Valley women cope with the stress of America’s ‘new normal’

By Kelly O'Sullivan, Independent Newsmedia
Posted 4/9/20

Navigating the COVID-19 rollercoaster of a severe economic downturn, stay-at-home orders, product shortages, face masks and fear as novel coronavirus infections and deaths rise across the country …

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Valley women cope with the stress of America’s ‘new normal’

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Navigating the COVID-19 rollercoaster of a severe economic downturn, stay-at-home orders, product shortages, face masks and fear as novel coronavirus infections and deaths rise across the country isn’t easy, but three Valley women are managing America’s “new normal.”

Kim Antoniou, a self-employed writer and editor from Glendale, Elizabeth Evans, an Ahwatukee resident who works in the satellite office of an international company, and Bailey Hartmann, a student and new mom from Avondale, shared via email and Facebook Messenger over the past few weeks things they’re doing as they continue to social-distance.

Ms. Antoniou has always enjoyed an active lifestyle. She works out regularly, and loves trying new recipes, getting together with friends for dinner parties and playing WordWarp with her husband at their favorite neighborhood bar.

Gatherings with friends and game night out are on hold for now, but cooking, baking and ordering the occasional take-out meal are still a thing, and Ms. Antoniou and her husband figured out to view WordWarp on their TV screen. Ms. Antoniou has worked from home for several years, and while writing/editing projects have slowed some, she’s still working. Her husband, who often travels for business, has been working at home for weeks.

Surgeries to repair a torn meniscus and a deviated septum in November sidelined Ms. Antoniou from going to her gym for three months, and she resumed group fitness classes in February. A couple of weeks before Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order closing gyms, she made the decision to work out with weights and exercise bands at home.

“I’m not as worried about myself as I am concerned about my parents. Mom is 77 and Dad will be 86 in October,” Ms. Antoniou said in March. “I guess it’s a mixed blessing I had that three-month hiatus from my regular routine, because I have gotten adjusted to not going to the gym all the time and it doesn’t feel like a big change in the scheme of things.”

Daily walks through her neighborhood have been a big help, she said.

“The sky doesn’t know that anything has changed; it’s still the same shade of blue,” Ms. Antoniou said. “If you wave at someone else who’s out walking, I find that person still smiles and waves back.”

Ms. Antonio posts photos from her walks on Facebook. A recent post was filled with images of flowers, fluffy clouds, sidewalk chalk affirmations written by neighbors and a note to friends, “Fresh-picked from my walk this morning. What beauty surrounds us! I love sharing these with you all and hope they brighten your day. Be well. And get some Vitamin D on your skin and the breeze in your hair if you are able,” she wrote.

Right now, Ms. Antoniou doesn’t wear a mask when she walks.

“I do a pretty fast clip, about 4.5 mph, and there aren’t that many people out on the streets,” she said. “Whenever I see someone approaching on my side of the street, I simply switch sides.”

She does wear one when she’s going to be around people.

“For the grocery store? Absolutely donning a mask now,” Ms. Antoniou said April 9. “Several people still weren’t as of yesterday when I went to Safeway. It’s just such a surreal thing, how we market these days. Makes me feel like a criminal and a prisoner all at once.”

Like most, Ms. Antoniou has good days and bad days.

“Monday was really tough; not quite sure why. Maybe everything finally had caught up with me. Seeing so many people in turmoil is a difficult thing. I know there is hardship throughout the world, always. But this is much different, and much more personal,” she said. “I recall seeing the news footage of one of the doctors in Italy when things were really bad there a couple of weeks back. It just kind of brought me to my knees, emotionally speaking. She had that deer-in-the-headlights expression in her eyes. Can’t even imagine how difficult this is for our medical professionals — for everyone on the front lines, really: the truckers, mailmen and all the delivery people, bank tellers, pharmacists, grocery clerks. I am not a particularly religious person, but I say a prayer for them every day.”

One huge bright spot for Ms. Antoniou has been increased contact with the couple’s 27-year-old son, Austin, who completed his doctorate in mathematics at Ohio State University, April 7.

‘He’s usually good about calling us on Sundays, but with everything going on, we’ve been talking more frequently,” she said.

New mom focuses on her daughter

The governor’s stay-at-home order didn’t have a big impact on Ms. Hartmann’s at-home routine, but shopping for her 2-month-old daughter has been frustrating at best, she said.

“I am a full-time student online that gets paid for schooling because I am a single mom,” she said. Her days are spent studying, caring for the baby and going out occasionally for groceries, diapers and other supplies.

“I go to the stores when they first open the morning they get trucks in, so I’ve been pretty lucky food and toilet paper-wise. As far as diapers and wipes for my baby, that’s another story,” Ms. Hartmann said. “I was refused two packs of diapers the other day at a local Fry’s because apparently they think I need them and not my daughter, so they are limiting diapers now. Which, by the way, was not included on their list of items they were limiting until after I had a confrontation with the manager.”

Cooking and working out at home, and keeping in regular contact with family who live out of state by Facebook and phone helps Ms. Hartmann relieve stress, as does focusing on making her sure daughter’s first months are happy.

“Normally, I’m a very anxious person, especially with being a new mom, but with my stepmom and stepsister freaking out so much I’ve been trying to be the voice of reason and talk myself into being more calm, especially because babies feed off our energy and I don’t want to stress her out more than need be,” she said. “So we’ll just say I’m trying. I hope everyone else is, too.”

Facing fears with fuzzy slippers and humor

Despite “frosting on the panic cupcake” fears she could lose her job with 10 years to go before retirement, and the healthcare coverage it provides her and her self-employed husband, Ms. Evans has been working long days at home and coping through humor.

On her fifth day of working remotely March 20, she posted a photo of her slippered feet. “I do not miss confining footwear” she wrote, adding the hashtag “fuzzyslippersftw.”

Ms. Evans has real concerns about her health, having recovered in February from a bout of pneumonia unrelated to COVID-19. She also worries about her kids. One daughter is pregnant with the Evans’ first grandchild, due in July, and the other is a physician assistant who has limited access to personal protective equipment. The couple's son recently decided to move back into his college dorm in Tucson while he finishes the semester online.

“I think that he wanted to be more casual about social-distancing, and he was respectful of my health concerns while he was at home,” she said April 9.

“There’s a lot of anxious energy around the house; concerns about giving up our civil liberties running into concern about public health, or even more important, our healthcare-worker daughter’s safety, smashing into resistance about having to stay put, overlaid with a sick fascination about my 401(k), ripping right into an anxious heart rate spike when I get another text message from KTAR about case counts,” Ms. Evans said.

There have been some joyous moments for Ms. Evans, too.

“We got more toilet paper,” she joked, then shared a recent high point. When Ms. Evans' husband, Craig, celebrated his birthday at the end of March, they made it an online production.

“We dispensed with in-person celebrating and used (Google) Hangouts again to get the kids together. Youngest son played his French horn and we sang. I wish I’d known how funny it would be; I would have recorded it,” she said.

Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at kosullivan@newszap.com or 760-963-1697. For up-to-date local reporting on all things COVID-19, Independent Newsmedia has created a webpage dedicated to coverage of the novel coronavirus: #AZNEWSMEDIA

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