Panic Room (After COVID-19)

Katie Krafft

Watching Ottawa, Illinois slowly become a ghost town was unsettling. I could feel panic gripping me when I observed the customers of Walmart enter and exit the facility wearing gloves and face masks. But nothing could top watching the fear seize my sister every time we left the house: the constant questions like “Why are they wearing masks?” “Are we safe?” “What’s going on?” and never knowing quite how to answer them. With every venture out of our small home, I could feel her strong grip on my hand as if I could protect her from the dangers of the virus. And I—being the stubborn eldest child—foolishly thought I could. I would take on this infectious disease if it meant keeping her safe. And having to deal with frequent depressive episodes makes it incredibly hard to be the parent to Addison that my parents want me to be. How do I look my parents in the eyes and tell them that I barely have the strength to do my own classwork let alone make my sister sit down and do hers? How do I look them in the eyes and tell them how scary it is existing in my head right now? How do I get them to understand that I cannot be a nanny and a maid to them. I am still their daughter. The lockdown made all of us physically closer, and yet I feel so far away from everyone. It is like I am staring at strangers, believing that I should recognize them, but I never do.  

Each day that goes by, visions flash before me of all those apocalyptic movies and books that I have absorbed in my eighteen years of life. Seeing the empty streets I cannot help but relate it back to scenes in zombie movies where the main character’s town looks like a ghost of what it used to be. And as the fear of a complete shutdown looms over my county’s head, I wish I had not taken for granted all those opportunities I had of adventuring outside. I believe I am still in denial over everything that is going on, but that is a coping mechanism. Every time I try to process what is going on, I feel the panic and dread grip my lungs. The anxiety is suffocating. It feels like there are hundreds of pounds on my chest and the fresh air never comes. To prevent that from happening everyday, I choose to live in my own world. 

Yet living in my own world has its downsides. In my struggle to find a grip in my own reality, the mental struggles that I have been trying to grapple with for years have begun to choke me. In this tiny house, there is no room for me to hide. The baby blue walls of my room keep in little to no heat and all I am left with is this tingly numb sensation. As my blood boils with the inability to remain in control of my life, I begin to take out that internal crisis on those around me. My sister and my boyfriend end up taking most of the hit. Small pet peeves like her inability to stay in one room, his constant need to recommend songs to me, and her need to always be loudly FaceTiming someone prove to be more than I can handle sometimes. I send him ice cold messages, and Isaiah replies with such disgusting softness that I can barely stand it. No matter what approach I take with Addison, she has deemed it her mission to make everything more difficult than it needs to be. Both Addison and Isaiah treat the pandemic with such an apparent lack of concern that it is infuriating. How can they be worried about music coming out and TikTok celebrities when we are on lockdown? How can they be worried about such things when my mind is filled with every horrible scenario? 

My parents fuel the anxiety. I have never been a fan of guns, but my father states that the one he keeps now is only for defensive purposes. He says it is a precaution in case the stores run out of food and people take to stealing and looting. The gun that is locked away tight in my father’s dresser drawer calls out to me in the middle of the night. It describes every way a burglar could get into my house: “The back door is unsturdy, and it would be so easy to break in, regardless of the door being locked. First, you would hear the door burst open. Second, you would try and wake Addison up and hide her. Third, as this is happening, the thief is making his way to your room. Fourth, Addison is safe while you are dead on the floor because you did not have enough time to hide.” (No, no, go back. Hide with Addison.  No, that will not work. We cannot both fit under the bed. The closet would be too easy. There is nothing to hide behind. It would be dark, but is it really worth the risk? Climb out the window. No, what if there is another thief outside.) Too many possibilities. Too many options.     

Neither Addison nor Isaiah could begin to imagine the war raging inside of my head. And I am tired of the “I understand”’s and the “I get it”’s. Social distancing is supposed to stop the spread of the virus, but now I am forced to witness my demons lurking behind every corner of my house. The outside world is no longer safe; but what am I to do when the inside world is just as dangerous? The demons have made their homes in the thin walls of my room. They whisper to me, “The infection is closing in on you. Your lungs are collapsing. The walls are closing in on you. The virus is getting closer to you. What will you do?” The thoughts take my breath away in the most cruel way possible. The thoughts make getting up in the morning more of a struggle than it should be. They strip me of my motivation and my passion and my drive. They make being a perfect daughter, a helpful sister, and a stable girlfriend so incredibly hard. They make existing in this tiny house excruciatingly difficult.   

The days where the sky opens up and graces me with her sunrays are kinder than the days where the clouds loom over us like this disease. I can feel the sunrays healing me. The warm air glazing my skin. The rain washing away all the negative thoughts. The fresh air filling my lungs as I freely run for however far my legs will take me. Those are the days I live for. The days that are soft and kind. They are hard to come by but I am learning to not take them for granted. I am learning that when God presents me with a day that feels gentle I need to embrace it with welcome arms. I once read that rain is symbolic for being reborn and cleansed. I cannot help but believe that with my whole heart as the rain caresses my skin and purifies me once again.  

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