Back in February, I bought a new planner. The Recollections goal planner, for those out there who are planner-addicts. I was finally feeling better enough from my breakdown to return to work. I was energized, confident, and so ready to get back to normal. I set it up with all the goals I wanted to achieve. Reasonable goals, with reasonable deadlines. Re-publish my backlist titles that are no longer available? I could do that at a rate of one per month since they’re mostly novellas. Finish The Daughter by April? Of course! Plenty of time! And in the meantime, I’d even set out a plan for how to keep on schedule with Patreon and recaps here. And IDK if anyone noticed but I totally got better at working!
And then the world ended.
Of course, my world stayed roughly the same, with the exception of not having to leave the house for rehearsals or home school activities. After all, I work here all the time. I was expecting to be at home. And hey, don’t I always complain about having to go places? This should be perfect!
Obviously, this whole “shelter in place” thing has been a boon; after all, without having to do pesky things like taking a kid to play practice, I have more time to work on those goals! I could even get ahead!
Picture this: there’s a global crisis killing tens of thousands of people. Millions will be infected by this pandemic. Every news story seems to be, “perfectly healthy human being your exact same age died two days after going to the grocery store, congrats, you’re fucking doomed.” If you live in the U.S., the President of your country may be actively trying to murder you via medical neglect if you happen to live in a state whose governor won’t praise the orange bastard appropriately. Bodies are being stored in temporary morgues made out of reefer trailers and people are dying alone while their families watch them take their last breaths over Skype.
Feeling productive yet?
Now, I know I’m not unique in feeling like I, personally, should be able to weather this nightmare and turn it into a dream come true of productivity and royalties and being a beacon of distraction for readers. Everyone working from home right now seems to be having the same difficulties. These include:
- Not being able to concentrate
- Sleeping too much
- Not sleeping at all
- Sleeping at weird times
- Drinking too much
- Bouncing back and forth between social media platforms and news sites in a non-stop loop
- Panic attacks
- Inability to do things that were formerly enjoyable.
- Thinking you’re the only person who’s not handling their shit right now, despite all evidence to the contrary.
That last one is especially difficult for people with mental or chronic physical illness, as the drive to appear “normal” or “not lazy” can powerfully fuck with you. I mean, I spent months trying to claw my way up to “normal” things like, “leaving the house” and “focusing long enough to read a whole page of a book at once.” And now it’s just how we live? And I’m supposed to adapt to that?
I know I’m not the only person out there who’s been thrown a curveball by the entire world’s sudden agoraphobia and depression. All those behaviors people strive to correct or suppress are suddenly just what we’re all going through. Some of it is maddening on an, “oh, when the neurotypical, able people need accommodations it’s possible to make them,” level but it also hits a sore spot in the psyche: am I backsliding if this kind of anxiety and lack of executive function is a reasonable and expected part of life? And if it is backsliding, well, shouldn’t I, with my years of therapy and hard work, be better able to navigate this crisis? I have all the tools necessary. IDK, this feels like an excuse.
My friend Jill sometimes reminds me that there’s a difference between an excuse and a reason. If you’re identifying with this post, if you’re seeing things in here and thinking “hashtag mood,” let’s try to remember that this pandemic isn’t an excuse. It’s a reason. It’s the reason everyone is experiencing those delightful mental illness issues like insomnia or jacked up sleep patterns. It’s the reason you’re having a panic attack, not an excuse to capriciously lose it several times a week (or day). Nobody is living this out because they’re lazy and unwilling to try; they’re living it out because the Grim Reaper is gently elbowing us while we’re watching the news and leaning over to whisper, “Hey, how do you like what I did in Italy?”
But it’s still so hard to grasp that failure to function in the middle of a global pandemic is not the same as failure to function because you stopped taking your meds or going to your therapist. Hopefully, when this is all over, one of the lasting lessons for the world at large will be, “now you understand what life is like for the mentally ill and disabled, so please stop being a dick, we’re doing our best.” But for now, the lesson everyone needs to learn, myself included, is that at this particular moment in history, we do not have any power when it comes to keeping our lives normal. Because there is no normal. And that’s not an excuse. It’s a reason. Be kind to yourselves. And remember that if you struggle to function at the best of times, it’s too much to ask of yourself to be at the top of your game in the worst of times.