“I miss hugging people”-Black people share their stories on how COVID is affecting them.
[Black Lives In The Age of Covid-19]
In an effort to provide a more balanced representation of COVID and how it affects the very non monolithic black experience, we have decided to create a series of articles of a more in-depth account of how Black people around the nation are dealing. Last week, we interviewed Dr. Temi Aregbesola. See her story here: Dr. Temi Aregbesola: COVID-19 Black Victims Seen in Prince George’s County, MD, 65% Male.
Through these conversations, we hope to preserve what’s very real, tangible, and palpable about a small slice of the Black experience during the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020.
Meet Julia, 40. She’s of Native Indigenous American and African descent, a civil servant, and has been working with a local borough community board for 20 years. She works closely with residents and owners of small businesses to get city goods and services. She started by telling me of the landscape of the area she’s in, in Brooklyn. “Restaurants are open for takeout and they’ve relaxed their laws on serving liquor to go. Beer is important, because it’s a money maker. Breweries sell it cheaper, and they’re closed. This is so restaurants increase their revenue. Restaurants have their own cocktails now called ‘COVID’ and ‘The Rona.’ I gotta give it to NYC for its adaptability and the ability to exploit and make money during a crisis.”
Julia’s been continuing to serve NYC residents during the quarantine, as she has for the past two decades she’s been in the role, and she took the initiative to push her office to go remote. “I set up my company to work remotely, while the city didn’t give me the resources, I took it upon myself to set it up.”
Her opinion of how COVID-19 has affected the mindset of the public, since she still works with them daily, is enlightening. As a literary studies and sociology major with a Master’s degree in each, her views are personal and encompassing of the wider population. “Sociology is the study of society working together. I never studied psychology but seeing as I suffer from bipolar 2 and major depression, I pick up on people,” she divulges.
“I notice that a lot of people are not ok, but they’re pretending to be,” Julia explains about the state of mental health for Black Americans. “It helps to be aware of their general way of behaving before this. I don’t know if it’s anxiety or what, but I just know that they’re not [behaving] the same.” For example, her supervisor will send emails at 4:00AM. “I told my direct supervisor, ‘Check on your colleague, because she’s not OK.’ People try to put on brave faces, but when you reach out to them, they’re like ‘Oh my God, I’m losing it.’”
How is she coping personally? “To be honest, the relationship that has been tested the most is my relationship with myself,” she reveals. “I’ve always felt alone, always felt isolated, so this isn’t anything new. But I realize that I miss the freedom to just go out if I want to and not have to worry. I miss hugging people.”
Julia is one of the many hundreds of thousands who unfortunately suffered from symptoms of the virus.
Total U.S. infections as of May 21 stood at 1,528,235 and deaths at 91,664, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“I had Rona and I recovered. That’s why I’m so open with it.” She goes on, “Day 11, I started having really vivid images of the COVID-19 particles chasing me. My sight is not back yet. I would hold the remote and think..ok…what is this for? It feels like dementia and alzheimers. There’s something called ‘Rona brain.’ [When I was sick] my brain was so foggy. Even now, two weeks in recovery, it still is.”
Julia then explains how she eventually recovered. “I know some people who have not left their house since this started. I mean, even prisoners get an hour in the yard,” Julia quips. “The government recommends getting sunshine and fresh air, just do it social distance style. It’s a scientific fact that fresh air and sunlight saves lives. I definitely think it helped speed up my recovery. I worry about the people who are so scared to go outside.”
Julia’s been practicing intentional self care to stay healthy during the pandemic. She explains that she’s more cognizant of how the (in)actions of others can affect her, and this in turn makes me more vigilant about her own health in terms of her thoughts, what she eats, and how she allows people into her space. She makes sure to cook using lots of garlic and ginger since they are natural immune boosters. “Lemon water is one of the reasons I’m still alive since my battle, so I make sure to drink hot lemon water every day as it is a natural system flush. Greens are a necessity. I’ve even started growing my own food from food scraps to ensure what I’m consuming is as safe and healthy as possible,” she says.
She doesn’t stop there. She does the Transcendental Meditation group calls twice a day. “When I was sick, I couldn’t even meditate. I work with crystals, and I’m catching up with my classwork. I have a food scraps garden in my kitchen. And when I feel I need someone to check on me, I check in on other people. It becomes a reciprocal thing. They do the same thing [for me]. That’s what I think we need.”
We live in a society in the US where the focus is never [on] mental health. Especially in communities of color and immigrant communities. There’s still a stigma that we have. We can’t admit [we’re mentally ill]. Because of that a lot of people suffer in silence and I do mean silence. Because I was one of those people, I can see it in others. There’s a look. It’s what I used to look like, what I used to feel like. But you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. All I can do is reach out.
Julia’s vulnerable commentary about mental health of herself and the public she serves virtually was a welcome surprise to a conversation that can be so dim. Her accepting opinion of local and scathing criticism of national government reflects many of the opinions I’ve encountered in my own personal network regarding the choice of which states and which types of businesses should reopen. She further surprised me with her outlook on the future. She shared what she believes life will be like after the pandemic is over, or at least how she hopes things will be: all of the issues and ills in this country–economic, racial, and healthcare, inequality
would have been totally exposed. The crisis of something as simple as availability of fresh food to some communities is now out in the open. People are starting to see that just because people work a job where no one pays attention to them, doesn’t mean they’re not essential, Julia says. “I never envisioned the day where a food delivery or fast food worker would be essential. So the recognition of these things, but tangible action to minimize the gaps of inequality,” she says.
“In New York City we live in multi units, there’s nothing that’s separated from anything else,” Julia explains. “So everything we do affects everyone else. Now you have people who are forced into their homes who don’t have a safe space. There could be violence – like sound, smoke, whatever people are burning every day and night. People are struggling to find a sense of peace. Those are things that the government can’t control. How do we interact with other people? How do we minimize the negative effects on others while still enjoying our own lives? It’s exacerbated by the question of ‘when will this end?'”
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