From the National MS Society
With a fresh No. 2 pencil that I borrowed from my 6-year-old son, who is now a virtual first grader, I find myself standing between my pantry and the fridge.
I’m making a grocery list. Really, I’m just restocking ingredients to make planned meals for a household that is occupied 24-7.
We are two adults, two toddlers, and one betta fish. My list is full of our regular items — nothing new, nothing unusual. It’s a familiar process, especially now, since it seems to happen more frequently.
I think I have everything on the list, but now I must hunt around the house to find my wife to see if she wants to add anything. As usual, she lists all the things I’ve already written. That is also nothing new or unusual, but it’s a double-check, so, fine.
There is something special about this list: I’ve rewritten all the ingredients according to how the store is arranged. I always go in the door on the right, so it’s produce first, then meat, then bread, and so on.
It can get tricky after that, especially if you throw in a special item. Luckily, this week is not (you guessed it) new or unusual.
Arranging my list this way has become part of my routine, but I certainly didn’t do this before 2020.
As someone living with the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis (MS), I’m at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19. It’s been imperative that I make changes that limit my contact with the outside world as much as possible.
Going out into the world, amongst the people, can feel like stepping into a war zone, especially with the constant echo of information about the effect of the virus on immunocompromised people.
Every interview, medical update, and ad mentions this type of person, along with older adults. That’s me. Not the older adults part, but I am certainly the former. No doubt about it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I appreciate the constant reminder. It’s a call to remain vigilant, to stay safe, to stay mindful.
However, after a while, it makes me feel like I’m wearing fluorescent orange fatigues in the middle of battle. I am a walking target for the virus, and it’s waiting to attack.
You may be thinking, why didn’t I just do curbside pickup or use a grocery delivery service? In those early pandemic days, available curbside slots were 2 to 3 days out. Delivery times were just as delayed.
My work schedule was more flexible than my wife’s during low traffic times at the store, so off I would go. Into the wild. Gotta get the bacon!
There was also the question of attire. I live in Houston, where it gets pretty warm. However, I have to protect myself. There should be no unnecessary exposure.
My grocery battle gear was rain boots, jeans, two shirts (one with long sleeves), a hat, sunglasses, a face mask, and latex gloves.
As I walk out the door, I yell to my wife that I’ll be back. She yells back, “OK, be safe and take your mask!”
In my head, I yell back, “I think I’ve got that covered!” I don’t say it out loud. I’m not dumb. I just walk out the door — into the world, but also into battle.
It’s a battle with an enemy that no one can see, hear, or touch. It’s also an enemy to which I am particularly vulnerable.
As I head to the store, I ride in silence, but my mind is busy. I am both praying and formulating my grocery game plan.
Once I get to the store, the parking lot is packed with masked strangers. It’s funny how wearing a mask in public used to be frowned upon, but now it’s frowned on if you don’t.
The change comes with an eerie feeling — a feeling that something is not right. Of course, there’s the mask thing. But there’s also the lack of random hellos, quick conversations, and, most of all, smiles.
There is a silence of smiles. Masks, though necessary to combat the virus, widen the gap of recognition and connection. This is Texas, after all. We smile at each other, acknowledge strangers, and welcome interaction.
Plus, I’m an extrovert, so I’m having social separation anxiety. There’s a sense of loneliness, but I can’t focus on that because I’m on a mission. And I’m scared.
I miss people, but being in public now means possibly exposing myself to a virus carried by people. It’s a virus that my body is less prepared to fight. I am truly at war in this pandemic.
A few things have come to light during this time. Social distancing should really be called physical distancing. For extroverts like me, it’s more like isolation.
This feeling is nothing new for many people living with MS, for whom isolation and depression can be major issues.
If you’re having difficulty with physical, mental, and financial challenges created by the pandemic, the National MS Society has resources that can help. Whether it’s financial hardship related to the loss of a job or issues accessing care, you’re not alone.
Personally, I am thankful for my family, but I can’t wait to be back among the sweet sounds of random conversations, hellos, and smiles.
If we continue to follow the protocols, including physical distancing, and get vaccinated, that day will come soon.
Oh, and it will be easier to get the bacon!
Micah Love is the author of Micah’s Story: Redefining MS.
The National MS Society, founded in 1946, funds cutting-edge research, drives change through advocacy, and provides programs and services to help people affected by MS live their best lives. Connect to learn more and get involved: nationalMSsociety.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or 1-800-344-4867.