Those who know me well (or at all, really) know that I am an introvert. I have become more-so as I have gotten older, and being married to a fellow introvert has allowed us to retreat into a comfortable, fairly reclusive, lifestyle. So, “living in the time of COVID,” as people say, has not had a huge impact on my life. Or so I thought.
Just lately, I have been feeling blue. I had for many years suffered from chronic depression that left me unmotivated, moody, and withdrawn. It was like observing the world through some kind of fog, only allowing in small doses that I could tolerate. This all changed after I finally pursued therapy and medication, and the world opened up to me as much as I cared to allow it. It was a revelation.
But, just lately, I feel that darkness creeping back in. Hello darkness my old friend. I find myself humming or singing the same depressing songs that were the constant soundtrack of my teen years, when the depression solidified. I find myself more frequently thinking about death as the final release from this cruel world.
So yeah, not great stuff.
I have always had a strangely paradoxical nature in regard to external stimuli. Both profoundly sensitive and thick-skinned, I tend to feel a lot but power through those emotions. This served me well (or as well as it could) for the many years I was suffering from depression previously. I could usually manage to put on a brave face and get through the day, every day, and not bum everyone out. But, in the privacy of my home life, the charade fell away. My depression had a destructive impact on my relationship with my wife (now ex-wife), leaving me no energy to deal with day-to-day tasks or personal projects.
It would be super awesome to not get back to that place. I’m really trying. In fact, this website is part of that self-therapy effort. I am trying to find healthy outlets for my emotions, and spark my own interests in creative projects. Creativity, art, has always been my happy place. It allows me to get out some of my own emotional energy, and also provides me with a sense of accomplishment and pride in myself. It helps when other people are impressed as well, as stupid as I know that sounds (and is). I think that is the nature of most artists.
But to steer this post back to the original point, the pandemic is wrecking my serenity. Despite not being driven to interact with people in person, for the most part, I guess even I need a human connection sometimes for the sake of my mental health. I used to meet once every two weeks with my gaming group to play table-top games, and that was nice. Now we meet over Zoom and Roll20, which is great and all, but is not the same. Just being in the same room as other humans, I guess, has a lasting impact.
But I think even more than the human connection, there is the general feeling of dread and stress that has permeated the narrative, especially here in the US. Between the virus and the political strife, there is this feeling that the other shoe will drop at any time and “shit will go down.” What that “shit” is, exactly, is anyone’s guess. But the feeling is there.
Up until a few days ago, I had been keeping a loaded rifle in my office with me just in case I had to spring into action. It was leaning right over by my computer tower, a constant reminder that things are not normal. I had spent a few months preparing emergency supplies and organizing them in our RV just in case we had to leave here in a hurry. Most of that was due to political issues, but the stage had been set by Coronavirus. Once people are on edge, keeping them on edge is pretty easy.
And I have to tell you, reading that last paragraph sounds pretty dumb even to me. I am not the type of person who generally overreacts to things. I am not a “prepper.” I bought a hunting rifle in 2016 after Trump was elected because of a general feeling of unease. I figured a hunting rifle was a good choice because it had other purposes, but could be used for home defense in the unlikely event it was needed. I didn’t want to be the only one without a gun. The same logic as “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” a philosophy I have widely ridiculed. And yet here I am. So my current state of stress was kind of a slow burn, but has accelerated greatly in the past year.
So what is to be done about it? How do I get back to a healthy mindset, and pull myself back from the abyss I am starting to edge toward? That abyss, after all, feels so familiar, almost comforting in a very sick way. I think, for starters anyway, I need to step away from the things that are stressing me out. “Self care” is a new mantra for a lot of people, and I guess it had better start being one for me as well. The “prepper” mentality is one of fear. Yes, it’s better to be prepared if something should happen, but when you devote a large part of your daily energy to that idea, it starts to seep into the tender spaces of your consciousness. It starts with keeping a gun by your desk, and it ends with building a bunker and doing “training exercises” in case Ze Germans attack, and believing that the government is poisoning the air and water.
I put my gun away. I don’t want to look at it anymore. I’ve stopped going out to the RV to look at the emergency supplies. The next step is probably not going to Twitter, a hornet’s nest of fear-mongering if ever there was one. I am not looking at the news very often. Am I saying that the solution is to pretend things are okay? To stick my head in the sand? I mean… yeah. To a degree, yes. I can’t do a single thing about what is happening. People are dying from a deadly virus, yes. People are trying to overturn our democracy, yes. Can I do anything about it? Nope.
So the solution, for me, is not really a solution so much as an understanding. I need to understand that I have a tendency to dwell on things, and so I need to be very careful about what I devote energy toward. I can devote energy toward preparing for unlikely emergencies and reading about dangers and disasters, or I can devote energy toward creative pursuits. One edges me closer to the abyss, and one moves me farther away. Consciously being less informed and less prepared sounds wrong but feels right. “Self Care.”