A local pharmacy announced shots for teachers only. It was Monday morning. I dropped everything and scheduled an appointment. A few hours later, I was getting jabbed in the shoulder.
It was only yesterday that I was complaining to myself how I’d probably have to wait until June or July, or even August, and maybe find a new job if my school forced me back into the classroom before then.
Now I’m one of the rough 30 million Americans who’ve gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Life has been hell for the last year, but now my hell is drawing to a close.
What does life feel like post-vaccine?
In a word, hopeful.
Expect a flood of intense relief.
Most of us have felt like hostages for the last year, scared to leave our homes and constantly scrolling the news. We lived on the brink, always one anti-masker or careless friend away from catching a life-threatening illness. Even if we weren’t staring at our phones all day with a knot in our stomach, we were just waiting for the next bad thing happen.
We’ve been waiting for things to get worse.
It’s amazing how fast that goes away once the needle goes in. The relief was so intense, I started to tear up. The pharmacist gave me this sympathetic nod, like she’s been seeing a lot of that lately.
After my shot, things haven’t changed in the sense that now I feel fine tossing my masks into the garbage and running off to Starbucks. But the cloud of dread has lifted, and it feels great. After my second dose, I’ll be truly staying home and masking to protect others, not out of paranoid fear.
It’s nice to have part of my life back, even if my daily routines are going to stay the same for at least a few more months.
You have that to look forward to.
Your outlook might improve.
It’s amazing how much better you feel when there’s hard proof that someone’s in charge of the country and seems to know what they’re doing. Just a few weeks ago, we were living through the possible end of our democracy. We were cursed with a president who played golf all day and tweeted about miracle cures while thousands died. Every single morning, we woke up wondering if we’d be the next statistic.
It really kills your outlook, even if you don’t admit it.
If you’re like me, you’ve been pretending your way through each day, waiting for the next time you can be alone with your thoughts. Even after the election, that residual stress and trauma lingered. You felt like you were still sifting through emotional rubble and wondering when you might ever feel anything remotely like your old self again.
The shot cures most of that. It’s like you’ve been sitting in the dark for hours, and then someone comes in and turns on a light.
At least that’s been my reaction.
You’ll have more energy.
Now that I’m free from the emotional burden of managing the pandemic inside my own head, I realize just how bad it felt. It was like dragging an anvil behind me everywhere.
Now I feel lighter. I have my old energy back. I can make it through an entire day without a nap in the middle now.
Everything feels easier.
This is what I can’t wait for other people to feel when they get their shot. You can think real thoughts again. You can rest at night. You’re not having to manage your stress all the time. It doesn’t solve everything, but you get a taste of what you used to be capable of, before all this started.
You can just be again.
You might feel like a spectator.
After getting my first shot, it feels like I’m no longer in the pandemic. I’m on the sidelines now. I’m watching events unfold that no longer have direct consequences for me. Suddenly I realize…
This is how I used to read the news.
At the same time, guilt sets in. Almost 90 percent of the country has yet to get a vaccine. They’re still living with that deadly dread. They’re still dragging low-grade anxiety everywhere they go.
They don’t deserve to.
There’s a broader realization for us here. We’ve spent the last year hanging on the news because it affects us. Let’s remember that the news always affects someone. Real people out there always know what it feels like for their lives to hang in the balance, pandemic or not.
It could be wage equality, healthcare, homelessness, or abuse. Just because we’re doing well, that doesn’t mean the world is is just great.
Don’t let yourself be a spectator.
You‘ll be able to take inventory.
Almost everything has changed for some of us. A vaccine doesn’t turn time backward and undo all of that. We’ve lost more than we’ve had the time or energy to process. These changes are permanent.
We sort of knew that…
Some of us were trying to let go of our old selves, but we couldn’t. We felt like ghosts wandering around inside our own houses, trapped between worlds. Once you get a shot, that feeling will end. At least, it did for me. All the changes you’ve gone through will finally come into focus.
You’ll be able to take inventory of yourself.
You’ll have a clearer sense of what you lost, and what you gained, and what you should do with yourself next.
It’s a little overwhelming.
You’ll feel a strange nostalgia.
Something has to be over before you can remember it. Since my shot, I’ve started having flashbacks to the early pandemic. It happens when I buy a bottle of Lysol and remember the aisles of empty shelves. It happens when I walk down a sidewalk and remember crossing to the other side, even if we were both wearing face masks. It happens when I walk by a store and remember how much anxiety it used to cause.
For a while most of us thought we might spend the rest of our lives in quarantine purgatory, waiting for the next superspreader event and a vaccine that would never come.
Now those feelings are memories.
Memory does a weird thing to the past. It smears fondness over everything and smooths out the ridges. Now I almost miss those first days when we all sheltered in place, and I don’t even know why.
You’ll think about the future again.
We’ve spent the last year stuck in a time bubble, unable to think more than a few days into the future. We stopped planning trips or thinking about reunions. We stopped looking forward to things.
After getting my shot, the future has opened up like a door.
Honestly, it was a little scary at first.
Toward the end of the pandemic, there was a bizarre comfort in living inside an endless frozen present. You knew exactly what would happen every single day. You didn’t have to think about next month or next year. For those of us with a vaccine, now we do.
You’ll want to pay it forward (hopefully).
If there’s one lesson from the last year, it’s that we’ve got a ton of problems to solve. We’ve woken up a little. I’m hoping that as the rest of America gets vaccinated, they don’t fall back into apathy.
Some of them will, obviously.
And of course, some will never get the vaccine. There’s millions of people who never paid that much attention to it in the first place.
For the rest of us…
We need to work on equality and climate change. We have a white anger problem to deal with, along with the looming threat of fascism and wild conspiracy theory parlors. Just like a vaccine can’t undo all the changes in our lives and reboot us to normal, it can’t fix those things.
That’s our job.
Don’t waste your shot.
It was easy to make predictions about what a post-pandemic world would look like, regardless of your outlook. You could sit at home and try to imagine all the depressing details. That’s the easy part.
When you get your shot, you’ll see that the pandemic doesn’t just end like a movie does. There’s no credits, or some big party where everyone tears off their masks and hugs it out. The pandemic is going to end slowly, and it’s going to end on a different note for everybody. Just because it fades, we shouldn’t forget the bigger lessons.
I’m seeing the vaccine as something of a second chance at life. There’s things I want to do, and problems I want to help solve.
Don’t waste your shot.