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Hockey: I Miss You

Experiences of an “essential worker” during the COVID crisis

Virus Outbreak Canada Photo by Sayed Najafizada/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This is an article which is not about hockey… it’s an article which is about the lack of hockey and what that means. And it’s an incredibly personal article, much like when I write most every year about what the impact of hockey can be on mental health and what that impact is for me personally. So if you’re going to be an asshole about it, click back now. Full disclaimer I’ve got very little patience for people being assholes on the internet because they can be right now.

But now there’s no hockey. There’s not much of anything but an overwhelming and all pervasive fear of COVID and what’s to come. But there’s also something else. There’s people who didn’t get the privilege of staying home when this all happened. I’m one of them. I think lots of people are counted among their number.

I work in a homeless shelter. I am one of those essential workers working with a high risk and high vulnerability population. I’m not a nurse or a doctor, but most days trying to convince the individuals staying in the shelter to follow all the regulations for COVID, I understand how helpless they could be feeling right now.

There’s not a cute t-shirt on Facebook for shelter workers, but there probably should be. The point of this is not to make anyone feel guilty or like they aren’t doing enough, but to recognize – for myself and others – that this has become a new world shaped by new fears and classifications. I doubt any essential worker is looking to be lauded as a hero. I’m not. I do my job because I am called to do it. To not do it is something I have trouble imagining. I am here to walk alongside people as they journey through low points in their lives. It’s not for praise or accolades…but I would love to be able to have a t-shirt to gift to my co-workers who’ve been beside me this whole way. I think our ability to recognize each other is important.

Technically, I’m the administrative coordinator for the shelter, but in the last nine months I’ve learned I’m actually whatever the shelter needs me to be. And right now what the individuals staying at the shelter and the shelter staff need is for me to be present, to be calm, and to have or find the answers to their questions. And process the bills for payment and make 20 versions of an ever-evolving schedule as staff get sick or pulled away by other commitments … The list of things for which I am responsible changes every day. What doesn’t change is that I am responsible for bringing my very best self to the shelter everyday. Not my scared self or my overwhelmed self ... though they have made visits.

Which is where this lack of hockey becomes problematic. Because before COVID I had a life outside of the shelter. I went to hockey games and volunteered and did things which brought me joy. Which was mainly hockey games and especially the University of Alberta Pandas hockey games. But the landscape of our world has changed and hockey isn’t here anymore. Not really. But there isn’t anything good to fill that gap.

Instead there is more work and more stress. More people scared and some asshole telling people to drink bleach. The last day I didn’t open my computer at home or spend 4 or more hours in the shelter was March 15th. I don’t foresee that changing in the near future.

I have nightmares about having to close our facility because there’s no one to work, I have nightmares about the schedule, I have nightmares about learning someone I’ve had to turn away was hurt or killed because we couldn’t serve them, I’ve given up holidays, the opportunity to see loved ones (because it is a high risk population), and I worry every day that I am going to bring this home to the family I live with.

I am tired of having to say no to people I serve – they might tell you I love the word no though. I am heartsick that I have to send someone out of the shelter for failure to comply with the shelter rules and expectations and have no timeline for when I might be able to invite them back. I heartsick when I see people I serve and walk alongside struggling to cope and turning to the demons which drove them to shelter in the first place. I am heartsick I can’t do more or give more or be more for these people.

Some days I come home and I cry. Some days I come home and I’m too tired to cry. I’m too overwhelmed to even begin to understand what this all means or how to deal with it or who I am in all of this? Will I look back and be ashamed I couldn’t do more?

Take care of yourself is what all the literature and ads say right now. It’s important that you create balance in your life, a space not ruled by fear and uncertainty, and doubt. Do things you enjoy. See people you love. I can’t. And Skype is not replacement for a hug. Find supports. Well, let me tell you therapy over the phone fucking sucks.

The things I enjoy are all rightfully cancelled. The things I enjoy need to stay cancelled because the people I work with, the people I work for, the people I live beside, and the people I love need everyone to do their part. We need to social distance, to stay home when we can, and to be aware of how fucking deadly serious this COVID crisis is. We need to be aware what a fucking privilege it is to have a home to social distance in.

Do you hear that NHL, you absolutely should not be returning prematurely and making my exile from the sport I love and need in my life even longer.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to carry all of this with no outlet. With no safe way to bleed off the almost overwhelming emotions that crash about inside me everyday. Because there’s no time or space. And because I’m afraid if I stop and let myself be overwhelmed, I’ll never surface.

And I have work to do. I have people who need me to be present, to find answers, and to be there to serve those who are most vulnerable in our world during this COVID crisis. That’s no just a job to me. It’s a responsibility. I guess it’s one of those things that mark me out as someone suited to be a social worker, if I ever get to finish my damn degree.

And that’s what I’m going to do. For me that’s what it means to be essential. You gotta show up no matter what.

But when hockey comes back, if I sit and cry through the first period, don’t mind me. I’ll just be so happy that some sort of normal is back and taking a moment to let out everything I’ve been carrying before the next phase of work begins.