For as long as I can remember, exercise has been my go-to cure-all, meditation and antidepressant. Every day, I either swim a mile — 72 lengths in a lap pool — or spend at least an hour walking outside or in the gym on various machines. Every workout feels like a miracle, as I'm transformed from an aching, anxious mess to a postmenopausal superhero. Especially in the pool, which is basically a chlorinated sensory deprivation tank, the routine offers an uninterrupted break from all the rest of my business.
That came to an abrupt end in March, with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. There was no swimming — anywhere — for the next two and a half months.
Like many Vermonters, I lost my most reliable coping mechanism and, with it, any illusion of control.
The timing was terrible. Ad sales at Seven Days dropped 50 percent overnight. And I found out my mom was dying. I spent half of April and all of May working from her apartment at Burlington's Converse Home.
I missed swimming every time I felt my lower back seize up in her gold Archie Bunker chair, from which I was applying for government aid, writing fundraising appeals, and reducing and rehiring staff. There was just enough floor space at her place to get down and stretch once in a while. I'd squeeze in a walk when she was napping or after I got home at night, on the bike path, in the dark.
By the time my mom died, I was a mental and physical wreck.
I wasn't the only one. More than 210,000 Americans have died of COVID-19; 58 of them were in Vermont. Many others, like my mom, died of other causes. Their families have been unable to gather and mourn.
We're all facing incredible stressors — the pandemic, the climate crisis, reckonings with racial justice, and an unpredictable and unprecedented U.S. presidential race. Our way of life in Vermont has changed, too, at work, in schools and, soon enough, on the ski slopes. We've all had to adapt and adjust to get through the past seven months. Found a good work-around? Next thing you know, that's disrupted, too.
The challenge of living with so much uncertainty is what inspired this week's cover story package. It offers a few ways to soldier on, from decluttering your home to punch needle rug hooking. We hope you discover something useful in it.
As for me, I'm finding ways to get through this horrific year. Writing about it, for one thing; that's been cathartic. An outdoor pool that I used most of the summer wasn't a long-term solution — it's closed now — but floating in sun-dappled water was great while it lasted. In August I hurt my shin, and the doctor made me swear off swimming and walking for the entire month of September. Post X-ray, he called it "the next worst thing to a stress fracture," and we agreed that was a well-worded metaphor for our times.
Doing meaningful, rewarding work sustains all of us at Seven Days. Hearing from readers who've taken our Staytripper recommendations. Knowing that some advertisers are supporting us because they understand the importance of local journalism. Seeing our collaboration with Vermont Public Radio recognized with a national Edward R. Murrow Award, one of the highest honors in broadcasting. Receiving timely federal and state aid. All of those things have helped to offset the significant personal and professional losses.
Special thanks to our Super Readers for sending checks and notes encouraging us to "keep up the good work."
That's the plan.
I'm back in the water, swimming in whichever Chittenden County pool I can book a lap lane. Here's hoping I'll be able to keep that up, too — and we'll all be able to find outlets for our stress — this winter.