Before and After: Teacher and Student

covid-19 in pastels

Before sheltering in place, I had a ritualistic life that was mostly inside.

Monday through Friday, my highest priority was teaching English at the community college five minutes from home; I taught face-to-face on Mondays and Wednesdays, then online Tuesdays and Thursdays, with grading on Fridays. Class prep was in the morning, and instruction + grading was in the afternoon.

In the evening, I’d change into pajamas for my second (unpaid) job: building prototypes of video games. I’d envisioned starting a small online business in August on I wanted to sell $4.99 RPG Maker games, but only after creating 40 prototypes with game jams, many which build upon stories I’d drafted in 2018 and 2019 on Wattpad.

My third responsibility was therapy and family. I’d all but lost friendships, yet I still nurtured my marriage, and drove to Madera and Anaheim to visit parents. I attended a private therapist twice a month. I tried to visit friends on the monthly trips to Anaheim, but sometimes it didn’t work out right, disrupting the routine. I felt further and further separated from them.

Then COVID-19 flared up in the United States.

Of course I knew it was already an issue in China.

In Italy.


I tried hard to minimize exposure to the news, not because I didn’t care about people around the globe—my heart went out to them before bed, every night—but I live with C-PTSD, and one of the trauma points in my life was when my father was intubated with pneumonia.

So I was trying to unplug to maintain calm until the war was upon us.

And now that it’s upon us, I can’t avoid re-living my traumatic memories. The best I can do is try to channel the flashbacks into empathy; soon, so many of us will know what it’s like to have loved ones in the ICU.

Last time, I was lucky; my father was intubated, but he survived.

Some of us won’t be lucky. I might not feel lucky, on the other side of the pandemic. It will get ugly. It’s not unrealistic to say, in 2021, we will all know someone who has lost someone. Several of us will suffer direct loss. The unluckiest will lose their life.

I still start with my teaching responsibilities. My students are always my priority. The difference is that, sometimes, I can’t start until 2pm. I need to clear my mind to teach. Oh, it is an Everest to clear this mind. I’ve had days where managing my C-PTSD takes more time than the present responsibilities of that given day. I move slower. My brain fog is absurd.

This is a good time to say, before the novel coronavirus, I was also an evening student. I was enrolled in 13.5 units of online instruction, including word processing, trigonometry, JavaScript, and business education in entrepreneurship. None of these are my specialties; English, and creative writing, is my specialty.

I am learning, to put it in Dungeons & Dragons terms, 100% cross-class skills…and I was barely pulling it off. It’s hard to be a beginner. Many weeks required willpower to make it work. I kept telling myself, I am ambitiously pursuing skills that are essential for a video game business. I am learning a medium that can channel my creative writing education into 21st-century-shaped books. Interactive books.

Then the economy tanked.

How much willpower must I possess?

I don’t know when to do school work anymore.

I need more time than the day offers. I need brain-fog-dispelling time. And I need motivation to succeed. Starting a business in August sounds impossible.

Let me complicate the narrative further. Because I’m autistic, I thrive more on routine than an everyday person; that is to say, while all people are habitual, I’m highly regulated. Except, now, I’m highly disregulated. My strength is gone. The part of my neurotype that let me juggle multiple responsibilities, is fried. I do not normally feel this disabled. I am currently disabled.

I have to spend more time on self-care. I think about loved ones more. I sleep more. Except, sometimes, I don’t sleep, because I’m completing school work at 4am. If I am a student in the middle of the night, I can still be a teacher at 2pm. I forget to eat and drink. I don’t really sleep for 8 hours, but nap for 2-4 at a time, 2-4 times every sun up; sun down.

I consider myself lucky. Every day, I wake up grateful. (And wake up a second time, grateful. And wake up a third time, grateful.) I think about extending that gratitude to my loved ones. I meditate. I try to read a novel. I have to read the same chapter twice.

I don’t have room to complain.

But it definitely feels like there was a life before, and a life now. This life has a lot less room to mess up, and a near-infinite list of reasons mess-ups will occur.

I feel so, so much for my students. For some of them, this is their first semester of college. For many of them, online studies were not how they envisioned their starting point. And if I have to read the chapter twice, their reading experience could be a bog mire. They might need to read three or four iterations of their textbook just to pass their exams. May all us teachers have a little empathy and mercy.

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