One Expat's experience amid COVID-18

I keep trying to finish this post. I get to a good place, leave it to post the following day, only to wake up the following morning to a completely different world. The global anxiety is straight up palpable. Generally I don’t consider myself particularly anxious, but as one small member of the large human race collective, I can feel it. It’s like standing next to a large magnet. I don’t see anything, but I can sense the charge in the air around me. I feel my own heart rate thumping a little faster and notice my muscles holding on to more tension than normal.

This is a surreal situation to be in. A situation that many of us have neither experienced nor contemplated experiencing. Some sort of natural disaster or emergency localized to one area, okay, that’s within the realm of understanding. But a pandemic. A threat to the entire world. What is happening??

As a resident in a country that, as I’m writing this, has not yet been affected, has just had their first case, is only just now having multiple confirmed cases, I feel as if I’m watching a massive tidal wave approach. It’s already washed over communities in the distance, and I see it headed straight for us, but in what time frame? With what consequence? Relatively benign? Catastrophic? I watch friends and family across the world reel from the effects this virus has caused. Some are taking it more in stride than others, casually shrugging shoulders as if this was all one big fire drill. Others are posting from their hospital beds, pleading for the rest of the world to take the dire predictions seriously.

Multiple times this past week, I have been in a position of making decisions I don’t feel equipped nor emotionally ready to answer. Mostly, they revolve around the central question of do we stay/do we go. And, at multiple times this week, I have found myself completely paralyzed – mentally and physically. As a therapist, I have training in helping to guide someone towards a decision, and yet when I was in the hot seat, even knowing all the tricks, I couldn’t guide myself anywhere. I felt frozen. Any shift would be a vote for one course of action over another. I can make a pro/con list all I want, but emotions don’t always fit into neat, tidy boxes.

What complicates matters is the self-awareness of my own biases when it comes to risk. I am a chronic minimizer when it comes to danger. Sometimes this comes in handy: I can remain calm in otherwise stressful situations or not feel overwhelmed with fear when I am faced with some sort of threat. But it also means that I might miss or downplay important indicators something is wrong.

So when faced with the decision of deciding whether my family should abruptly back a bag and evacuate our home, my brain short-circuits itself. It tries to weigh the risks on both sides: fewer cases in current country but a more vulnerable health infrastructure to manage the virus when it does hit versus thousands of cases in my home country, long airline travel to get there, but at least the system holistically is in better shape and would be more likely to withstand the strain of the ongoing pandemic.

My gut? It says stay put. This is our home. We have our stuff here. We are comfortable here. We are healthy (right now). I can weather a quarantine much better from this walled compound, with a full pantry stash, complete with space to run around and play for the kids.

But then the doubt creeps in. Are you only leaning that way because of your bias? Are you making a false conclusion about the risk in staying put? Are you downplaying the potential for needing medical care and then not being able to receive it? Is this about you just not wanting to be inconvenienced by a 30hr flight followed by quarantine with two small high-energy kids? Are you choosing convenience over safety?

And then I freeze. Because I can’t answer those questions. But what I can do, is just listen. To use the mindfulness skills I’ve been cultivating to check-in with my whole self for answers my brain can’t quite access. When I do that, I can sense my path. It’s not very loud, just a slight feeling that whispers: stay.

So we’re staying.

I have no idea if it’s the “right” decision or if I will regret the decision in a week from now. But at this point it doesn’t even matter. The decision has been made. Now the focus is figuring out how to make the most of what’s here now.

What decision(s), are you facing and finding yourself getting stuck on?

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