A girl walked by me while chatting with her friend. I overheard her say, “I love it. I’m not forced to hang out with anyone I don’t want to hangout with.”
She was talking about the coronavirus and the quarantine orders that followed suit. And I wonder if a similar sentiment is echoing around the world? Certainly we miss our friends and our family but is it possible that simultaneously we are actually enjoying these weeks turned to months that have all but eliminated the word “should” from our vocabulary?
I should make plans with a friend. I should join that Meetup group. I should online date. I should go out tonight instead of watching Netflix. I should show face at that party. I should join coworkers for happy hour. I should stay until the bridal shower ends. I should join the soccer team. I should go out for drinks, again.
Even though, I don’t really want to.
The coronavirus has given us a permission slip to say no to social events, only because there’s no other option. It brings to mind my childhood. If I were asked attend an event (i.e. a birthday party) but had a strong inclination to not attend, I would, on occasion, lie. I would tell the asking party that my parents said, “no”. I was blame-free in my declination because my parents had “insisted” I not attend. And I was happy.
The stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders are necessary and terrible and there’s a good chance folks are having mental breakdowns at a rate we’ll only realize when this comes to pass. The economic toll is nearly incomprehensible and certainly reeks of recession, if not depression, with nearly 22 million people having filed for unemployment. There is a frightening disease, running rampant, that’s killing people at a tremendous rate and it’s truly scary.
So I write this not to showcase some “silver lining” because in a global pandemic any silver lining pales in contrast to the dark cloud it’s attached to. Rather, I write this to remember. To remember what quarantine felt like for me. I write this so that one day, future me, knows what it felt like to be trapped at home.
Dear Future Me,
This quarantine-coronavirus life is a roller coaster dipping from awful and soul-sucking to absolute and total freedom.
I think Future Me will be really pleased that Past Me took the time to document how she feels. Although… who knows? Future Me might be a total schmuck and have no appreciation whatsoever.
There’s been a comparison by society that accurately explains what quarantine feels like. It goes like this: Everyday feels like a Sunday afternoon. Monday morning feels like Sunday afternoon, Friday night feels like Sunday afternoon, Wednesday at 5 o’clock feels like Sunday afternoon.
For me, this blurring of time results in a real sense of panic at the absolute monotony and emptiness of life. When I think too deeply, (right now for instance), that feeling settles on my chest like a warning. A therapist would likely label this feeling as, “anxiety.”
It feels like we’ve ripped the covers off the bed of life to reveal her full naked and imperfect self. The covers that now lay on the floor contain the weddings and barbecues and vacations and happy hours and gym classes and lectures and shopping and coffee shop daydreams and date nights. Those now-cold blankets hold the night’s out, live music, hikes with friends, funerals, farmer’s markets, chats in the check-out line, awkward staff meetings, birthing plans, bachelorette parties, family reunions and goodbye hugs.
And it makes me wonder, what is life without her things? As she lays there shivering, trying to reach for the blankets, every time she gets close, they’re pulled a little further away. So she, and we, lay back down to count sheep and fall asleep, hoping everything will be okay when the sun comes up in the morning.
Life has changed her look and she’s hard to recognize now.
And my so-called anxiety can likely be blamed on that. If everything I associated with living a full life has been ripped away. If I thought life looked like a horse and now it looks like a frog, then what is the point of life anyway? Does it have one? We are tiny ants in the scheme of things. Not even the big ants with wings. We are the itty-bitty-tiny ones and this virus has reminded us of that. We’re still living, but without the blankets. We’re still living but our idea of “living” has shape-shifted into something new and strange — like a weird frog.
I suppose, neither “new” nor “strange” are synonymous with “bad”. And this, this is when I circle back to my original point. In this unfamiliar life we’re now living, we have been freed from the inescapable societal obligations we felt so strongly just three months ago.
That peer pressure, typically associated with our teenage years, (but actually is always an arm’s length away), has been lifted. The number of times we say, I should do this or I should do that, has been reduced, because there is nothing we should do. And FOMO or the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ has all but evaporated. No one is doing anything so incredibly interesting that I ache with a desire to be there. Mostly people are home making dance videos and banana bread. Both of which I can do without an invite.
As a person who has only been living in her city for a year, I feel slight relief at the reduction of pressure. I’ve spent the past 12 months trying really, really hard to get involved and make friends and create a community. And as a person with more introvert qualities than extrovert ones, it’s not been easy. So, while I’m certainly stressed that my progress has been put on hold, I’m relieved that I don’t have to try so hard anymore — simply because I can’t. The coronavirus gave me permission to stop. My parents said no.
It’s not an equal deal by any means.
Universe: I give you a global pandemic but in exchange, I’ll take away FOMO!
Yeah, that doesn’t square up. The added anxiety and total terror kind of cancel out the dwindling peer pressure. But it’s something. It’s a sprinkle on a shit cake. And even though the life we knew is shivering and naked and looks like a frog instead of the horse we always thought she was, maybe that sprinkle, surrounded by shit, is where we rediscover the point of it all.
Lauren Melink is the author of "It'll be Fine, Right?" She is the producer of an outdoor television series in Idaho. When she's not reading or writing, she's running.