Michelle Yee

There are times when this still just doesn’t feel real.
June 30, 2020

As a believer in the power of one’s words, I was determined to keep my language positive, which is why I kept calling myself less than 100% rather than say how I really felt. Which was sick. I felt sick.

By the time the shelter-in-place order came mid-March, I’d already been sick for a month. By the time the protests started at the end of May, I’d been sick for three and a half months. As people all around the world went out marching in the streets, I watched history happen on my phone. I still can’t walk a single block without completely wiping myself out. I still have fatigue, headaches, dizziness. I haven’t been outside of my apartment in weeks.

7:39AM, March 29th, 2020
I had a moment of unease yesterday. After a fit of sneezing earlier, my body ached from the violence and suddenness of it. Later, I felt a soreness in my lungs, the kind of sensation I used to get when I smoked pot a lot. I haven’t smoked or vaped in over a month.

4:26AM, April 28th, 2020
Again, I am congested and woke to a fit of sneezes with a sore throat. This has persisted for so long that I’ve been doubting the veracity of my own experience.

Are you really sick?
Or do you just want to not work?

4:30AM, May 1st, 2020
I had a COVID-19 test yesterday.

At the testing site, all the attendants were covered completely in PPE, holding signs. The first sign instructed us to roll up our windows completely, that they would be communicating visually. No one could see anyone else’s faces. The workers all wore white suits with hoods and grey booties the size of cinder blocks covering their shoes. All seams were sealed with blue tape. Masks covered their noses and mouths, underneath a full face shield that extended from their foreheads down to the neck. The only thing you could see were their eyes.

Esther’s were a pale blue-green.

She told me to lift my chin and lean my head all the way back. She stuck a long swab up my nose, further than was comfortable and then further again. She made a joke, saying she’d caught a booger, which I didn’t expect. I laughed. As she passed my paperwork through the open car window, she asked if I had any questions. I wanted to know how she was doing, how they were all doing, how they were managing, how their families were—but instead I said, No.

clockwise: Taking shape, Seeing the change of seasons through light, Facing a new day, Slowing down and getting ready

7:29AM, March 29th, 2020
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but the Coronavirus has crossed over into the other world of my dreams. For several nights, I dreamt of keeping my distance from others and felt alarmed when I saw people stand too close to one another. While the streets, lawns and sidewalks of some large, green city square was open and empty, I’d heard there was a large gathering happening nearby and felt so many things at once. I thought Don’t they know they shouldn’t be doing that?! and I wish I could just walk over join them. Even in my dream, in some pristine city that I didn’t know and had never been to, I knew it wasn’t safe.

It felt so strange to wake up and realize that not only had the real world had seeped into my unreal, but also that what was once unthinkable and unimaginable, is already here.

8:27AM, April 21st, 2020
My nose is plugged, my brain foggy and slow. I wondered if we were pushing it, by going for a walk, by staying out even as the sky darkened and the air chilled and the wind questioned my choice to go out without gloves.

11:00PM, May 8th, 2020
I’m still sniffling, hard. That sharp influx of air, screeching into an incapacitated nasal cavity. I am tired of it. The truth is that I want to do so much more than I am doing and I can’t.

A different experience of time

8:09AM, April 10th, 2020
While things are shifting and shapeless, I find myself at times feeling like I am adrift in a vast ocean, at the mercy of a force that is larger and greater than I could ever control. While I’ve found relief in silliness and laughter, I also have dear friends who are isolated and mourning the fresh loss of people who were beloved to them.

It’s a lot to take in...

I find myself tempted to end this note on a high; to remind myself there’s opportunity in times of uncertainty, that as much as there is to grieve, there’s just as much to be grateful for. I know that we need light in dark times.

But right now I also feel like I need space. Space to be human. Space to feel. Space to be flawed, imperfect and messy.

It was early June when the article in The Atlantic came out. The title grabbed me by the throat: Thousands Who Got COVID-19 in March Are Still Sick. My eyes scanned the words and for the first time in months, I felt seen. There were others. Thousands. Like me. People who also felt sick. People who also didn’t understand what was happening to them. People who also wondered if or when they’d recover, what recovery would even look like and what, if any, the long-term effects might be.

While I am not alone, so much still remains unknown and now I’m just trying to find some measure of acceptance in that.

Michelle Yee is an Asian-Canadian artist, award-winning photographer, author, speaker and former co-founder of SOFIA, a collective for women working in photography. She is based in San Francisco, CA. @_michelleyee︎︎︎
© 2021 this pandemic thing