Oracle of Ybor: Optimism is fine, but it’s OK to be anxious about emerging from the pandemic

Here comes the sun, use protection.


Dear Oracle, I recently got my first vaccine shot, which was so exciting but also really emotional. My feelings are all over the place… including this feeling of anxiety about the world opening back up. It’s not that I’m worried that I’m going to get sick… It’s that I’m kind of worried I’m not ready to go back to how things were. Quarantine was NOT a great time, not by a longshot, but there are parts of my life I enjoy now that I feel like will get swept away once things go back. Does that make sense? Anyway, do the cards have any idea of what will happen when the world goes back to normal? 

Cards: Five of Wands reversed, The Sun reversed, Three of Pentacles 

Dear Normal, there’s a phase in Latin that I’ve been thinking about lately: “Status Quo Ante Bellum.” It means “the situation as it was before the war.” The Internet has dubbed the time pre-pandemic as “The Before Times,” (and racists have co-opted “antebellum” in the worst way) but I prefer the Roman version because it sounds better and is more honest.

The first card in the spread is the Five of Wands reversed, meaning a lengthy war. In this column, I have referred to the pandemic before as “a little war,” and the truth is, I don’t mean that metaphorically. As of this writing, the U.S. has lost more civilians to COVID-19 in 13 months than we did throughout both World Wars. That is a devastating toll. Like a war, our lives were upended, and our loss was significant. Like a war, there was great fear for the future, a fear that in many ways came to fruition.

And I bring this up because there is no status quo after a war; there is no picking up where we left off. 

That’s simply not a choice we have.

We cannot return to the world as it was because, in a very real way, that world ended. It ended quietly as we all watched “Tiger King,” but it ended just the same. I can’t tell you what the world will look like after the pandemic because it’s not over, not yet.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a time between death and birth, when the soul moves through a liminal space and experiences reality and deals with all of its shit from its old life and confronts their deities and fears and beauties and prepares for the next life. It’s called the Chönyid Bardo and, metaphorically, that’s where We The People are collectively at. The old world died, and we have much to do before the new one is reborn. 

There is hope going around now that vaccines are going into arms, and I understand that, I really do. I cried when I got my first shot and felt such relief when I got the second. It’s springtime, the world is violently in bloom, the weather is welcoming, and for the first time a year, there is a hum of optimism in the air. It does feel like we’re close to a victory, to that new world.

This is The Sun reversed. We are ready for joy, for new life, for hard-won celebration. And it will come. The Sun is waiting for us on the other side, but we are not there yet.

If you listen to nothing else from this Oracle, please hear this: we are not out of this war yet.

The only card in the upright position in this spread is Three of Pentacles. It means working together, all hands on deck. This is our present, and this is something we desperately need to do in the years to come.

The world will not go back to working order as soon as shots are in the arms. First, because we must bury our dead; secondly, because we’re going to be at a place where we can all collectively mourn, and it’s going to create a mental health crisis.

There is a lot of talk of “resilience” going around in newspapers and online, but those articles forget to mention why it’s crucial now when it feels like we’re at the end.

The keyword in “post-traumatic stress disorder” is not “traumatic” but “post.”

It’s only after the last silo is fired, after the dust clears when our brains can settle back, and we can see how deep the wounds go; people who were able to barrel through the pandemic may find themselves dealing with the fallout long after they’re been vaccinated. It’s not just the disease that ravaged us this year. People lost their jobs and their homes (even though there was an eviction moratorium). George Floyd Breonna Taylor lost their lives. The Insurrection happened. All of these separately can provoke a strong reaction emotionally but combined, they make for a field of landmines.

So your anxiety right now is normal, but make sure you tend to it, especially if it begins to affect your day-to-day life.

At the beginning of this pandemic, there was a call for all of us to unite, to work together to flatten the curve. That didn’t happen then, but I hope it happens now.

I know what PTSD on a grand scale looks like because it happened in New Orleans after Katrina. I’m sure anyone from NYC could say the same thing.

What I saw was a spike in the murders, suicides, and hell of a lot of heroin. But I also saw mutual aid on small and large scales and compassion. People came together, and honestly, I don’t know who we’ll survive if we don’t do something similar. I’m feeling optimistic, Normal. I think we’ll make it through.   

The new world is coming. We’ll get to decide what we bring into it, and personally, I hope compassion and caring for each other makes a big splash. One day, we’ll get to linger in The Sun, where we can be viciously in love with life and celebrate all this newness and all the good we’ve gleaned from quarantined, sourdough, sea shanties, and all.

We will get there. I believe that. I hope you do, too.

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