April 2020 – written 2.5 weeks into quarantine
On March 9th, I traveled to Russia to visit one of my closest friends. At the very last minute (the day before I left), I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to go because of the coronavirus and policies that were being put in place in Moscow to stop its spread. I spent that entire day crying and frantically trying to find answers. I had spent almost 10 months preparing and saving for this trip. I had scrimped and sacrificed, obviously having no idea this would happen.
The Russian consulate said they would not have an official answer until they opened on Monday at 9:00 am. To get to the airport on time, I needed to leave my house at 6:30 am, well before the consulate opened. With the best information I had, I drove 3.5 hours to the airport I was scheduled to fly out of. When I parked my car at the airport, I called the Russian consulate to verify there weren’t travel restrictions for American citizens entering Russia. They said there were no restrictions at that point (there were shortly after I left to return home). I got on my flight and finally allowed myself to be excited about what was happening. I was going. I would be seeing my friend.
In Russia, I felt free and close to a person who I love and loves me. We slept in the same bed, shared food and drinks, and hugged one another. We laughed and laughed and laughed. I made friends with his friends. We also hugged. We all shared stories and experiences and lovely meals. I also experienced that same level of freedom, safety, and movement with my environment. We moved around freely. I rode on metros, taxis, trains, trams, and buses. I was surrounded by people all day long. We visited multiple prominent national landmarks and explored what felt good to us when it felt good to us. That freedom was sacred.
There was a moment during my trip where I was alone in Red Square. I had made a special trip and had to do multiple things on my own to get there. Without knowing any Russian, I had ordered and then taken a taxi to buy new tennis shoes for my badly blistered feet, found the closest metro stop from there, navigated the complex Moscow metro system and changed lines, and then found my way to the square on foot. All by myself.
When I got to the square, I had a really sacred moment of clarity. I cried when I took the time to realize that I had gotten myself to that very moment – acutely, to the square that day. But also to be in Russia at all. I had worked so hard and saved precious, hard-earned money to be there. I had done the hard work of getting a visa, preparing myself, traveling there alone to a place I had never been before. I made all of it happen. It felt so powerful and affirming.
Just a few days before that, we had been in The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the former capital of Russia. The Hermitage complex is incredible and full of the most intricate art I’ve ever seen and will likely ever see in my lifetime. I saw dresses of Catherine the Great. I saw her amazing hand-built, gold peacock clock from Britain (check it out here! It’s beautiful). I saw furniture, art, and artifacts of the Romonov family and other important Russian figures and historical events.
While I was there, I realized quickly The Hermitage was filled with white, scalloped curtains like the ones found at the veil in Mormon temples. Out in the open for everyone to see, no recommended needed. It was like Heavenly Mother was winking at me. I smiled and felt connected to my old self, while exploring the world as my present self. It was lovely.
Before I came back, friends told me to prepare myself for what was happening and it became clear things were much different in Russia at that point than they were where I live. People were hoarding toilet paper and food. I had to ask a friend to explain what social distancing was because I didn’t know what it meant. My job teaching university students would now be fully-online and I would have to make changes very quickly to accommodate that. There was no stay-at-home order yet (there was less than a week later after returning), but I would go straight into quarantine because I had been traveling internationally.
Now that I’m back in the United States, it is a daily process managing things. On one hand, it feels comforting to be in my normal space. I’m comforted by my bed, my blankets, my clothing, my food, familiar smells. At the same time, it does not feel comforting to be in my normal space because nearly everything has changed about my life. I feel alone and confined in this space, often managing severe anxiety and suicidal thoughts and feelings. I have not been hugged since March 18th.
As a trauma survivor, there are a few things that are not only required for basic safety and comfort in the day-to-day, but for long-term recovery. The first of these is in-person, human interactions with close, safe attachment relationships. The second is making basic choices about interacting with and exerting control over my environment. Right now, those vital ingredients to safety, comfort, and recovery are blocked on a daily basis in different ways and to different degrees. This is profoundly difficult to manage.
I have been home for two and a half weeks, and I’m now just starting to realize the whiplash of what has happened to me in the last month. To be so free and safe and comfortable and mobile, to now being alone and confined and distanced from the people and things that are comforting and safe is so difficult I sometimes don’t have words for it.
Tonight, I sat on my tiny porch bundled up in my coat. It was the same coat I wore in Russia to keep myself protected from the wind and the cold. I felt comforted wearing the same article of clothing that had also been there. For a few minutes, it felt a little more okay and I felt a little more free being in the open air and seeing the dark, open sky. The same sky that covers Moscow, Russia, and all of us.
I wrote this list of mantras at the end of March to help all of us manage what we’re feeling. All of us are experiencing different types of pain. I hope this helps you feel a little comfort and peace.