses, along with many other ways to show their gratitude. But emotionally, I am not doing great. The stress just keeps accumulating. Life, in many ways, is different now, and that’s pretty stressful. And, like I said, there’s no end date in sight.

It feels like the pandemic is just going on and on and on… It doesn’t help that the federal government’s response has been a complete and total failure. I’ve seen politicians and leaders make mistakes before. I’ve seen them fail. But I’ve never seen anything like what’s been going on. The president — of all people, the president of this country! — has shown no remorse, no empathy, and no regard at all for the damage done to people’s lives and health.

That, too, is stressful, of course. Just knowing that the man elected to the highest office in this country cannot even pretend to care… It’s awful.

Here in Michigan, we had a stay-at-home order in place from March until June, but I never stayed at home. I’ve been going to work five (sometimes six) days a week, this whole time. It’s weird to think about how I’m not a firefighter or a police officer, but I might be risking my life just by going to work.

I’ve mostly been avoiding my various relatives, because I’m worried I might already be sick and not know it. And I have no social life. Things here are opening back up, but I just don’t feel comfortable going out. Mostly, these days, I go to work, day after day, and I keep wondering how long this is going to go on.

Chad, unemployed, Minnesota

I’m 45. I’m married with three grown children. And I’ve completely failed to navigate the past few years, with financial ruin now almost inevitable. I’ve never put words to my experience.

I went to college right out of high school for three years and I had to drop out because my mother had a cancer scare. I was not able to go back immediately because of money, until my grandmother stepped in and paid for me to restart my life and college in a town 322 km south. The money came from a settlement that she received because my grandfather — who used to work with asbestos in the factories after WWII — died from cancer. The college only lasted a semester, but I met my future wife around then.

My wife and I were married and we raised three children in a very modest older home with only our wits and tenacity. We never made much money but we worked the angles as best as we could figure them out, just like any other middle class citizens of USA. We had a failed business start-up that made us have to file bankruptcy. My wife went back to school for a certificate in baking and culinary arts, only to have that school shut down because of the unfair business promises they made to students. We had a major medical event that even after our insurance paid its share, still put us thousands of dollars in debt that we defaulted on after the hospital refused to create a payment plan we could afford. But we still went onward.

Right after our youngest son graduated high school in 2018, I was laid off from my employer of 19 years due to restructuring. I had a supervisory position that was going away and I would have had to reinterview for a non-supervisory position unless I accepted the severance package. I took the severance. I also found out that I qualified for a job retraining grant. This was going to be my last chance to finish school, which is something that I had given up hope on a long time ago. My student loans of more than $US30,000 ($41,649) took a lifetime to pay off, but the program that managed the job retaining grant seemed like a real blessing.

I choose the computer field at the local community college. It seemed like the most cost-effective choice. It wasn’t. I managed to obtain my AAS [Associate of Applied Science] in Networking Services in only three semesters, but what you don’t find out is why this education is more affordable. I had two regular instructors — the rest of the course were taught by adjunct instructors for a one night, four-hour-long class that rarely went pass two hours. Because of the high dropout rate, the school was extremely accommodating if you were having trouble. In one of my finals that I was struggling to properly configure Windows Server 2019, so my instructor literally did everything, explaining why it was done this way. I got an A. The final semester where I would have the last chance to bolster myself before entering the job market was annihilated when covid-19 hit.

At the time I was acquiring some experience working at the help desk at the school. I saw some of the behind scenes action and drama unfold as the school struggled to come up with answers. Spring break was four weeks. There was no Zoom classes. I was unable to finish my internship. Class material the final weeks was taught by a third party called testout.com. It was a complete mess. I received three As and 1 C+ (the C+ was because I was unable to complete the final project).

While covid-19 unfolded, I lost my internship. I received some honour pay from my help desk position that no longer needed my services. My wife had a baking job at a local coffee shop, but she was furloughed. The last of my student aid was coming to an end. In order to make it for a couple more months, we relied on the one-time government check, a one-time grant for students, and whatever small baking orders my wife could do for friends and family. There are no more entry level IT jobs in the immediate area. I’ve applied for any position that will pay enough so I can meet my financial obligations. My wife recently went back to work part-time.

Here is the reality. I currently can not pay this month’s mortgage and other utilities. I have no savings. I have no reliable credit. And I feel we have very little hope to turn things around. My mortgage is cheaper than the rising rent amounts being charged in my small city. If I lose my home, I will not be able to afford staying here. We’ve lived in our house for over 20 years. It’s not much but it is ours. Our last plan if everything else fails is to take a friend’s invitation to come stay with him in Biloxi, Mississippi and start over. We wouldn’t be able to bring much with us and the thought is hard to imagine. If we do go, our state has done a lot to combat covid-19. I’m not sure I can say the same for Mississippi.

My wife and I are both convinced if everyone had properly rallied behind stopping this pandemic, we would be better off. Unfortunately we have weak leadership in a toxic political environment where it is better to look strong and right than it is to do the right thing. My wife and I are both fearful that we will catch covid-19 and we will have absolutely no hope. It makes us angry watching people with people wearing masks pulled down so they can drink their lattes as they mingle in large crowds. I feel like there is an answer if only I looked at the bigger picture and mentally dissect each problem. But honestly I just want to get off this ride. Here is hoping for a better tomorrow.

Anonymous, sales rep, Pacific Northwest

I’ve been working the entire time and my spouse is able to work from home and keep our high school-aged son on track with online school and basic parental pandemic support.

Emotionally not as great. I asked my doctor for anti anxiety medication, it takes the edge off… barely.

I’ve been masked up in public since March, but it still amazes me how many people have so little regard for frontline workers or others, e.g. hoarding, complaining, crowding, not masking.

I also live in a summer tourist destination and due the amount of rude/maskless out-of-area visitors, my family is mostly hiding out at home instead of recreating in our own area.

Grocery store sales are seeing huge growth and the work is busier than ever, but covid cases are starting to impact the state I’m from and one case can take out a whole team of people necessary to get the job done if quarantine is needed. I’m trying to keep stress levels low and pay attention to my health, but I’m not sleeping well. The supply chain is experiencing shortages and customers are quick to blame us, but I have zero control when orders are unavailable.

Yasmen, merchandising, North Carolina

Coping financially has been very hard on me. I’m 62 and had been getting permanent disability from Social Security due to osteomyelitis in my left tibia in my left leg since 2007. In March of 2020 I was notified by Social Security that I had an overpayment balance with them of $US71,469.00 ($99,220). That overpayment is so wrong on so many levels. Being a divorced mother of three, I have always gone above and beyond to help my children so when my daughter developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome that just devastated me. I ended up trying to earn enough income for both her and I to keep our bills intact while being on Social Security. Then came covid-19, and it just piled more delay in income for me.

In April 2020 SSD stopped my payments and my job position as a Team Lead Client Coordinator for was cancelled due to the virus. I signed up for unemployment along with the $US600.00 ($833) I was able to get $US789.00 ($1,095) each week. It helped but it was just barely keeping me afloat financially. My rent is $US1,200.00 ($1,666), my car payment is $US489.00 ($679). I have applied for many different jobs but have been turned down. I have an Associate Degree in business administration specializing in human resources but I have had no luck in getting a job.

With all that is going on since the covid-19, I feel people have lost faith in each other. It’s not that people want to stay on unemployment and not work but the fact is their lives are in danger. You can sanitize, you can wash your hands, you can wear a mask but that one little hesitation to do any of them might be the point of contract this virus. I have looked for jobs where I can work from home but still no luck, so I am forced to find work outside and risk my life by catching covid-19. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

If you would like to be included in a future edition of Sick Days, please use this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story.” Stay healthy and safe.