Written on 08-18-20.
This is the column I haven’t wanted to write. The one that tells the truth that I don’t want to think about. The truth that I’m not really sure if I’m going to make it through this. I don’t know what might go wrong—I’m not in any immediate danger of doing without food or losing my apartment. I have interesting projects to work on. I’m definitely not suicidal. Depression comes and goes but so far hasn’t taken a deep hold. So what’s the problem?
As I look over my efforts these past weeks to document my COVID-19 experience, I am very aware of my efforts to put up a good front.
It is true that I’ve done well in keeping up a schedule, trying to write, and maintaining a good attitude (whatever that means). But I may have given the impression that the bad days just don’t exist.
With the increased stress of our current heatwave, I’m falling into a few. This is what they look like:
Anxious to sooth myself, I go to the grocery store for comfort food. Childhood favorites: ice cream, hot dogs and beans, creamy cole slaw and potato salad, lots of bread and butter, candy, pastries, and similar cheats. (THAT was an interesting “Freudian slip.” I meant to write “treats”). In two days (TWO DAYS) I gain two pounds. That’s a pound a day. Wow. I don’t see myself stopping this, although I know I will . . . eventually.
Trying to read but unable to focus (depression?), I slouch around my apartment from one room to another, at a loss what to do. I turn the TV on and then off. I tap at the computer and walk away. I down my fourth cup of coffee.
This morning I woke up from distressing dreams (I can’t remember details) fifteen minutes before my alarm. I could have just got up, but I hate to lose sleep so I lay back down, turning off the alarm first. I dragged myself out of bed three hours later. Among my first thoughts: “Geez, I almost wish I was dead.”
My next thought: no I don’t.
And I don’t. I am confident that I’ll pull out of this hole. I have done so repeatedly, over the past six months. I have a few bad days, and then I pull out of it.
But the thing is: the holes are getting deeper. Each time I sink, I sink a bit lower. I’m six months overdue at the dentist, and I’m starting to notice the effects with occasional sore gums, a bit of a tingle that might be a cavity. My sciatica keeps acting up, making it difficult to exercise. It lasts longer each time. Probably stress related. I am less willing to make small talk with my roommate. The neighbor’s noise gets on my nerves a bit more.
Can I really get through this by staying the course? Buckle down and get back to a daily schedule of writing and reflection? Go to my ZOOM meetings with family and friends? Take another class?
I don’t really know. I thought I knew. I thought, “I’ve got this…”
Today, I’m not so sure. What am I afraid of?
It’s simple really. The longer this goes on, as I hear of more and more disease in the community, the more certain it seems to me that I won’t get through this time without contracting COVID-19. And, at 63, I have little confidence in my ability to survive.
Each day, I awake with the thought, more or less salient: am I going to die this week? Is today the day I’ll notice a cough and a fever? It’s another weekend: is it my last?
I suppose that this must come to all who live long enough. What a lousy deal life is when you think about it.
And one thing is certain about times like these: Like it not, we’re going to think about it.
And think about it again.
And so I surprise myself at the end of this column with a realization:
Thanks to COVID-19, I am thinking about things that most of us spend our entire lives avoiding. And everything I’ve ever read or learned of spirituality tells me that this is the beginning of wisdom.
And everything I’ve ever heard of wisdom is that there is a way out of despair, impossible as that seems.
I end this reflection with an expression of hope. Who knows where it comes from?
That’s the mystery. Hope persists.
I’ll eat a few more plates of hot dogs, beans, and cole slaw, slog down a few more dishes of ice cream, sink a bit lower, perhaps. Then I’ll either sink until I die, or rise again to keep on hoping.
So what else is new?