With no clues about when the pandemic might subside, short-term discomfort is becoming long-term despair: “I feel like I have accepted this, and given up.”
A walk in the park brings tense flare-ups: Back off, you’re too close. Oh really? Then stay home. A loud neighbor, once a fleeting annoyance of urban life, is cause for complaint to the city. Wake at noon, still tired. The city’s can-do resilience has given way to resignation and random tears.
In Queens, Nicole Roderka, 28, knows she must wear a mask outside, fears the anxiety it might bring, and sets it aside. In Brooklyn, Lauren Sellers grinds her teeth at night; there are sores in her mouth from the stress. When a 3-year-old boy in Manhattan’s Inwood section, Eli McKay, looked around and declared, “The virus is gone today, we can go see my friends,” his mother replied as if from one of his picture-book fantasies: “Maybe tomorrow.”
A feeling of sadness shot through with frayed nerves could be felt in conversations in and around the city as the coronavirus outbreak in the world’s epicenter dragged toward its sixth week, its end still too far off to see.
“This is the week where I feel like I have accepted this, and given up,” Euna Chi of Brooklyn wrote in an email. “My daily commute to the couch feels ‘normal.’”
The journey that began in March with an us-against-it unity, with homemade masks and do-it-yourself haircuts and Zoom happy hours, has turned into a grim slog for many. It felt as if the city had cautiously approached a promising bend in the road, a new page on the calendar, only to find nothing, and beyond that, ever more of the same.
Evidence of a mood shift could be seen in little spikes on the EKG of data compiled by the city.
Complaints to 311 rose significantly in telling categories. A near-doubling of reports of loud televisions in the past five weeks compared with the same period last year, from 400 to 794, suggests an I’ve-had-enough drawing of lines. There were 16,901 calls in a brand-new category, lax social distancing.
Elsewhere, another line flattened: Traffic to news sites was well under the surge that accompanied the virus’s arrival, according to data from the website Chartbeat, a strong indicator of news fatigue.
The most recent weekly survey of 1,000 New York State residents, about half of them from the city, by the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy asked how socially connected people have felt. Just over two in five said “not at all.” That was about double the number that answered that way four weeks earlier.
Forty percent of the latest poll’s respondents said they had felt anxious more than half of the time in the past two weeks; 32 percent said they had felt depressed.
“There is this grieving of life as we once knew it that wasn’t there before, as we try to come to terms with the new reality,” said Greg Kushnick, a psychologist in Manhattan. “I’m seeing it much more in my practice. People are really starting to get more depressed. And people who are prone to depression, it’s now kicking in.”
New York City, always something different for everyone who calls it home, remains out of reach in a way that has stopped feeling temporary. City and state leaders, pressed daily for a timeline toward normalcy or a passing description of what that might look like, answer with shrugs and talk of tests and curves. The city might as well be a snow globe on a high shelf, its many riches — art collections, jazz clubs, athletes and chefs, its high-C tenors and Brooklyn DJs — unavailable.
Three friends in a band agreed that they didn’t feel the energy to make music right now.
“I think my ‘wall’ earlier this week was me finally dropping out of the ‘denial’ phase … it’s no longer ‘a fun change of pace,’” one of them, Annalisa Loeffler, wrote in an email to friends that she shared with The New York Times. “Things that are super important to me and make the rest of life bearable may not be physically possible for a very long time. I’m trying not to ‘borrow trouble,’ but there is definitely validity to accepting grief for what has been lost.”
The virus has even altered nature’s very seasons, effectively canceling summer as if it were any other public gathering. No city pools, and beaches that may not open.
Parks are still open as respites, but also as settings for confrontations.
“Joggers in the park think nothing of passing two feet from me, unmasked and panting,” Cathy Altman of Manhattan’s Upper West Side wrote in an email, noting her vulnerabilities: She is over 60 and a cancer survivor. “When I call out ‘Six feet!’ they tell me to stay inside if I don’t like it. One woman in her 30s gave me the finger.”
To communicate with the world outside, Elizabeth Matthews, a mother of two who lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, has, like so many parents, come to rely on electronics — and she has found the experience wanting.
“Part of what makes New York New York is the public spaces — it’s like the interaction with people that you know but also people that you don’t know,” she said. “To lose that, that’s part of what makes New York an amazing place to live.”
Others have considerably lowered the bar of amazing things they miss.
“Guys on the corner playing dominoes, like senior citizens, people playing basketball, you know, the ice cream man going around the block,” said Eddie Gomez, 37, who works at a hospital in Manhattan.
”To be able to relax,” said Kisha Jacques, 39, shopping for groceries in Elmhurst, Queens, with her two young children. And also: “Their yellow school bus.”
And yet, around the city, as they have in the face of past catastrophes, many people looked amid the losses for the light, for good news to be relished — and located some.
For Adriana Villari, 28, who works at a hospital in the city, it was the decline in deaths.
“Watching people get discharged and watching people recover is making me feel more positive,” she said. “I think with just the way things are going, at least in my hospital, looks like there’s like a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mr. Gomez said he had contracted the virus, and that his complaints were trivial compared to the gift of life. There were worse things than boredom, he said: “You learn a lot about yourself, just trying to kill time.”
In Hackensack, a mother, Amina Montoya, 35, found joy in her new routine. “I’ve always wanted to home-school,” she said. “So this was like a really good opportunity to be able to try, and, like, they’re really flourishing.”
And Joshua McKay, the father of Eli, the optimistic 3-year-old in Inwood, has found himself looking forward most nights to finding a new restaurant that offers takeout.
“We’re just trying to make the best of it, and food has been our one real pleasure during all of this,” he said. “New food and booze for us, and Hot Wheels cars and toys for him.”
In Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, a retired bus driver, Wesley Cook, 55, has seen loss after loss in recent weeks: a brother, a cousin and two former co-workers, all taken by the virus. He could be excused for slumping in despair.
Even so, he has found a particular moment to cherish every night — the one when his son, a firefighter, comes home.
“I say, ‘You had a good day?’” Mr. Cook said. “He says, ‘Yes, Dad,’ and I give him a hug. That’s a good day to me.”
Reporting was contributed by Jo Corona, Lauren Hard, Derek M. Norman, Azi Paybarah and Nate Schweber.