This is week eight of social distancing and working remotely full-time. I keep hearing people say some version this phrase “I have always had low-grade anxiety…” and I’m not sure why exactly it stays stuck under my skin. I fully understand the affliction, however, I think I bristle at the notion that this phrase to describe it has somehow become the conversational version of a hashtag. Is it now cool to have had an underlying condition of anxiety? Cool maybe isn’t the right word and, again, I cannot pinpoint why it bothers me. The faces of the people who have said it to me, how it was delivered, the tone and the context, as well as what I know of them as individuals — there aren’t a lot of commonalities. But it has bothered me every time and I’ve ruminated on it relentlessly, among a multitude of other things during the days and nights of this pandemic situation.
The truth is, I got myself off on a tangent already because that’s how I was going to start this post myself today. I have been feeling (off and on, waxing and waning, without a trigger or pattern) anxious since this whole thing began. What I was going to preface this post with though is that, despite my reluctance to embrace it as truth, I was kind of an anxious person in the “Before.” It’s not clear if I have always been this way but I think it’s most likely that I have.
On days like today, gloomy, melancholic and too quiet, it’s hard for me to remember feelings, moments or experiences in my life where I wasn’t overthinking. In my last role as a counselor in a high school, I had a colleague on my small, four-person team who was unequivocally and pathologically anxious. To the point where it rubbed off on and affected everyone around her to some degree, to the point of frustration or annoyance of those who frequently experienced her perpetual buzzing. Listen. I loved that girl but it was profoundly irritating at times. I keep thinking “I’m not that bad,” but I think I may have become that person on my current work team even though I don’t worry to that extreme. It’s all relative though and I can admit that I am anxious more than any of my current colleagues, at least verbally expressed. I do overthink. And on my “new” work team of one, in my living room while using the tv stand as a makeshift desk, I am definitely that person. That said, I’m also the strongest, smartest, cleverest, funniest, most likeable … and prettiest too! This new one-woman team isn’t all bad.
Joking aside though, I do feel anxious. At the beginning of these eight weeks, there was a lot of time spent relishing the freedom, the ability to “sleep in,” freedom from distractions during the work day, not having to wear noise-cancelling headphones all the time to block out cubby chatter, having time to cook multiple, healthy meals a day, freedom to be a hermit and not have to continually think of the excuses you want to give for not wanting to hang out or make plans with people (although you didn’t dare use them because you simultaneously hate excuses and flakes), and just generally relax. I still relish every single one of those positive things. I also love the concerted effort by many to share the positive each day, live for the greater good, and the incredibly unique and powerful feeling of literally everyone experiencing this crisis together, albeit differently. In the early days, I wanted to consume as much information as I could but I was also pretty disappointed in and terrified by the spectacle of our national leadership and his daily press conferences. I would frequently call my parents so we could watch together, not even commenting, just being together in some way while taking it in. While I was laughing and raging about the incredible nonsense spread over this very real and overwhelming global crisis, I was also growing increasingly more anxious.
From the very beginning, I have worried about the people in this world that are most susceptible to this virus, for all of the published scientific and socio-economic factors. I’ve also been worried about my family because, without question, that’s the thing I care about the most at my core. Initially, I discounted my parents’ suggestion for me to come home as just that, a suggestion that was mostly an expression of love and compassion. It is still that but at some point, I remember talking to my brother about how it was starting to feel like a guilt trip. I guess this was about the time that the DC mayor extended our stay at home guidelines through May 15 near the end of April. From that point on, it’s become kind of an ever-present internal battle in my head and my heart. I hate it.
I want to be with my parents. And my brother. I think about every other time since leaving home for college where I have cried at having to leave them to go back to wherever I was … college, MD, DC. Partially, it is going back to being alone, an environment that I enjoy and cherish on many levels but mostly, it is about change. Specifically, it is about never knowing what will happen before the next time you see them or if you will get that chance. Lord knows, I have experienced enough loss in my life to recognize where that fear and dread and terrible sadness and longing comes from. It seems I would be embracing the opportunity to go to their home, when it is not only sanctioned but required that I work remotely, at least through the end of next week.
But as this time has gone on, that battle inside has only raged harder. One) even though the chance of infecting them, them showing signs of sickness or, I can barely even think it but, succumbing to the virus, is infinitesimally small, I cannot help but think about it. I would never, ever be able to forgive myself for not just staying put. And two) yes, if I am being truthful, I know that I am also giving up on a rare and unprecedented opportunity to spend this time alone as I have done for the past seven weeks. But three) I don’t want to listen to my mother read to me from Facebook, I don’t want to perpetually watch the local news (at deafening levels), I don’t want to feel guilty when I have to do work or, conversely, when I need to pretend to do work as I have done intermittently for the past couple of weeks since my budget was cut. And four) I have a man here that I care a lot about and like spending time with. We are both careful enough that we feel comfortable seeing each other during this interminable lockdown and I am deeply thankful for it. He says his roommates are hyper-vigilent to the extent that it’s annoying. One of them Chloroxes the dishes! I don’t have to deal with that but it’s kind of comforting to know he’s safe because they are so anal. The human contact is unexpectedly necessary for my mental health. His hugs feel like home. I had also selfishly hoped that I would actually see him more often than the average once a week since our schedules are finally both pretty open. That hasn’t happened as often As I would like though and, as I’ve lamented ad nauseum here, I’m not stupid enough to push with this guy. That hasn’t gone well in the past and he isn’t them.
Anyway, I know that the pros of going home to spend this time with my folks outweigh the cons and, if the stay at home orders are extended again, I will go. I know that I will. I won’t regret it and, once I get there and surely when I am leaving to come back here again, I will certainly regret not having gone sooner.
I just wish I could stop feeling so anxious about it. Unease and uncertainty has become my fairly constant state of being during this weird time. I do believe, like many other opinions expressed in various spaces of the interwebs, that the “new normal” is already here and that social distancing will continue for much longer. I hope my body and mind and heart learn to adjust to it better over time. I hope we all do.
Music for the Mood: Anxiety – Jason Isbell