While it’s still hard to say where exactly Houston is on that constantly mentioned curve of coronavirus cases, it’s way easier to identify where my fellow Houstonians’ heads are.
That first month of solidarity, resolve, and can-do spirit gave way to discord, the word “plandemic,” and armed protests outside of hair salons and gyms. "Karen" became a slur, and face masks went from a prudent social safeguard to a line in the sand. Right on cue, we managed to politicize and meme the hell out of a global pandemic.
As the city’s mood changed, I began to be reminded of the well-known stages of grief as outlined by learned psychologists: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. So, with that in mind, here are The Emotional Stages of COVID-19 Mania, as adapted from the pseudoscientific clinical studies of amateur Twitter psychologists, certified armchair Facebook therapists, and Instagramming self-care mavens that surround me.
Vacation Celebration (Denial)
At first, being stuck at home sounds welcoming to an overworked culture. We are flattening the curve, and two or three weeks indoors seems reasonable. You get to finally catch up on some shows, order takeout, explore various styles of sweatpants, and just vibe out. Sloth and isolation are our calling. Plowing through another rewatch of The Office is our major work project, Joe Exotic, our office clown, and hoards of toilet paper, our hidden candy stash. You say a prayer every evening for our medical heroes and save masks and PPE for everyone on the frontlines. There is no way this lasts past late April, right?
Antisocial Distancing (Anger)
Remembering to bathe is a daily battle, but you’ve become nocturnal and now savor those 2 a.m. sober showers. You organize your first ever indoor Easter egg hunt and attend your first Zoom wedding, but duck out before the reception. You appreciate every reclaimed bit of normalcy, even if it means awkwardly navigating HEB and Whole Foods like a Wild West bandit. You swear in these trying times that now more than ever we aren’t all #hometogether. Does anyone have a sourdough starter?
The dull ache in your throat is the beginning of the end. You treat the aged cough syrup in the back of your medicine cabinet—the stuff that’s been there since the first Obama administration—like a magic elixir. You wonder what it will feel like having a COVID-19 testing strip tickle your brain. Will you forget college algebra? Will that government implant turn you into a WiFi hotspot like your high school class valedictorian posted on Facebook? Someone’s hard cough inside a grocery store may as well have been a mustard gas attack; even though it was two aisles away, you can feel tiny invaders making a land grab in your lungs. Please, oh please, don’t let my cat eat my face when I die.
Existential Oblivion (Depression)
During a 3 a.m. showing of Meatballs in your garage movie theater/makeshift gym you realize that you actually miss going to work, fighting traffic, and sipping lukewarm coffee. The everyday occurrences of our “before times” like a sold-out Astros game or a long line at your favorite barbecue joint now seem filled with intrigue and danger. Your super-sweaty, fat-shredding, full-body workouts have dwindled to half-hearted sets of 12 oz. curls, and your waistline’s expanding. Texas is starting to open back up. Sure, you can get your hair done again, but who do you really need to impress anymore? You look at your bank account, and see how that furlough has diminished your funds. Contemplating a career change for the third time that day, you Google how long it would take you to get your HVAC certification. The thought of working in an attic in Houston this summer sounds cheaper than hot yoga.
Apocalypse Cosplay (Acceptance)
The whole city and state seems to be hellbent on heartache as we surge into the summer with packed pool parties and bottle service popping again. You’ve been out to eat at an actual restaurant, and you soon realize you forgot how to eat in public. Sometimes you walk into a store and are the only customer wearing a mask and you momentarily take yours down and just breathe in the cool air in the frozen breakfast aisle at Walmart. But wearing a mask all the time does hide your frown. You begin to mouth curses at people because they won’t see. And, you find that hilarious.