"I Came Home, Emptied My Grocery Bags, and Violently Wept"

By Bryan Menegus on at

Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? How are you coping with reopening? Submit a story using this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and provide as much detail as you’re comfortable with.

Authors’ identities have been verified, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.


Lori Ingham, Kindergarten teaching assistant, New Hampshire

So when it was announced in our state that we were going to be stay-at-home, one of my biggest concerns was my paycheck. I work as a teaching assistant, so who knows how long it would be before we would be allowed back to the school. My husband’s company was going stay at home so he would at least be getting paid (albeit later they told him they were cutting his pay until things went back to normal), but I was concerned about having to do unemployment for the foreseeable future.

I had a doctor’s appointment when my boss announced that those of us who stuck around for that week to help with cleaning and setting up home school packets would still be getting paid for the foreseeable future. I was thankful for that and thankful that I had such a kickass boss who would do that for us.

But the toughest part was that doctor’s appointment. I had felt a hard lump in my breast and was scared shitless enough that I went to my regular doctor.

Immediately she suspected cancer but had me go to a team to get evaluated. It took two biopsies to figure out it was a large tumour that was mostly precancerous, with only a little bit of stage one invasive cancer. Because of the size of the tumour, I did have to have a mastectomy done on the affected breast. The hospital where I had the operation already had some cases of covid in the hospital, so the idea of me catching it was a real possibility. Thankfully the surgery went well, so now I’m just dealing with the other aspects of treatment to get rid of remaining cancer. My saving grace during this time to keep me occupied and sane has been Animal Crossing and watching videos. But a summer job is going to be a no-go for me because of the treatments, and I don’t think anyone would want to hire someone who has to deal with cancer treatments right when they hire them.

It really pisses me off when I see people with no masks in public these days. We are supposed to be wearing masks to protect other people, but I feel like there has been a lapse in compassion. My husband and I are both compromised: along with my cancer and other health issues, my husband has a heart condition. We can’t afford to get sick with this thing. We have our 11-year-old son to think of.

[Ed. Note: if you’d like to visit Lori’s island in Animal Crossing, her Nintendo Switch friend code is: SW-8535-0107-3129]

Andrew, higher education, Ohio

I worked remotely from March 17th until the end of April, at which point I was furloughed, with a pending return date of August 1.

Applying for unemployment was an absolute bear, as the Ohio system was overwhelmed; it took me no less than 45 separate phone calls to actually get my unemployment PIN reset so that I could apply for my initial benefits. Even after that, I didn’t receive a payout until this week (today is May 28).

This has been especially rough, considering that I have a 7-month-old and a wife who also works in the non-profit sector. On top of that, I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my neck in April, which is likely going to need surgery – obviously a huge concern, given that it’ll be a multi-day hospital stay in the middle of all the covid-19 mess.

I do still have insurance; I paid forward as soon as I was furloughed, but it’s still going to cost quite a bit out of pocket once my neurologist/neurosurgeon makes the final decision.

To be frank, on a daily basis, I’m lost. I wander around and try to find ways to distract myself when I’m not in bed from the pain. My physical therapy has been ongoing (mandated by my neurosurgeon), but even basic tasks have been difficult. If I pick up my daughter, my entire left arm goes numb. I did apply (and receive!) a degree of aid from a relief fund in the hobby games industry, as I’m a freelance writer and game designer, which was certainly welcome. But it’ll be enough to cover our bills for this month and a bit of next... and that’s it.

We’re certainly in a tight spot financially, but effectively being trapped in the house has only added to the frustration and depression.

Danielle, CNC repair technician, British Columbia

I have been at my job since 2018. We’re a small shop – 12 employees. When everything here shut down in the middle of March, we lost one employee who had been waiting for surgery (elective surgeries were cancelled). I took over most of those responsibilities. My kids ended up being home from school, and my husband is working from home. With what I do, I can’t work from home. So it became my responsibility to be the only person in my family that did things outside the home.

Our sales for May were down over 50-percent from the same period last year. The company did not make enough in May to pay all salaries. Management has applied for some sort of help from the Canadian government to help pay salaries and keep us employed. If this application is not approved, it will mean reduced hours for all of us. I would go from working around 30 hours a week to about 18 hours a week. This is still enough for us to get by, but less than I would get if I applied for the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit). However, the CERB is limited to a maximum of 16 weeks, and I don’t know if there will be enough work to come back to in 16 weeks. I worry that going on the CERB would be voluntarily laying myself off, and we can’t afford for me to not work four months from now.

Things at home have been more stressful over the last few months. Our kids stopped school right at the beginning of Spring Break, so they had two weeks off before they started schooling from home. The first two weeks of at-home school was horrible. I have three kids doing three different curricula. The Ministry of Education suggested amounts of learning time for each day, and my kids were greatly exceeding this trying to finish the work that had been assigned. After two weeks we said “enough!” and took things into our own hands. We decided as a family that the kids would continue with math and language arts as assigned by teachers, and then would spend the rest of their time working on projects/experiments that they were interested in. Instead of working on three different things, they are now working together on projects. This has made “school” much better, and resulted in less stress for my kids.

At the same time, my husband has been doing work remotely from home. The separation of work and home doesn’t exist any more, and he doesn’t like that. And with me at work, he is the one that children come to when something goes wrong, or when they need help with school, which interrupts his work flow. So he’s at home more, I’m at home less, kids are home all the time, and it all just feels weird.

But through all of this, there has been a profound gratefulness that we are both still employed, that the number of covid cases in our province is relatively low, and that no one we know has gotten sick, never mind died. It is a strange emotional state, of being stressed but relieved at the same time.

Also, I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned it, but as the primary shopper for our family, I have noticed that food has definitely gotten more expensive. For my family of 5, I used to spend about $220/week on food. It is closer to $260/week now. I know we can afford to pay these increased prices, but I don’t know about other people. These truly are trying times.

Anonymous, sysadmin, Ontario

My partner and I are insular on a good day. We enjoy our privacy and enjoy having control over where/when we see people. It is just who we are. It isn’t that we dislike people – we just like being alone. I work in an office in downtown Toronto and my partner works from home normally.

Before this all began, our son was really sick and both of us worked from home and told our friends to stay away (especially those with kids) because what he had was very contagious (stomach flu). This was the first week of March. So, just for context, we hadn’t left the house in about a week by that point.

Then the shutdown began. Warnings came out that you should stay home. (Federally, our premier told us to go ahead with our vacations anyway... idiot.) Our son wasn’t going to school. I was working from home. And my partner continued working as normal. At first, I kind of missed the commute. Travelling into the office was a mix of exercise and a routine that I was actually growing to like, even though it was a two hour commute. We were fine. We worked and not much changed.

I think my first major panic attack was after my first trip to a grocery store. I have an anxiety disorder and panic attacks are typically triggered by things like large crowds. My partner bemoaned the trip saying that she was worried for my safety. However, she is immunocompromised and I would rather get sick instead of her. As soon as I walked into the Walmart the realisation of how screwed up things are hit me hard. I came home, quickly changed and showered, walked downstairs, emptied my grocery bags and then violently wept. This continued nearly every day for the first two weeks. Every time I read the news, heard from friends about their struggles, went to get the mail, etc. A panic attack a day is never fun. It got easier as time went on, but it takes a ton of self-control to keep myself together.

My partner and I are trying our best to not push our anxieties about this onto our son, as we would rather he see this in the future as that strange time he didn’t go to school.

Work stress started shortly after. My work laid off around 15 employees (we were an office of 80 so it was a huge loss) and my partner’s lost more than I know. Both of our jobs started a new mantra: “more with less.” Why anyone thinks that this idea makes sense is beyond me. Being the only person doing the work of three people hasn’t been entertaining.

Next came familial stress. First off, my brother in law who is a security guard at a hospital began having seizures. He is epileptic and his triggers are stress and lack of sleep, which I can only imagine are what has become his norm during all this. He was told he wasn’t able to work until he was seizure-free for a bit. Next came my parents. When the province started talking about possibly easing restrictions they immediately began bombarding my partner and I with requests to see our kid. I caved once. That was my mistake. I didn’t want to be the asshole who turned his parents away with tears in their eyes because they could see their grandson. Then they began requesting to come the following week. I voiced my concerns but neither my partner nor I could bring ourselves to say no. As soon as they left the second time, the panic attacks began again. I told them that we can’t do this anymore and that they would have to wait until it is over. Now I am getting weekly messages asking for visits and almost-immediate guilt trips as a result. I know I am doing the right thing. It just sucks.

My story isn’t completely doom and gloom though. My partner and I have been perfect together through all of this. We have had our spats and as such we immediately apologised and said, “we are just stressed” and we would move on. We have financially never been better. Since I don’t drop about $500-per-month on transit and we aren’t spending about $500-per-month on daycare, we have had a bit more money to move around. Our debts are slowly going down and I am working out an agreement with work to keep the work-from-home arrangement going after this.

This will be over soon. I know it. Or at least it will be over soon for us. Things are starting to look hopeful but we are still cautiously optimistic. It will be good soon.


If you would like to be included in a future edition of Sick Days, please use this Google form or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story.” Stay healthy and safe.

Featured image: Jim Cooke, Photo: Shutterstock