UPDATED! Pandemic Diary, May 22nd, 2021: Cruel Summer

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Today is officially Day 433 since I began working in self-isolation from home for my university library system. The Victoria Day long weekend marks the beginning of summer up here in Winnipeg, but I am not in a summery mood at all.

Both Winnipeg’s mayor, Brian Bowman, and Manitoba’s premier, Brian Pallister, have called upon the Canadian federal government to send healthcare workers and contact tracers to cope with the worst situation we have been in since the pandemic started (even worse, they are squabbling with each other). This past week, Manitoba has broken records for both the number of those infected with COVID-19 and for those who are in intensive care in hospital. In fact, the circumstances are now so bad that we have begun to ship patients next door to cities in northwestern Ontario and even as far afield as Ottawa (and they are still having troubles of their own in Ontario). Things are pretty fucked up here right now.

The entire province is essentially on lockdown, and I am in a black, despairing mood, stuck in my apartment. The province even sent out an emergency warning to everybody’s cellphones last night (usually only used for child abductions), to sternly warn people to stay home and only go out for essentials. (I would have normally saved it and pasted it into this blogpost for posterity, but why bother?)

I have gone 15 months without a hug, or being in close proximity to anybody but a doctor. I cannot get a straight answer from anyone as to when I can get my second shot of COVID-19 vaccine, or even what brand I will get (my first shot was Oxford/AstraZeneca, but I could receive Moderna or Pfizer for my second shot, or maybe not?). I am losing my psychiatrist, and it is unlikely that I will be able to find a new one who can take me on as a patient. I am angry and tired and just plain FED. UP.

So forgive me if I use this blog, normally about social VR, to vent. This is turning into a cruel summer. I leave you with the following tweet, with which I agree wholeheartedly:

I only want to see one more [Brian] Pallister press conference. At it he will:

1. Ask for forgiveness from Manitobans for the incompetent performance of his government, resulting in far too many avoidable COVID-19 deaths;

2. resign;

3. instruct his successor not to repeat his mistakes.

UPDATE May 23rd, 2021: Today CBC News reported:

When Premier Brian Pallister says Manitobans are living through the darkest days of the pandemic, there are plenty of measures to back that up.

For starters, there are more COVID-19 infections in this province than ever before. On Saturday, the seven-day average daily case count rose to 482, a new pandemic record.

That works out to a daily infection rate of 34.3 new COVID cases each day for every 100,000 people, the highest infection rate among Canadian provinces and U.S. states. Alberta is a distant second, with 20.6.

New infections today lead to more hospitalizations down the road. During this third wave of the pandemic, a greater proportion of COVID hospital patients require intensive care.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Manitoba ICUs hit a record 80 earlier this week and is technically higher now. There were 74 COVID-19 patients in Manitoba ICUs on Saturday and seven more Manitoba patients in Ontario hospitals, some now located as far away as Ottawa.

In living memory, Manitoba has never had to ship ICU patients out of province simply to relieve the pressure on hospitals that are now struggling to deliver basic care. Hence Pallister’s request on Friday for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to send Manitoba nurses and respiratory therapists.

As well, Winnipeg’s five-day test positivity rate reached a new pandemic record of 16.8 per cent Saturday.

In its analysis, the CBC lays the blame for this situation firmly at Brian Pallister’s feet:

Sadly, Manitoba can not vaccinate its way out of an immediate hospital crisis. The time for long-term solutions ended in early April, when COVID-19 cases in this province began an exponential rise.

When the top priority in this province would appear to be staunching the spread of COVID-19 in Winnipeg, the epicentre of the pandemic, non-essential businesses remain open, office workplaces are not compelled to allow their employees to work from home and manufacturers are not taking a break to give the alleged circuit breaker more teeth.

Only the province could order such measures, which were implemented in part during an April 2020 first wave that turned to be a ripple in Manitoba.

Instead, the province has opted against the most effective measures at its disposal during its greatest time of need.

…Manitoba’s premier is throwing shade at a U.S. president — and asking the Canadian prime minister for help — while this province declines to do everything it could to combat a third wave that’s been gaining momentum for eight weeks.

There were many voices calling for a short, sharp lockdown weeks ago, calls which Brian Pallister and his ministers ignored. And yet he has the gall to suggest that it is Manitobans themselves who are to blame. Countless Manitobans have become sick, and some have died, due to Brian Pallister’s ineptitude.

I am absolutely incandescent with anger this weekend, walled within my apartment to protect my health and safety as one in six Manitobans tests positive for COVID-19. The next few weeks are going to be ugly, and much of it could have been avoided if we had had a truly effective, proactive, competent provincial government.

And I vow that, if I should survive this pandemic unscathed, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the opposition wins the next Manitoba election. Enough is enough.

Please Read: The RyanSchultz.com Blog Is on Indefinite Hiatus

Next week, I will reach the one-year mark of working from home in self-isolation for my university library system (my full-time paying job). As the pandemic drags on, my chronic clinical depression has become worse and worse. I regret that I am now at the point where I have to put this blog on hold. For how long, I don’t know. At least until I can get my worsening depression under some sort of control.

I am really struggling with my mental state, and I need to do this to focus my limited energies on my paying jobI WANT TO MAKE THIS VERY CLEAR: I AM NOT SUICIDAL!!! I just need to take a break from the blog.

I need to take some time to heal

I will still be active on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, Twitter, and Clubhouse (where all I have to do is listen), and I will still be showing up at Bray’s Place in Second Life, and perhaps a few other social VR platforms and virtual worlds (I feel very guilty for neglecting Sinespace these past six months). But that’s the extent of what I can do right now.

So this will be my last blogpost for a while. I’m so sorry, you guys. I tried to keep going, but I have to rest and heal for a bit. I hope you understand, but even if you don’t, I am still stepping away from the blog.

Clip ‘n’ Save: Mental Health Resources During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Image source: Kids Help Phone (Canada)

UPDATED! Pandemic Diary: March 8th, 2021: “Are You Out of Your Godforsaken Mind?!??”

Today is Day 358 since I began working in self-isolation from my apartment for my university library system. Next week, on March 16th, 2021, it will be an entire year that I have been operating this way.

I slept so poorly last night that I took another yet sick day from my paying job, and so far, the only things that I have been able to accomplish by 1:00 p.m. today have been:

  • having a shower and making a pot of coffee;
  • going for a brief walk outside in the sunshine; and
  • creating a pile of 14 months’ worth of pharmacy receipts that I need to submit electronically to my insurance company.

Yes, fourteen months of pharmacy receipts (and please do NOT feel sorry for me; I have a 16-month window to submit pharmacy claims to my insurance company, and I have a well-paying, unionized job with excellent benefits, including pharmacy coverage, up to a certain point when the Manitoba PharmaCare program kicks in).

Yes, as a depressive, I have been avoiding this task for a long, long time, which of course, only makes it worse when I finally do attempt to tackle it (I am the same way about doing the dishes and cleaning my apartment). But I find it truly ironic that the most depressing part of being depressed, is going through the procedures that force you to face your depression, head on, such as submitting pharmacy receipts. I’d rather have a root canal than do this. But I have to face it.

As the coronavirus pandemic has dragged on, my chronic clinical depression has slowly and steadily gotten worse and worse. And, at the one-year mark, I now have to put all options on the table, including taking an extended sick leave from my paying job, something I would not have countenanced even a month ago.

I want to clearly repeat something that I have said before:

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although I suffer from a chronic form of clinical depression, I am not suicidal. I have every intention of living that extra quarter-century to age 80, and beyond! I have to live to witness and document what happens next in the ever-evolving metaverse! But I do need to get some practical matters settled. I hope you understand. 

Please don’t worry about me. I am taking good care of myself and coping with the current situation as best I can.

I am doing literally everything I can to take good care of myself (antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, talk therapy, and leaning on my real-life and virtual world social networks). For example, on Sunday I held a one-hour Zoom call with the friends in my (currently suspended) Arts and Entertainment group, just to vent about the truly epic, roller-coaster twists and turns of the past couple of weeks, which was wonderfully therapeutic. I talk to many people, including professionals, about my problems. I take long naps. I listen to music. I go for walks. Every so often, I have had a good cry, and a good rage at the universe. Everything helps.

In the past, I have landed up in a hospital psychiatric ward for treatment of severe clinical depression twice (once after my marriage fell apart, and a second time after a textbook-classic case of hit-the-wall job burnout). So I need to pay attention to what is happening to me, rather than continue to put on a brave face and say that I am fine.

Today, I have been following the news media as they report breathlessly on every single possible aspect of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey. And I am absolutely incandescent with rage at how people like Piers Morgan have the audacity to say that Meghan is lying when she says she was pushed to the brink of suicide because of her situation. One person tweeted:

WHEN SOMEONE TELLS YOU THAT THEY ARE STRUGGLING, BELIEVE THEM. I AM DONE WITH SUFFERING IN SILENCE. You will hear about it!

By the way, the only Piers Morgan footage that you need to watch is this clip featuring the magnificent Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a Black woman who quite rightly took Piers to task for his response: “Are you out of your Godforsaken mind?!??”

God bless you, Dr. Mos-Shogbamimu, for daring to speak truth to power.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted, one way or another, as to what happens over the next few months as I wait to get a vaccine in my arm, somehow, somewhere, somewhen, God knows when.

Please continue to keep me in your thoughts and prayers, and please stay in touch.

Thank you, and God bless.

UPDATE 5:23 p.m.: Well, I finally had a nap this afternoon to catch up on some badly-needed sleep, and I also had a good cry. And I’ve been listening to a great song by Amy Grant and James Taylor called Don’t Try So Hard on an endless loop:

Today has been a pretty horrible day for me, but I believe it will get better.

UPDATE 8:28 p.m.: Finally, some good news today! My mother called, and she and my stepfather (who are both in their eighties) have been able to make appointments to get their COVID-19 vaccines on March 21st. I am so relieved.

UPDATE March 9th, 2021: Today ITV announced that Piers Morgan is quitting his job at Good Morning Britain. Translation: he was fired, but Piers was given the option to say he was leaving rather than he was fired. Good riddance to bad rubbish!

Pandemic Diary, March 5th, 2021: Broken Together

One of my favourite songs is a duet by Amy Grant and James Taylor called Don’t Try So Hard (even though I consider myself an agnostic, I still love Amy Grant’s voice and I am still a big fan of her music, which I listened to endlessly as a teenager in my church youth group days).

So, I tossed it into YouTube Music to spin up a radio station of related songs, and up pops a song from Casting Crowns, Called Broken Together. It’s actually a good song:

How I wish we could go back to simpler times
Before all our scars and all our secrets were in the light…

Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together?
If you can bring your shattered dreams and I’ll bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us?
The only way we’ll last forever is broken together

And “broken together” seems like an apt two-word description of what all of us, collectively as a society, are going through with this soul-crushing, dream-deferring coronavirus pandemic. I find myself wandering through my rarely-left-behind apartment like a zombie. I pause on my way to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup, and suddenly feel the weight of painful reality come crashing down upon me again, and I lean against the wall and close my eyes for a minute, and steel myself to continue. Keep going, keep moving, keep breathing. Keep living.

The next three to six months of the pandemic are going to be hardest stretch of the marathon yet, I fear. It doesn’t help that I have little to no faith in Brian Pallister’s incompetent, pompous, and adversarial Conservative provincial government here in Manitoba, which has largely mismanaged this crisis almost from day one.

For example, take a look at this map showing the locations of vaccination clinics in two neighbouring provinces, Saskatechewan to the west, and my Manitoba to the east:

God, when you wish you were living in Saskatchewan, you really know your life is going sideways. 😉

(OK, I was joking, people. It was a joke. Check the emoji! Please put your pitchforks and your tar and feathers away. I already got almost-cancelled last week, and I have zero wish to repeat that experience.)

Sometimes my anger, verging on pure volcanic outrage, is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, the only thing that propels me through my day. But anger is exhausting, and I am already bone tired. So sometimes—often—it slips into depression. I took three sick days from my paying job last week, something I am not proud of. But it was necessary. I need to take care of myself. I am broken.

So many of us are now feeling broken, yearning for the simpler, pre-pandemic times, and that brokenness, and that need to connect, is expressing itself in society in unexpected and weird ways. We now gather and commiserate on Clubhouse and in Twitter Spaces instead of our local community bars and coffee houses.

Last night, as I was listlessly scrolling for some much-needed socialization on Clubhouse, I came across one room with Lindsay Lohan and her acolytes, and a second room where Paris Hilton was presiding over her minions (what, is this 2006 again?!??). All we need is for Britney Spears to pop up on Clubhouse (Free Britney!) and then we’d have the Unholy Trinity riding together again…I mean, if that isn’t a sign of the impending apocalypse, what is?? (Thank God, Margaret Cho was discussing female comedians and comedy with her usual acerbic wit in another room. Some sanity still prevails.)

Everything old is new again: two-thirds of these people were in Clubhouse rooms last night (surely this must be a sign of the impending apocalypse)

Use whatever technology you can muster—Clubhouse, Twitter, FaceTime and Zoom, and yes, even social VR and virtual worlds—to maintain our connections, our togetherness, in this time of brokenness. Reach out to each other. Comfort each other.

We can be broken, together.

Stay safe and stay healthy!