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This article was written by a student of ENGL 3330: Writing for the News Media, which is taught by Mike Pulley. 

I’m standing here on the edge of reason. Caught in between reality and make-believe. Between the vagueness of fact and fiction. Feeling as if I’m living in an alternate universe.

“Nothing like coronavirus has happened in our lifetime,” talking heads clamor on the news, “It’s spreading like wildfire.” Recently it’s become a free-for-all for the media, trying to get the latest scoop, treating the rising death toll like the newest juicy gossip.

Sensationalized headlines run non-stop like a news ticker through my head. Some of the latest headlines include: “Does coronavirus prove biological warfare is coming?” “CDC director warns of devastating second wave” and “The path to the next normal.” I don’t know what news to believe anymore.

These facts and fabrications send a slew of questions swirling through my mind. Will things ever go back to normal? What is this “new normal” everybody is talking about? Am I overreacting about this? Am I the only one that wakes up longing for the life that has been left behind?

It’s all too much. Too much to comprehend. Too much pressure. Too much gone too fast.

I tend to overthink, to “overfeel” even. The label stuck to my thoughts and feelings reads HSP or highly sensitive person, a trait that I have been recently labeled, but I have always possessed.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, clinical psychologist, author and HSP herself, “The highly sensitive person has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in their surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.”

This label is stuck to me, but it’s somewhere like my hip, because it is a little secret of mine, not one that defines me, not something people see on an everyday basis, not something you can read from my face. It’s a little mystery, one I can share if I feel the need, but also one I can keep concealed, one that makes me special.

“Highly sensitive people process everything around them much more—reflect on it, elaborate on it, make associations,” says Dr. Aron. She also points out that the population consists of approximately 20 percent highly sensitive people, so it is not an uncommon trait.

I have always felt indescribably deeply. It is not only my own emotions, but those of others. I can’t help but sometimes feel like I have a sixth sense. I can tell immediately if somebody is upset, or if a room is loaded with negative energy.

I think it is a unique gift; it makes me loyal to those I love and makes me a very good judge of character. But with the world spiraling out of control, my senses are heightened, my emotions are unhinged and my sensitivity is being revealed to the small circle of people still allowed in my life.

The uncertainty does not help. I read over blurred headlines, tears welling up inside my eyes, knees trembling, lip quivering, just awash with a range of emotions whirling through the wind in my brain just wondering what is going to happen next.

Going to the grocery store makes me feel like a ghost, untethered to reality but still a spectator to the growing madness. People all around wear masks over their faces, hiding the emotion underneath. They wear gloves to stop the spread of the evil virus, making sure not to risk contamination.  They are quiet, shopping alone, not stopping to chit-chat.

I stroll through the ravaged grocery store with a bandana tied loosely around my face and one tight blue latex glove on my left hand. My bandana keeps falling under my nose, and I am continuously pulling it up with my ungloved hand. I am paranoid that I may inadvertently compromise the cleanliness of my right hand by instinctively touching a store shelf.

It’s the tiny things we never think about.

I am sure not to get near anybody in the store, all while thinking back to simpler times when I was able to give strangers a smile and ask if I could reach over to grab a gallon of milk.

Now I wait my turn in line, six feet away, unreadable, and untouchable.

When I return home, my mother helps me unload the groceries. She picks up each package and swipes a disinfectant wipe over the surface to defend our home from the dangerous germs lurking in the grocery store.

“You only got one package of butter?” she says with disappointment in her voice.

“Yeah. You wanted more?” I say as I continue unpacking the cereal to put in the pantry.

“Yes, I thought I put two on the list I gave you, but I guess not,” she says rummaging around in the freezer bag looking for something else now.

As soon as she finishes her sentence my dad stomps up the garage steps into the kitchen door. He looks exhausted. He has tired reddened eyes with subtle bags underneath, advertising his lack of sleep. His usually combed salt and pepper hair is haphazardly sticking up on top of his head, and his white goatee looks longer than usual.

He went to work at 5 a.m. today, just like every other day this week. As he walks over to the sink to wash his hands my mother asks him how his day was. Without missing a beat, he answers, “long.”

He ordinarily spends most of his day as the health and safety manager alone in his office doing paperwork or riding around the Michelin warehouse grounds in his golf cart. But as of two weeks ago, he has a new task.

Being in charge of health and safety drastically changes during a pandemic. When warehouse workers arrive for their shifts, he is in charge of recording their temperatures and clearing them to go to work. In recent weeks, he has sent three workers home with fevers above 100 degrees and had two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the plant.

I hate that he is having to do this. The fact that he may compromise his own health due to the ignorance of others makes me upset and scared.

The uncertainty is the scariest part, and the most used word on the news it seems. Everybody simply says the phrase “uncertain times” when addressing the possibility that families could lose loved ones and that things will never go back to normal.

It is the “un” that I think about the most. Uncertain.Unable. Uncontrollable. Undone. Unavailable. Ungrateful. Unprecedented. Unpredictable.

In these times, my sensitivity is a burden waiting to be triggered. My mind has morphed from a deep well of thoughts and feelings into a numb and foggy coherence. Our house mantra has shifted from “It will be over soon” to “It will be over eventually.

I feel a sense of guilt, a sense of deserving. I did not cherish what I had until it was lost. I wonder if everybody feels this way, if we all think back to the times we got to see our grandparents on the weekend, how we spent every Friday night surrounded by our friends and when we simply went to class. 

All of these memories are now clouded with regret. I think back to the times when I skipped class because I wanted to sleep longer, when I declined an invitation to go out because I didn’t feel like it and when I didn’t hug my friends goodbye because I would see them soon.

I constantly think about the first thing I am going to do when life is back to normal. I want to make the three-hour trip to my grandparents’ house just to hug them. I want to go to class. I want to see my friends. I want to walk around my college campus. I want to explore the world. I want to do something to help others.

When I think about all the things I haven’t done, I see this as a learning opportunity. We took every little thing for granted. Gratefulness is the message the world needs to learn on the other side of the sadness we are facing right now.

When all of this is over there is another group of ‘un’ words that I hope will come to my mind. Through this madness I want to come out on the other side: unbreakable, unshaken and unstoppable.

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