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Rough Start to a New Year

By Miriam

The new year is off to a stressful start. Back in December, I expected this year to be more of the same. The pandemic continues to rage on. There was no sign that the full-time job I work alongside writing these blog posts would end soon. A status quo had developed for now of staying home as much as possible, commuting to my in-person job each weekday, and dating or gathering socially with friends being next to impossible. While all of this has stayed the same, the first few weeks of January added unplanned difficulties that compounded on top of stress over the pandemic and omicron variant. 

Over the New Year’s Eve holiday weekend, someone sawed off a piece of my car’s exhaust system. At first, I thought it might be a wear and tear issue that would not be covered by insurance. The car was being very noisy and not accelerating past 20 or 25 miles per hour. When I took it to a car repair shop, as soon as they lifted the car up, we saw a piece had been sawed off. It looked like the thieves were after the catalytic converter and stole the wrong piece. Regardless, that whole section of the car needed to be replaced. Luckily, I had comprehensive coverage on my car insurance, which covered replacing the stolen piece and making related repairs. However, it took almost two weeks to get the car fixed. I also continue to hear of more and more catalytic converters being stolen in my neighborhood lately, so there is a chance it could be stolen again. When l picked up my car, one of the staff even warned me to watch out for someone trying to steal the catalytic converter again. He had come across the same car being targeted twice before and warned me to be careful. 

While I waited for the car to be repaired, I took public transit to get to work. This brought its own issues. First, there was the fear of being around more people in a closed space while riding the buses as omicron and other variants are leading to more case numbers of COVID-19 than ever. I also had not considered if this job was accessible or not by public transit when I applied for it since I have been primarily driving for years at this point. I had taken public transit to school and work for years before buying a car, so I am very familiar with how to take the different routes near my house. However, there are extremely few options that connect me to my current job. The lack of good public transit routes was one factor that motivated me to get a car in the first place. One of the bus routes connecting me to work stops running in the early evening and only runs on the hour. Most weekdays, I leave work in time to take this bus, but there are some nights we stay in the office too late. The next closest bus route, which I use the other bus to transfer to, is a somewhat long hike from work. This other bus only runs about every 20 to 30 minutes earlier in the day, on the hour in the mid-evening, and stops running by the late evening. It’s definitely not a route that runs late enough to take home from an evening concert or if you work a night shift, though it is relatively okay for people commuting to school or a 9-5 job. One day, I tried walking to this other bus from work and ended up watching it drive past when I was still two blocks away. At least I did not miss it on the way to work, though I had to take a bus that got me there almost an hour early each day just to get to work on time at all due to the infrequent intervals the buses run at. 

Other times of the year, having to walk to the bus and wait a while outside would simply be annoying. Lately, it has been a bit dangerous. We had temperatures below freezing and snow multiple times during the weeks I waited for the car to be fixed. I looked into renting a car, but especially since I am still in my early 20s, it would have added up to over a thousand dollars if I rented it for a month. Initially, I was told it might take a month for the car parts to arrive and then I found another repair shop that could repair it faster. Still, renting a car would have left me with barely any money left over when subtracting the daily rental fee from a day’s pay. I would be paying for the weekends as well, unless I dropped off the rental car on Friday and then got another on Monday. Some of the rental locations near me were also booked out when I shopped around. Using Lyft or Uber to commute also would have cut into my paycheck much more than using my own car or public transit. Sometimes, a single ride from Lyft or Uber can cost more than how much I spend on gas for an entire week, though the prices vary a lot over time. 

On top of all of this, I stubbed my toe a few months ago, resulting in a slight injury to the nail. It developed into an ingrown toenail that became infected. I showed it to a doctor months ago and it was healing fine at the time, but he told me it would heal slowly. I used antiseptic wound cleaner on it regularly after being instructed to. By December, my toe clearly was reversing course and getting worse. I called my primary care first and they were very booked up. Then, I called a local podiatrist. They were also booked up, but able to squeeze me in for an appointment in early January. My toe continued to get worse in the meantime. Unfortunately, the appointment ended up being during the time my car was being repaired and the day after a snowstorm. I had not expected either of the two obstacles back when I scheduled the appointment. By the day of the appointment, the snow had started to melt, but then froze again. Carefully, I avoided the remaining ice and snow patches as I walked in the cold to the podiatrist. Thankfully, I was able to fill the antibiotic prescription they gave me at a pharmacy near them. However, I ended up waiting over an hour for the prescription due to COVID-19 staffing issues. I did not want to walk there and walk back between the weather and my foot, so I sat in the pharmacy watching a movie on my phone. I then had to walk home with a three-pound bag of Epsom salt for soaking my foot and the prescription. While three pounds is relatively light, the weight started to really bother me when compounded on top of the weather and my toe hurting a bit after the doctor visit. I was exhausted by the time I got home that day and still had to go back the following week. At the time, I was unsure if I would have my car by then. Luckily, my car ended up being ready the day before, but that was cutting it so close. Additionally, there were sub-zero wind chills expected the day of the appointment. This definitely led to some stress as the appointment approached. While I am thankful to have my car back, the ingrown toenail is still an ongoing issue that is going to take at least one more visit besides the two I mentioned and the infection has yet to clear as of the time I am writing this. Until it fully heals, it will continue to bring some direct physical discomfort and some stress from having to deal with it. 

At least I have still felt moments of happiness and have found ways to cope with the stress. A couple of days, while consciously my mind was quiet and empty, I could physically feel the stress of the last few weeks. After a particularly rough day at work, a family member and I played a game of Chinese checkers to clear my head. We had not played in a while. It was both fun and made me focus on something besides the things stressing me. During the weeks I did not have my car, I continued to listen to a podcast full of comedians that tends to make me laugh that I used to play on my car ride home. I tried my best to get enough sleep as well, though I had to wake up earlier to compensate for a large amount of additional time the bus takes compared to driving. My body struggled to adjust after consistently not having to go to bed or wake up that early for at least months now. Some nights, I still felt too awake to sleep when I tried to go to bed earlier. Some mornings, my body resisted waking up. Still sleepy, I would head to work. If anything, I was glad to not be driving after getting so little sleep. I noticed myself making more mistakes due to the added exhaustion. I am looking forward to being able to sleep more and at the time my body prefers now that I have my car back, but I still fear the catalytic converter or another piece of the car could be stolen again. The morning after I got my car back, I heard an electric saw outside and ran to look out the window. It is not unusual for people to use power tools in their garages in my neighborhood, so hearing a saw does not mean the thieves are back. Unfortunately, our garage is not big enough for our car. Keep in mind my car is not particularly large either. The garages in my neighborhood simply were not built for SUVs, let alone the trucks and vans many of my neighbors have. Since a lot of people park on our street, we cannot always park directly in front of the house either. There is nothing we can really do individually to prevent people from stealing our catalytic converters. I just hope crime goes back down soon, though I know other types of robberies also have been occurring nearby lately. 

Between the recent crime, COVID-19, the weather, and other more everyday issues, life has been a bit scary at times. What particularly made what happened in the first few weeks of the year stressful is these issues I described are mainly ones I have no control over, yet still have to directly confront. I cannot control the actions of the person who stole a piece of my car and there is nothing I can feasibly do right now to further prevent it since the only way would be to move to a house with a garage big enough for my car. Even then, someone could break into the garage, but at least it would be a deterrent. I definitely cannot control the cold, snowy weather we experienced. I cannot go into the past to make sure my foot never got infected and I did everything I could after stubbing it to prevent it from getting infected as it healed. All I can do is try to care for the infection now and hope it gets better soon. I also cannot control the fact that there are so few public transit routes currently connecting my house to work and that those routes also do not run often. I can certainly advocate for additional routes to be added, though even if that worked, it would take a large amount of time before changes to the routes took effect. Additional drivers or conductors for trains would have to be hired to expand the current public transit options (which would be especially hard right now during existing COVID-19 related staffing issues), if not additional vehicles purchased and train lines built. That also assumes that adding lines or the frequency in arrivals for the existing lines would solve the issue. Adding more buses could congest the roads or lead to other new issues, unless we also adjust either the roads or where people live and work. It is an extremely large, complicated issue that is beyond what one individual can solve alone, though I could help fix it. In the meantime, I have to deal with the stress and difficulty of taking public transit when my car is unavailable when at times it is not possible to get places by public transit at all. I can avoid public transit when my car works, but I cannot avoid the risk of my car or a piece of it getting stolen or of snowy weather making it unsafe to drive. Even if I was able to work from home, not having a car makes grocery shopping more difficult for a list of reasons. These are the kinds of issues that can send you down a rabbit hole of thoughts, yet as I described previously, even when my mind is clear, I can still physically feel the stress at times. Using coping mechanisms relieves that stress temporarily, but these are issues I either had to repeatedly face or am still repeatedly facing. As soon as I have to confront it again, the stress resurfaces to some degree.

There are ways to solve some of these issues from a societal level, though individually, I had a very rough first few weeks of 2022. 

While I knew realistically this year would likely be more of the same starting out, it does not mean I am not hopeful life will get better. Even after a very stressful first couple weeks, I still see the potential for my life to improve. I continue to have really positive long-term goals and hopes for the future. Some of those hopes are dependent on the pandemic ending or us finding ways to safely gather, such as wanting to be able to safely date in-person again and celebrate holidays and birthdays with family and friends in person. Other wishes and goals I have for the future are less dependent on whether the pandemic continues or not, such as my desire to buy and be able to afford to maintain my own house. We could go down the rabbit hole of how the pandemic also affects the economy, though individually, I have been able to do at least some work throughout each point of the pandemic so far, whether it was just a little bit of freelance work from home or working a full-time job. While I have often not made a living wage, I am still hopeful I can someday. As far as it is in my control, I am still working towards that dream.