Julie Whitehead

Julie Whitehead

I went to spring break for a long weekend in Memphis the second weekend in March, and when I came back, the world had exploded.

I spent Monday going to three grocery stores to get everything I felt like we needed. Wal-Mart’s canned vegetable shelf told me one thing – no one likes creamed corn, even during the apocalypse. I bought four cans.

One girl at Ramey’s was standing in line at the checkout lugging three buggies full of food. She told us all, “I have five kids, and my husband is out of work until April. He told me to shop for a month,” her eyes wild with fear and apologies.

I had routine doctors’ appointments scheduled for all week and heeded what the news said about not clogging up the clinics. So, I cancelled them all, then called my therapist, whom I was scheduled to see the next week. “We’re doing the extra sanitizing and cleaning up the whole building, so we’re open for business,” she said. “Come on in.”

I got a call from her the Sunday afternoon before the appointment. Once I heard her voice, I just knew she was having to cancel. But she was calling to tell me the new protocol – I was to wait in my car until she came out to get me at my appointment time; she would open the clinic door using a disinfecting wipe, and I would walk in without touching anything.

We sat in her office and stared at each other. “Well,” she said. “Everything certainly is different, isn’t it?”

I told her about Memphis, how we had enjoyed the trip but how the news kept a low buzz of panic going in my psyche. I told her about the grocery store. She nodded sympathetically. “Isn’t it scary?” she asked.

I told her how I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the bed, paralyzed by fear. I kept up with my blog, I fixed lunch and dinner but wasn’t hungry enough to eat much. I called out to my daughter when I heard her come downstairs from where she had been “socially distancing” herself in her bedroom and asked how she was doing. She said she was fine. I hoped it was true.

How Thursday I felt better. Still panicked, but able to get work and laundry and other tasks done. How Friday I was up and about, and my daughter gave me a Charles Shultz quote on a piece of drawing paper, accompanied by her rendition of Charlie Brown and Snoopy sitting on the brick wall: “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.” How it was now posted on my desk.

How Saturday we all kind of stumbled through the day – we typically go out to eat at lunch Saturday but wound up bringing Sonic to the house. We typically run errands, find somewhere fun to go. Nothing much was open, and we were fearful of leaving the house. We worshiped with our church via livestream on Sunday, where the text was Psalm 34 – a message of hope in the middle of a hopeless period in King David’s life.

She said, “Did that help?” because I have had issues with searching for God when in the middle of a crisis situation. I said it had.

She asked what coping skills I had been using. I said prayer, playing soothing music on the radio, and not watching the news, reading it instead on the internet. I said I wasn’t afraid of the news, but the quiet of reading it online helped, instead of hearing it blaring from the television.

She said the situation was very much like our time going through Hurricane Katrina in that they had found that not only had going through the hurricane been bad, but having it on TV everywhere you looked had re-traumatized people just by seeing the worst of the worst of the destruction.

I told her we had discovered that Animal Planet was doing a marathon of a show called “Too Cute” that featured kittens, puppies and baby goats growing up in foster homes and being given to forever homes. I told her we had watched it instead of the news. She said, “That is so lovely! What is the name of the show again?” and wrote it down in her notes.

The time passed quickly during our conversation, and I had the odd feeling that I was helping her cope just as much as she was helping me. We parted on a good note, making an appointment for April, when, I said, I hoped all the craziness would be over.

She said, “No kidding,” while handing me my new appointment card, careful not to touch my hand as she did so.

Julie Whitehead is a reporter for Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

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