"We are all still very much on our individual roads, trying our damnedest to make it through the next moment, next hour, next random wave of emotions that come out of left field and leave your heart beating rapidly and your mind ready to splinter, be gentle with yourself. No one else knows what they’re doing, either. No one has a secret road map. We are all just making it up as we go.
We’re human. Beautifully broken, messy, brilliantly human."
While I’m no stranger to life’s curveballs, I wasn’t even close to prepared for something so outside the realm of the usual “what if” scenarios I typically run through my overactive mind. I was caught off guard back in March as the pandemic worked its way into Maine. My instincts screamed at me to get prepared with the tangible items needed for my day to day life. Which I did. My instincts were to get things ready to work remotely for my day job, which I also did. I always pay attention to my gut instincts.
What my instincts didn’t prepare me for was the intense shift in my entire life that was about to start. My gut didn’t warn me about the intense emotions that were going to come into my world hard and fast. My gut didn’t tell me I was about to have a tremendously powerful epiphany about what I wanted my life to look like. Nor did it prepare me for the deep, penetrating spiral I was going to take back on things I had long since thought I had healed from but, apparently, still held lessons for me.
I’ve had a lot of time to think lately. With the outside noises silent, with the lack of human involvement in my life, I’ve embarked on a journey that I’d not been inclined to take. A journey of 40 days and 40 nights thus far. That is a shitload of time to spend wandering the confines of your soul. Journeying through memories, life events that changed you, and parts of life you would much rather forget about but are still too fruitful with lessons you need to embrace. All while acclimating to the fact that every single facet of your life is changing rapidly. Ready or not.
Throughout my life, I’ve developed a very intimate relationship with survival mode. Building impenetrable walls around myself, shutting down feelings and emotions. Head up, shoulders back, handle the chaos without thought of what it meant for me or my life. Get through. Figure it out. Take care of everyone else. No feelings allowed. Live life on automatic pilot. Bad things happen, examine them, and let them go. March forward. Keep marching. Don’t fall down too long. Always get back up. Deny the pain. Deny your exhaustion. Deny the tug of your heart that this isn’t what life is supposed to look like. Remember that others have it much worse than you. Don’t give in to the fear. Don’t wallow. Don’t look back. March. March. March. Don’t let them see your pain, that is weakness. Don’t be weak. Don’t let people in. Take care of others at the expense of yourself, because that is what you do.
I do not know how to handle anxiety and fear. I do not know how to handle the soul-crushing sadness that I feel when the next news story comes on of how this disease took more precious lives at a Veteran’s Home I used to volunteer at. Or how families cannot feed their children, or how people in my community are struggling with depression and loneliness, and there’s no end in sight. I don’t know how to handle the fear I feel every single time my husband leaves for work at the local grocery store. I mean come on, he works at a grocery store – I should only have to worry about random stampedes over a huge sale on lobsters and ribeye steaks. I shouldn’t have to worry that some stranger who refuses to abide by the social distancing restrictions may infect him with a disease his compromised lungs will not be able to handle. I shouldn’t have to worry that he may bring that infection home to me, when the only thing I should be concerned about is that he remembers to bring home something for dinner.
I am an optimistic realist. Always have been. I know there are dark times in life. I know that evil, horrible things happen in this world. I also know that for every horrific event that transpires, humans get fired up to get as much good and kindness into the world to offset it. The resiliency of humanity is astounding. Seeing it in real-time, in my community, has touched the very center of my heart.
While I understand the rush to get back to work, to get back into routines that make sense, I don’t think it’s ever going to look the same way again. At least not for a while. What was normal, wasn’t working, and regardless of how hard many try to get back to the moments before COVID-19, life has already changed well beyond where we were then. We have changed. Whether we accept that yet, or not, we have. As individuals, as neighbors, as communities, as humans.
For the first few weeks of isolating at home, mostly on my own, I tried to figure out a new routine. This was one of the first lessons I learned, how entrenched I was in the mindlessness of which I went about my days before isolation. Get up, coffee, shower, drive to work, bitch about the traffic, work all day, drive home, bitch again about traffic, make dinner, do chores, collapse on the couch, watch mindless TV, go to bed. Rinse and repeat. It was only when things changed that I was forced to see how robotic every day was. How uninspired. How exhausting. I haven’t been living in a way I wanted to, and I hadn’t even noticed.
What I didn’t realize in those first few weeks was how hard my subconscious was working to acclimate to everything that was going on. Extended periods of fearfulness wreak havoc on every system inside of your body, and I was fearful of losing people I love, and of course, worried I would get sick myself. I am not scared of anything. Well, I never have been until now. Because everything I would have done in the past, I can’t do now. I can’t see people who need help, and I can’t hug someone who is struggling, I can’t protect people from something I cannot see. My subconscious was working overtime on my behalf, and I didn’t appreciate the mental power it was taking. I was just getting more and more pissed at myself. I would stare blankly at a word document, wanting to fill it with words, but finding none flowed from me. I wanted to work on my new book but was lacking the brainpower that would take. Even mindless things like vacuuming were beyond my mental capabilities, and the cycle of beating myself up grew stronger.
This led to my second lesson – Sometimes, the voice inside my head is a sadistic bitch. I cut myself no slack, berate myself for feeling listless and a bit overwhelmed during probably one of the most significant global events I have ever lived through, and have no tolerance for stumbling in life. This sadist also will not allow perceived laziness, diminished mental acuity, or any form of excuse. I’ve never wanted to slap myself, but now, at least once a day, I do. My internal barrage of words forms a ruthless and vicious cycle that, if anyone else said to me, would be met with a wrathful vengeance. I never realized what a complete asshole I am to myself. I’ve also never realized how badly it affects me. I do now though, and I’m working on shutting her up once and for all.
While much of the past few weeks have been spent wandering the confines of my mind, life, and story, I’ve also spent an excessive amount of time studying people. People in my inner world, people in my community, people on social media, and random strangers on those few jaunts I’ve taken from my home. People fascinate me, frustrate me, and inspire me every single day. I learn so much from every person I encounter, be it online or in the real world, and it truly fascinates me.
This virus has turned a brilliant spotlight on humanity, and I’ve been both disgusted and awe-inspired by what I’ve witnessed. I’ve learned a lot, too. The biggest thing – We all may have a common goal, to defeat and eradicate this virus, but there are more than a billion different roads each one of us has to walk to get there, and none of these roads are the same. There are no maps. No GPS. No tour guides. We, each and every one of us, was thrown into the fray, left to our own devices to get through it. Because while quarantine at home looks one way to me, it is going to take on a completely different landscape for my neighbor. It is definitely going to be a completely different road for the women with the angry husbands, for the brave souls in recovery, for the single parents trying to teach their kids and work an essential job, or to the family who is struggling to feed the kids when their income has dried up and getting on unemployment has proven almost impossible.
But just because life is super complicated right now, fraught with unknowns and uncertainty, doesn’t give people the right to be complete and utter jackasses. Seriously. I had a man the other day, tell me that it was his constitutional right to do whatever he wanted with his body and for his health, and if he wanted to work than the state needed to open up. I just calmly said, “Welcome to being a woman.” He didn’t get it. Later that day, I was reading comments under a news story about the elderly population and the immunocompromised being at such a high risk, and that had to be taken into consideration as states work to reopen. I won’t quote the horrible comments, but I can say I was disgusted by the complete lack of empathy.
A couple weeks back I wrote a piece called “Metamorphosis,” and in it, I wrote about how humanity was in the process of breaking down entirely and looking for ways to handle our lives differently and evolved from who we were before COVID-19. I knew this process was going to be mentally exhausting, messy, exhilarating, impossible, and life-altering for many, but I’d hoped that most would emerge change in ways that would benefit their personal lives and humanity as a whole. But I am not naïve, and I also know that some will emerge angrier and even more vicious than before, and there isn’t anything I can do about it. We cannot change people’s natures anymore than we can change the weather. That’s life.
We who emerge from this more focused on being better humans can make a difference. By using our voices for those who cannot speak for themselves, by looking for ways we can help in our communities, by sharing lessons we’ve learned with others who may be struggling to regain their footing in the new normal. We can speak up when we see injustices. We can stop judging others based on our limited views of their lives. We are learning the power of focusing on ourselves through this, and what we bring to the world. Be that raising amazing children, stocking shelves at a grocery store, collecting garbage, serving coffee, or whatever your road looks like – we all have a role in this life. We all have a purpose. Whether you’ve figured out yours yet or not, set clear intentions on how you wish to make this world a little brighter for yourself and others.
Meanwhile, we are all still very much on our individual roads, trying our damnedest to make it through the next moment, next hour, next random wave of emotions that come out of left field and leave your heart beating rapidly and your mind ready to splinter, be gentle with yourself. No one else knows what they’re doing, either. No one has a secret road map. We are all just making it up as we go. We’re human. Beautifully broken, messy, brilliantly human. Remember that.
Now, I must search out some deliciously sinful chocolatey treat because calories and fat do not count in quarantine, and if they do, I simply do not care.
40 days and 40 nights will continue, might as well have cake along the way.