A Year of COVID:
EDITOR’S NOTE: David Mucci is an interior designer in Vancouver. In the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mucci struggled to keep his business afloat. He contracted the virus in December and has suffered symptoms for months afterward. The following is an oral history, told from Mucci’s perspective, about his struggles during the pandemic.
I want to say it was March 16, or whenever that first big lockdown happened. I was on my way out the door and got an email. Work things started canceling. Personal appointments and stuff like that. I had five projects lined up. One was in process. Overnight, four canceled. Not just delayed, but outright canceled.
I thought, “How am I going to pay my mortgage? How am I going to get through this?” The business can be capital intensive with flow-through for engineering and architecture. I also act as a general contractor in Washington for my projects. I’ve got bond payments. I’ve got insurance payments. There were all sorts of things I didn’t know how I was going to pay. I started to panic.
After dealing with that shock for a couple weeks, I started to clean up the back end of my business.
I spent a couple months doing that and continuing education online. I did a couple of podcasts, around 20 webinars, honestly. Sort of working on the brand. But that died out around the end of May, with no new projects.
In the first week of June, I was like, “All right, I’m done with home projects. I need some actual business.” I put feelers out everywhere. I wanted to coordinate and work with other designers and everyone seemed to be dry, so nothing happened. Then the depression set in. And then the anxiety set in.
I tend to be a night person, but all of the sudden I started staying up all night like I was 18. I don’t mean until 3 or 4 in the morning. I mean all night and then I’d fall asleep at 6 or 7 in the morning because there weren’t any scheduling consequences. As soon as I’d try to sleep, I’d think, “Oh, my God. How am I going to make this payment?” It was really terrifying.
Around August, I thought I may as well put myself in school. I started learning some new software programs and researching things that I hadn’t had time to learn.
I was able to get a federal emergency loan, which I used to pay bills. The rest of it I stuffed in the corporate savings account.
Somewhere over the late summer and early fall I started to get some nibbles. I put out enough word that I started to get some work. I started going out on site visits. But my conversion rate was terrible.
From June until Thanksgiving, I was thinking of moving to Dallas or Miami or getting a master’s degree in interior architecture, becoming a professor. I explored everything. I’m fortunate that I can pack up and move anywhere I want and I had people in Dallas asking me to move down to help. It was tempting, but it didn’t really make sense to start in a new city and establish a new business in the middle of a pandemic.
I’ve had many challenges in my life, but by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done is start my own business.
The level of intensity, the energy, the time, the money, the absolute seven-days-a-week grind of this job. The idea of chucking all of that to start over and do something else was devastating.
I didn’t want to say, “Why me?” Because, “Why not me?” It’s happening all over the world. I’m not special in that way.
I’m a pretty spiritual dude and I just thought, “Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me to course correct.” It has happened before.
I’ve lived all over the world, but it is a little harder to move when you are 48 years old, during a pandemic, with no support system, and this is a networking business. It seemed daunting and that made me depressed.
Mix in racial violence and political insanity, wildfires and the fact that I was eating my feelings every day and couldn’t exercise. It was the perfect storm.
I used to be a music producer and I used to run my own fashion line, so I’ve always been in the business of making things. I grew up in a home where as soon as it was done being remodeled, we started again. I thought it was normal to change the pillows every season.
I love that I get to shape reality using the palette of three-dimensional space. The difference between a decorator and a designer – a decorator decorates an existing space. A designer moves stuff around – walls, floors, additions. People confuse the two. I can do draperies and pillows and furniture, but for my job that’s the finishing touch.
One of my favorite things to do is take clients to a showroom and let them play with the candy. You can see them light up like, “Oh, my God. That’s going to be my bathtub.” That’s one of my favorite things to do, and COVID-19 prevented all of that from happening.
The first Friday in December, that’s when I got sick. I lost my senses of smell and taste and I still don’t have them back. I started to lose my balance a lot. I started to get weak. I keep feeling like I was going to dive down the staircase. Almost like vertigo, but not as much spinning. Then I stopped eating. I wasn’t interested in food. That was a big alarm bell.
I never got a fever, but was just sick to my stomach. It affected my vision. The week between Christmas and New Year’s was the worst. There was a day or two where I moved about eight feet. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t get enough air in my body. I could not have lifted the phone to call 911 to pick me up and I might have needed to.
In the first week of January I started to feel it recede a little bit. There were some days where I started to feel better and then there were some days where I was unable to get out of bed.
I still notice some cognitive impairment. My ability to focus has vastly decreased. I feel like I’ve lost 10 to 15 points of IQ. I still have some problems grasping overly complex problems, which in my business is challenging. I really have to write things down and repeat things back.
There were whole days where I just sat and stared at the wall. I kept calling it COVID time because I’d sit down to read and it was an hour later and I’d just been staring into space. I don’t know what it was; it was just missing time.
I cry a lot – a lot. It is hard to describe something to other people, when you can’t describe it to yourself. But I can tell you without any reservation that I don’t feel like myself. I am different in some way.
I know some people who got COVID-19 in March and they started inviting me to a long-haulers club, which are basically Facebook groups of people who are still recovering months later. I started seeing every symptom of mine. Unable to focus. Unable to taste. My friend, her taste didn’t come back for eight months.
I started to educate myself and I did get some information from doctors, but the thing that threw me over the edge – Dr. (Anthony) Fauci was on Rachel Maddow’s show and he mentioned this thing called Post-COVID Syndrome. He mentioned 13 or 14 symptoms and I had every one of them. I felt a lot better because of him. Unfortunately, we’re going to have great data on this five years from now, but it’s happening right now.
My friend enrolled for research at Emory University and my other friend enrolled at the one at Oregon Health & Science University. I’d love to be part of something like that because if my experience can give data to help someone, I’d like to do that.
I’m back up to my full complement of projects. I have wonderful clients. A lot of people have been spending a lot of time at home and are hating what they are seeing, which is good for me.
I think people were tired of telling themselves that they would do it tomorrow.
It’s like the idea of “I’m going to go to the gym tomorrow.” I think a lot of people were like, “I’ve hated my house for years and I’ve never done anything about it and I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be here so let’s change it.” I definitely heard that. There’s a lot of people who had been living with a lot of misery and feel like they are running out of tomorrows.