The Vera Didenko Experience

Here we are, in a global pandemic. The last time we were in a pandemic was back in 2009 with the H1N1 influenza virus. I barely remember that pandemic. I was working at my last employer at the time, living at home shortly before moving out to (Shaker)^2, and was dealing with a complicated relationship with Dingbat.

I don’t remember ever seeing buildings being shut down to the public, or this thing called “social distancing,” back during the H1N1 pandemic. Then again, 2009 seems so far away from where we are now in 2020.

Many folks call this the “coronavirus.” It’s scientific identification is Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). This is the end result caused by the actual virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It is similar in development, from virus to disease, as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), although not transmitted the same way.

Since the outbreak started in November 2019, my country’s leaders at first dismissed COVID-19 as a “democratic hoax.” Now that thousands of people have died and hundreds of thousands of people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 (including those who have recovered), the stock market has lost over a third of its entire value in a matter of weeks. Residents have gone to their nearest grocery store and have stock piled on toilet paper and bottled water as a result of how seriously (or lack thereof) our leaders dealt with this pandemic. Now, our federal government is proposing a stimulus bill that would send out two rounds of $1,000 checks to American adults (based off of income limits) and $500 checks to American children to help keep our economy from looking like it did 91-years ago.

Which leads me to this whole notion of social distancing. Because our country was caught with our proverbial pants down (including no federal pandemic response team to help us prepare for what we are going through now), our country’s top leaders have told us to avoid shaking hands or even elbow bumping, do not congregate in groups of 10 or larger, restaurants are now only fulfilling take out and delivery orders, and most importantly, #StayTheFuckHome.

Well then, allow me to welcome you into the Vera Didenko Experience.

As most folks are panicky over not being able to hang out with their friends for happy hour, or to play mahjongg, or even go to the damn doctor’s office, the Vera Didenko Experience is designed to allow folks (mainly neurotypical, especially allistic) go through the motions of an average day of your’s truly.

First, one is currently self-quaranting (or self-isolating) in their home. Not being able to go out for fun and entertainment is a bit of a drag. And to see television commercials for activities you once did but can no longer do, at least for the moment, makes you feel all the things.

Second, making those got awful trips to the grocery store with little financial resources that you have, because all of the local food pantries and community meal sites have been shut down.

Third, realizing that you have more month at the end of your money, you suck in your pride and ask your friends, family, and loved ones for a couple of (see 50) dollars just to make it for the next few days.

Fourth, because folks have been told to either work from home, have been laid off, or have lost their job entirely, and their children have their schools closed for the next three weeks (and it could go longer), you now have all of this time in your home. With your family. And all of your electronic devices.

Fifth – and this one is a stinger – when you go outside to the grocery store, and you see someone you know and want to be greeted by them, they will say “hello” from a distance, because they don’t know if you have “it,” the all mighty disease that’s sweeping the world over. And this depresses you like no other.

And sixth, you have to decide, with whatever cash assets you currently possess, do you spend it on. Since you were not prepared to be holed up in your home for this extended period of time, you can choose from either paying your bills but not eat or buying groceries but losing your utilities, or even your living arrangement payments.

That’s when your stomach begins to hurt, like someone threw a bowling ball straight into your solar plexus. And the more you think about how you’re going to make it with what little you have and what little social interaction face to face you receive, the more the pain grows. Hell, the pain is bad enough that maybe you can afford to pay that bill and go hungry for the next few days. It’s only for a few days, or is it?

That, Dear Reader, is the Vera Didenko Experience.

What I have described to you is a day in my life as an autistic nonbinary adult with a neverending run of financial shortcomings because of (insert latest sitcom-worthy episode here). Folks are afraid to hug me because of the “oh, they’re autistic, and they don’t want to be touched because it makes them freak out” trope, or even the “oh, if I touch that autistic person, I might become autistic and so will my children!” trope. And the whole television commercial scenario? That’s an analogy to partially describe my complex PTSD.

Your life, as disrupted as it may be, is my life on the daily. In fact, the similar can be said about folks with disabilities and the chronically ill, who are not able to hold employment due to their conditions. We are a gritty, resilient bunch, aren’t we?

So, what’s the point to all of this? I have a few pointers to help you get through your anti-social interaction phase.

First, remember that this social distancing is only temporary. Once the number of infected people begin to decrease towards a number suitable for reunification of nouns, you can return to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

Second, take this time to learn about and practice self-care. Got a nagging wrist injury? Nurse the wrist back to health. Feeling bored out of your mind? Play some mobile games on your device. Learn something about a noun you never heard before until you came across it today.

And third, when you can, help a person in need. Check on your elderly neighbor who’s homebound. Ask your friends and family how they are holding up. If someone isn’t feeling well, regardless of state, be empathetic and lend your ear and shoulder (proverbially, because, you know, global pandemic).

But most importantly, take care of you.

When this pandemic ends, the Vera Didenko Experience will be over, for most people. And there are some, like me, who will continue living with this (or any other similar) experience for the rest of our lives.

All I ask of you, when you do return to life, is to not forget about us in the Experience. Always remember that you got the opportunity to wear my figurative shoes for this short period of time. I won’t forget you; I promise.

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