It’s been a pretty wild week, hasn’t it? I saw on Twitter the other day someone wrote, “Want to feel old? This morning was TODAY,” and I feel like that has applied every day this week. Somehow we’re still in March. I’ve only been getting about 3-4 hours of sleep before anxiety wakes me up. My anxiety is a little gnawing mouse in my chest that keeps me awake. Sometimes it stretches and I think it might burst out of my chest but then it settles down again. I told my friend that and he said that’s the way people talk about love, but I think love is a kind of anxiety.
Anyway, I’m not in love, I’m just in a constant state of panic. Not the kind of panic where I’m going out and buying a pallet of toilet paper and barricading myself at home. Rather, it’s the kind of subdued panic that you get when you feel like you’re forgetting something, like a homework assignment for school or thinking you might have left something important at home and you’re in the car on the way to the airport. I saw someone describe the feeling they’re having as feeling like you’re both overreacting and underreacting and I think that’s accurate. This is something unprecedented for all of us and I don’t think anybody can say for sure what’s a reasonable way to react. Some of us cling to normalcy and some of us have given in to panic and some of us are sitting awkwardly in the middle.
There’s something primally terrifying about empty shelves at the grocery store, about seeing places you love to visit closing down, about seeing the town sign that normally reminds you of recycling days and holidays telling you to please wash your hands. Routine has been thrown out the window and, to again borrow someone else’s words, it feels like that weird liminal space between Christmas and New Year’s where nothing makes sense and anything goes.
I’m sure we’re all working on getting through this, not just with the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health precautions that are focused on our physical health, but also getting through it mentally, finding meaningful things to channel our energy into. Some of us may be losing our jobs (a few of my friends already have) and there’s a strong sense of aimlessness among kids who aren’t in school any more and people who aren’t at work anymore. It’s important for us to find a sense of direction.
I used my tax return money to buy a ukulele (considering the circumstances I probably should have saved it but, like I said, nothing makes sense and anything goes) and I’ve been teaching myself to play. I’m also still writing my novel and I bought that new game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, so I have a couple of things to keep my attention off the constant COVID-19 reporting I have to do for work. I know some people say to turn off your TV and stop following the news if it’s bumming you out, and I agree that’s good self-care advice, but my heart goes out to my co-workers and other journalists around the world for whom this situation is an ever present and inescapable reality, having to watch everything unfold in real time every minute of the work day.
So when I get home, I teach myself some new ukulele chords. I’m starting with Patrick Wolf’s “Gypsy King.” Reading “Name of the Wind,” I’m on somewhat of a severe bard kick, so I also purchased “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter and an anthology of William Butler Yeats poems. Is it escapism? Yes, definitely, but I think we could all use a little bit of that these days, stepping away from the screens to immerse oneself completely in something new and different and engaging. Anything to take my mind off that lurking fear that I’m forgetting something, missing something.
Johanna Armstrong is the Lifestyle editor. Here column appears each weekend.