For the last three weeks, I haven’t been writing. When I finally felt capable of putting fingers to keys today, I wanted to work on my fiction or that series I was going to write about all the reasons I love Columbus. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking about COVID-19 and what Columbus will look like after we all come out of our homes on some undisclosed date in the future. I decided to write about what I feel during COVID-19 and right now, I feel under pressure. Do I set most of these expectations for myself? Perhaps. Are these pressures really external or are they all in my self-isolated mind? I don’t know. Am I tying myself into word-knots trying to explain? You tell me.
Hopefully, by now, most of us have realized that the situation we’re working with in April 2020 is not the land of free-time and boredom, but rather, April 2020 is a time of communal world-wide trauma the likes of which we haven’t seen in a century. What I’m hearing is that we’re all under pressure. Pressure to be grateful, pressure to be productive, pressure to do something, pressure to not do something, pressure to learn, to read, to spend time, to talk, to sleep, to exercise, to invent, to create, to relax, to entertain. It’s exhausting. In the first two weeks under the stay-at-home order, I told a friend I just felt guilty the whole time. No matter what I was doing, it didn’t feel like the right thing to be doing. If I was working from home, I was guilty I wasn’t spending time with Kyle. If I was spending time with Kyle, I felt guilty for not producing something. If I went for a walk, I was guilty that I wasn’t inside. If I was inside and the weather was nice, I felt guilty that I wasn’t moving my body.
I feel emotionally, mentally, and even physically exhausted. How is it possible to feel exhausted, though, when, according to the world, I’m staying-at-home, “doing nothing?”
Personally, I’m feeling a lot of pressure to be grateful for a really bad situation. I am grateful. I’m grateful I have a job, my husband has a job, and that I have a super comfortable house in a great neighborhood. I have health insurance. I have a network of friends and a reliable internet connection. I have two parents who are taking social distancing really seriously, so I don’t have to worry that they’re out there licking door knobs. I don’t have kids. I have a big backyard. My favorite breweries are delivering beer that I can afford. My big grocery stores have free pick-up. I naturally enjoy alone time and being in my house. I live in Ohio where there’s plenty of space to spread out. I have a literal gratitude journal and I highly recommend the practice. My point is, I am lucky and grateful for all that luck.
Nevertheless, I feel a pressure to just accept all the government mismanagement and all the expectation to hustle and be a productivity machine, outputting product during this global crisis because, well, at least I can. At least I probably won’t die. I should be grateful, so don’t complain. Someone will always have it worse than me. Don’t make a fuss because you’re lucky to be in this situation. To me, this feels like a trap. No matter who you are, someone on planet earth is always going to be in an objectively worse situation. Who wins here?
I’m not talking about just complaining flippantly—have some self-awareness when you talk to friends and when you post online. What I’m talking about is pushing back against a system that is built to prioritize profit over people, often disguised as “opportunity.” It’s tricky and complicated; I definitely don’t feel like I’m explaining myself. I just know that We, The People, don’t benefit when we stay quiet because we’re lucky enough to only pay one thousand dollars for an ER visit in a broken healthcare system, or be employed by a business that doesn’t pay fair wages, or have the opportunity to pause payments on our cripplingly expensive student loans.
Self-isolation, more than ever, has me trying to tease out a balance. I want to find a balance where productivity feels good and, frankly, feels like it’s for me, not for someone else. I want to decide what my priorities will be on the other side of coronavirus. My mantra is to take one day at a time, be flexible, roll with the punches. My “longterm” goals are weekly ones, but, am I just thinking about it too much? Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in my own head trying to figure out the “best” or most “intentional” way to spend my time, that I feel paralyzed. I just want to scream, or alternatively, fall into a deep slumber. Can I be both true to my morals in a way that is authentic and hustle in my job, have selfish ambition, order carry-out from my favorite restaurants? What a privilege-loaded question!
Time to go lay on the floor.