Making hard choices

Our Thanksgiving turkey.

Since March when words like COVID, coronavirus, social distancing, and mask wearing became part of our regular vocabulary, I’ve worked hard to try and keep my life as normal as possible. I struggle to do that now.

I’m a natural introvert. I like spending time alone. While I acknowledge the PTSD has something to do with it, I’ve never been the gigantic extrovert the rest of my family seems to be. At family gatherings, my grandmother and I would sit and observe, not really participating in conversations. Our family members often thought we weren’t having a good time, but we were. We just enjoy life differently.

As the year has dragged on and felt like 10 years instead of nine months, I have found myself struggling a little bit more each day. With the help of my therapist, I gain some perspective and have, mostly, continued my life as I always have. It’s always there, in the back of my mind, fighting for attention, but I push it away because I know I am not alone in these feelings.

I ignored verbiage from people who refuse to wear masks, who think COVID-19 isn’t real or isn’t dangerous, and ignored the rolled eyes and disgusted looks from others I see in public. I made a decision to do the right thing – wearing a mask where ever I go.

I spent most of the summer working on having masks be less of a trigger for my PTSD. It’s mostly working and I’m proud of myself for being able to do this on my own. I didn’t advertise it. I didn’t tell anyone about it publicly until a few days ago.

A friend told me she was proud of me, “for doing all the hard work it takes for you to wear a mask.” She also called me a hero and said, “You’re doing the hard work to do the right thing to care for others and setting a good example, and that makes you a good egg in my book!”

I don’t feel like a hero for doing the right thing. Still, her words have stuck with me over the past few days. I’m just doing what’s right to help everyone else and I don’t understand why others won’t as well. Her words and two other situations have caused me to continue to rethink some things in my life for the near future.

I spoke to my mom, who lives in New York with the rest of my family, for almost three hours on Wednesday. My mother is one of the most boisterous, outspoken, extroverted people I know. Also, if it meant she was naked and you were warm she would willingly give you her clothes. It’s just who she is. She gives without hesitation and always thinks of herself last.

During our conversation, she said she has finally reached the point where the isolation is getting to her. Like me, she has been wearing a mask from almost the beginning. She only goes out when she needs to. She has severe asthma. She was a nurse for 37 years. She understands the science and the importance of wearing a mask. She finds ways to do it with her asthma and be okay.

We spoke about her youngest sister, Julie, who is ill right now. Julie was a surprise to my grandparents and is only six years older than me, making her more a big sister than an aunt to me. Julie was born with some congenital abnormalities. She has a heart murmur. She had a kidney removed in the early 1990s. Now, there is something wrong with her mitral valve. Julie has been working from home for months to stay isolated. She has gone in for surgery three times and something always delays it. We hope her next appointment goes ahead.

I heard the aggravation in my mom’s voice. I also heard the concern. We don’t want Julie getting sick. What I heard more in my mom’s attempt to not waver her voice and cry was when she spoke about my cousin Kaylie, who still lives at home with Julie. My mom and Kaylie get along well and used to see each other a couple of times a week. Until a couple of weeks ago, they hadn’t seen each other since March. My mom doesn’t have internet and only got a smart phone a couple of months ago. For a women who thrives on being around other people and helping anyone she can, I could hear her exhaustion, depression, and sadness in the spaces in between words. And there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.

My friend Lauralee is currently in Regional West Medical Center on a ventilator. Her sister, who is also my friend, can’t visit her and can’t speak with her. Stanna has to rely on the words of a nurse, who provides updates on Lauralee’s condition. We all hope she gets better soon. I worry about Stanna. Her parents have both passed away and while she tells me she is okay, I can’t not worry about her.

I don’t give a shit if you only had a mild case and you try to tell me it’s no big deal. Half a million Americans didn’t have a mild case. Millions more are going to have long-term damage. You might be one of them. Still more will have effects we don’t even know about yet because this is so new and we are learning new things every day. Yeah, that’s how science works. We learn something new and we adjust accordingly. It’s not fake news. It’s not lying to the American people. It’s science and its how we progress as a species.

I’ve had to stop reading the news again because I’m sick and tired of being called a pussy and a scaredy-cat for not wanting to go out and mingle with people. I honestly thought Americans would come together and wear masks to help flatten the curve and give doctors a chance to properly help patients instead of being forced to make decisions to send people home. I thought they would wear a mask to help their fellow man and give scientists time to develop a vaccine.

You know what? I am fucking scared. I’m scared I might get COVID. I have no idea how it will affect me and I don’t really want to find out. It’s the same reason I keep up on my other vaccines. I don’t want to take a chance on a mild case of shingles. I could get the most severe case. I’m not taking a chance. Since there is no vaccine yet for COVID – yes, there are several in trials now – I am doing what I can to reduce my risk. I am actually fearful when I go to work because I am around people that I have to trust are following the guidelines to keep others safe.

And so, as I write this, I’ve contacted a friend, who was going to come over for Thanksgiving dinner and canceled. I know I am breaking her heart, as well as Paul’s, because they were looking forward to this. I know she follows the same guidelines and takes the same precautions I do, but I don’t want this shit. I’m not prepared for me or for Paul to get sick or die. No, I’m not exaggerating. We don’t know how either of us are going to react if we contract COVID-19. I don’t want to find out. I also don’t want her, or anyone else to die from this virus.

So, if it’s okay with you all, if you see me in the grocery store, feel free to nod, say hi, and keep walking. I know we both want to get out of there as quickly as possible. I think I’m just going to stay at home other than work and therapy until we get back into the yellow. I’ve got enough trauma going on already. I don’t want to add anymore.

Thanks for understanding and stay safe out there. Also, if you don’t wear a mask, please reconsider. It’s not just to protect you, it’s to protect others from you. Thanks.


My hair went that way on its own


Scars 2


  1. Rick Myers

    Right now this has to be one of the most personal and insightful pieces you have written.
    Maybe, because it strikes my heart.
    Maybe, because we know the two sisters you are talking about.
    Maybe, because my father is isolated and suffering from Covid.
    Maybe, because I know you and know how caring you are.
    Be well, stay well and try to celebrate a little something each day.

    • Irene

      Thanks, Rick. I try to be grateful every day. Statistically, I shouldn’t have made it this far, so, even if it’s a dumb poem I write or playing fetch with my cat, I try to remember those little things and be happy and contented in them.

      I hope your dad gets better soon, Rick. I’m thinking of him in all this as well.

  2. Stanna Funk

    Irene, you are spot on. I too have been scared about contracting COVID because I knew the effects it can have. Now I’m living my biggest fear. I rarely go into a store anymore. I can’t tell you the last time I went into Wal-Mart. I’ve made quick trips to Family Dollar and Fresh Foods and now especially with my mask on. When will people realize the severity of COVID and di the right thing! Stay safe my friend!

  3. Irene, pushing through and wearing a mask in spite of the triggers of PTSD is heroic.

    I’ve watched friends and family affected by this insidious virus, and I would wish it on absolutely no one. Thank you for sharing your heart.

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