missing who we were, wondering who we are, dreading who we’ll have to be
As we journey through the year-mark of the COVID-19 pandemic in America it feels like proverbial plexiglass walls are popping up around every turn, all of us smacking into them in our weary blindness, like a bird to a window. That’s the level of COVID fatigue I’ve been sensing and experiencing in these post-spike, mid-vaccine, still-hunkered months of early 2021.
I thought I was alone in the sentiments I’m about to share until I spoke about them during a chance encounter with a friend. She confessed feeling the same, then so did another friend, and another. As is almost always the case, the Venn diagram of our feelings overlaps with many folks from many walks of life, especially while we weather a massive societal event like COVID.
First up, let’s normalize that and find strength in numbers while we ponder our isolation. I’m sure if we could word search the transcripts of every therapist in the last 12 months the most commonly uttered phrase would be, “you’re not alone.” Followed by, “the whole bottle?” and “how many cats?”
So here we are. It’s March. Those of us who were lucky enough to make it through a holiday season ripe with superspreading are now tempted, cajoled by the occasional 50-degree day and a distant promise of herd immunity. But- doesn’t it make you mad?
When the clouds parted here in NYC last week for a brief respite and spectacular unveiling of thawed dog shit, I found myself reticent to go outside. Angry at the shafts of light decorating my couch.
You see, it’s easy to hunker when it’s miserable out. It’s scary to know that reentrance to society is on the horizon and that you ought to get ready for it- but reentrance to what, exactly? What’s next is so grey that it insults me when it’s bright.
If you’ve read my previous post about the death of New York City, you know I truly believe that our pre-Covid lifestyle was unsustainable, and that we desperately needed a cease-fire with our social media-obsessed culture that rewarded overwork and exhaustion. We really did need a plexiglass wall or two.
But it’s hard not to miss certain aspects of where we were a year ago- seeing friends, planning spring adventures, slogging through New York’s famous secret puddles en route to our busy days and lives.
There’s the source of the anger. I’m pissed that I’m not who I was and SO scared that who I am now isn’t ready and won’t be good enough for who I need to be.
I was watching old Instagram stories a few nights ago, digging up videos of my recently-departed kitty to save to my phone, and I would occasionally stop in my tracks and watch a snatch of an old memory. Everything looked so- easy. Effortless. Vibrant. I know that’s exactly what Past Me wanted folks to think, even if it wasn’t true, but Present Me was still a little jealous.
Present Me gets winded after walking over an hour, likes eating dinner at 6:30, and is so sure that all the skills she’s honed in years of training have certainly raptured away, leaving behind a little homebody with no talents except a strong recall of the entire TLC canon.
Present Me worries that the second Future Me has to kick a leg, learn a middle harmony, show up dressed well and prepared for an audition, it’ll be hard. It’ll hurt. It’ll feel weird.
Then Present me gets sad about that. And angry. Wistful for what’s been, anxious for what’s to come, wishing for clarity. Let’s call it ‘pissedful thinking.’
Round and round and up and down we go, a lumbering carousel of feelings. We’re high on the past, traveling through the now, low on the future. And we never cease to spin, to move, but not necessarily forward. It’s all endlessly circular, chasing the shellacked wooden tail of whoever’s in front of you.
But back to my informal survey of friends. One thinks she sounds like cottage cheese. (I’m intrigued by this. Is anyone else’s cottage cheese talking to them?) Another thinks she can’t act anymore. One got an audition last week and spent five days in a total panic before reluctantly filming material in a dress she didn’t want to wear, barely looking at the takes, and eating an entire bag of conversation hearts after it was sent off. Ok, that was me. I did that.
These are all people who really seem to “have it all together,” (that old chestnut) but feel privately less-than. And I know they’re all wrong. Of course it’s going to be bumpy and clunky as we get back to doing those things we always did in ways we’ve never done them.
This doesn’t just apply to artists, of course. It’s for the parents who are courageously adjusting every day to provide for their kids, to entertain them, to educate them. It’s for the business owner who has pivoted so many times they feel like a dancing vaudevillian. For the frontline workers and medical heroes who navigate daily policy changes and the fact that only about 65% of people actually want the very vaccine that will allow us to resume so many of the things we love.
Since I don’t pretend to have all the answers and am awash in pissedful thinking as much as you, I’ll just leave you with this small nugget. A wise friend reminded me- you chose your career. Don’t take it or yourself too seriously. All will be well. We are all changed. We’ve all developed resiliencies we don’t even recognize yet. But when we have to put them into practice, they’ll be there.
Though herd immunity may be imminent, none of us were immune to the spectacular changes COVID forced into our lives. We’ve all experienced trauma, and most of us are surely moving within a functional depression. It’s hard to take a leap off a moving object- which is why even the carousel has to slow down at some point to give the ponies a rest and the people a chance to move on.
And the COVID Carousel will slow, the highs and lows will equalize, and you’ll come to a complete stop. The music will stop playing. It’ll be so gentle, you might not even notice it’s happening. You’ll get off, with a bunch of other riders, a little dizzy. You’ll acknowledge each other. We did that. We took that ride. Then you’ll go your separate ways into life’s amusement park to see what ride you’d like to be your next adventure, ripe for metaphor.
So do me a favor and be gentle to yourself. Get out there into the sun when we’re lucky enough to have it. Just watch out for dog shit.