As I’m fond of doing, I’ll start with a disclaimer or two. Firstly, everything I say here applies to me as well. I’m not saying anything to a reader that I’m not saying to myself. This is a one size fits all and I’m wearing this particular boot right along with you. Secondly, this blog entry isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’re on the figurative or literal ledge, maybe save this for a time when you’re stronger (and also call 911 for the ‘literal ledge’). I’m also aware that I’m saying this as someone who is currently healthy and safe and has family and friends that are also healthy and safe. This may prove to be a privileged place from which to preach these words. I stand behind everything that is written here but my tune may change if I or those I care about become infected. This whole thing may come off as insulting, morbid and depressing but I promise you it’s not so please don’t view it that way. As is frequently the case in my writings, there’s an unexpected and oddly positive twist that you’ll never see coming. Well, at least you wouldn’t have if I hadn’t just told you it was coming. Before we get too deep into those dark waters though, won’t you join me in a selfish, childish rant? Please? Oh you will?! AWESOME!
It goes without saying that we’re in the midst of difficult and uncertain times. We’re all anxious and depressed; all of us; literally, the entire species. To put it more bluntly though and perhaps in a more unapologetically American way, THIS SHIT SUCKS BALLS!! I’m working from home like practically everyone reading this. I have a very small, makeshift office at home but it’s rarely used. The cheap folding chair that’s stationed at my 15 year old Ikea desk was only meant to be used for brief periods of time, NOT 8 CONSECUTIVE HOURS! (It’s also worth mentioning that the chair was literally found in a dumpster so yeah, there’s that) Due to this, a new part of my daily routine entails frequently trying to get feeling back in my legs. I’ve been seeing clients via webcam and phone for just over a month and to ensure confidentiality the original makeshift office has been forcefully “remakeshifted” and now resides in the “comfort” of my own bedroom. It’s been my practice for years to wear a tie on Mondays and Thursdays and as I’ll discuss later, I’ve been trying to keep normalcy by continuing those routines. Do you know how strange it feels to be wearing a tie and slacks while sitting 3 feet from your own bed? My wife has turned the dining room into an additional makeshift office and until recently, when she finally broke down and bought a small card table, her work computer and monitor was something we simply had to “eat around” because it was stationed semi permanently at the dining room table. The few times I tried to move it to a more convenient location were met with threats of bodily harm. I never really wanted to learn it but I now know what “N-95” means (sort of). I’ve washed my hands so many times that I almost have a panic attack when I think of what the water bill will look like this month. I feel like SUUUCH a tool bag wearing a face mask in Kroger. I’m sick of smelling my own breath, I’m sick of that breath fogging up my sunglasses and I’m sick of the little crease it leaves on my nose for 10 minutes after I take it off. I’ve been forced, as many of you have, to adopt the title “Unprepared, Unqualified, Impromptu Home School Teacher”. A friend of mine said “I bet you’re gaining a new respect for teachers huh?” “NOPE!”, I said. “THEY’RE GETTING PAID FOR IT AND THEY’VE HAD TRAINING TO DO IT AND THEY’RE DOING IT WILLINGLY AND THEY’RE NOT DOING IT AT THE SAME TIME THEY’RE DOING THEIR DAY JOB AND THEY’RE NOT DOING IT IN HER OWN DAMN LIVING ROOM!” Oh and anyone else need a haircut? Jesus! I’m starting to look like Jimmy Hendrix come back as a white dude with dadbod.
Okay, okay, I’m done. At least for now. Everything I just mentioned is real and I’m certain you can relate to at least a few of them, but obviously these are just the petty complaints. It sucks but I can live with the fact that I haven’t seen my friends in months. I can live with the fact my wife and daughter are driving me insane despite my love for them. I can eventually reconcile the deep, deep shame I’ve felt for breaking down and actually watching the entire Tiger King series (OF COURSE, Carol Baskin killed her husband!). It all sucks, but in the grander scheme of things, none of that stuff matters. So let’s get serious now and turn our attention this unsettling “grander scheme.”
Here’s the bottom line; we have a very bleak and limited set of options in regards to this crisis and unfortunately even those options are largely out of our control. I’d suggest that those options look something like the following: Accept/Cope/Adapt and/or become sick and die.
We’ve (hopefully) all been practicing the standard precautions such as hand washing, social distancing and not touching our face (and by the way, this is TMI but I have a lot of nose hair and it itches all the time. There’s no way I’m ever going to be able to stop touching my face. It’s just not gonna happen). Our exercising of these precautions decreases the likelihood of contracting COVID 19 but it does not preclude it. We have influence, not power. Whether or not we contract the coronavirus is largely a matter of fate. The act of contracting the virus and then how it ultimately impacts us is also mostly a matter of chance. We have very little power in this matter but strangely, that lack of power is precisely where both therapy and existentialism come in handy.
Existential thought suggests that as humans, we are finite and limited in power. Other than the fact that we, can contemplate our finality, we are not special. We are accidentally conscious bipeds, who, like every other bit of matter on our planet, are made of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. We are animals not unlike any other in our universe and follow the same physical laws as every other being both great and small. Existential therapy takes this line of thought further and suggests that if we acknowledge this powerlessness and this lack of specialness and integrate it into our lives, we live more fully. When we acknowledge, accept and then integrate the idea of our powerlessness over death, we tend to use it as a motivator rather than a depressor. We tend to view our life as fleeting and, therefore, more fragile and sacred and then make a greater effort to live it in a mindful, satisfying and fulfilling way. In this we see exactly what I stated earlier; accept, cope/adapt/die. In regards to death, we have terribly limited power. We can diet, exercise and live our lives with the utmost regard for safety and still get hit by a drunk driver and die. We can be privy to the most advanced medical techniques on the planet and will still, at some point, become sick and die. We can wash our hands, not touch our face and work from home for the next thousand years and still die from the coronavirus.
Let me be clear; I AM NOT saying, “you’re gonna die anyway, may as well live it up and go party.” That would be the hedonistic path and that path ultimately leads to disillusion and lack of meaning and purpose. I AM saying take this crisis seriously. I AM saying take precautions. I’m saying make every attempt to live as safely and healthfully as possible while at the same time knowing and acknowledging that your efforts will ultimately be in vain; perhaps via COVID-19, perhaps by other means. Accept that in the act of living, we risk sickness and certain death but can and still should still live our lives in meaningful and purposeful ways. In possibly the most bluntly stated way ever, take precautions and try to survive this. But if you don’t, that’s fine. You were already dead anyway.
In closing allow me to do something I rarely do and give some direct advice. Here are, as a client once said, some “actionable items”:
- Set your feelings aside: This is one of the few times when a therapist would advise this and I’m very uncomfortable suggesting it but I still believe it to be true. The coronavirus is a potential threat to our survival. In survival situations, our fight or flight mechanism can easily be activated. It’s a good thing that can keep us alive but it’s meant to be a short term solution. It will not serve us as individuals or as a species remain in constant paranoia. This is the time to say “I’m going to focus on logic for the moment. I’m going to do what I know is healthy and smart both long term and in the immediate sense. My feelings may mislead me at the moment so I’m going to compartmentalize; I’m going to put my feelings in a box and come back to them when it’s safe to do so.”
- Accept the lack of power you have over this: If you catch it, you catch it. If your loved ones catch it, they catch it. If you die, you die. There’s very little you can do about this and the sooner and more readily you accept this, the easier the situation becomes. Those people you see at Buffalo Bayou and Memorial Park who are CLEARLY throwing caution to the wind in regards to social distancing, the 6ft 5in guy in Kroger who got close enough to reach above my head to obtain something off the top shelf, the idiotic, fear mongering preachers who say that this crisis is punishment from god, the just as idiotic leadership in this country who seem to have zero clue what to do with this situation; they’re all outside both your influence and power. Accept life on life’s terms and do what’s in your power. Let go of the rest.
- Take good care of yourself and your loved ones: Keep up with your daily routines even though they my seem pointless now. As mentioned earlier, they were pointless already, we’re just more acutely aware of it currently. The act of coping entails accepting the situation as it is and then asking yourself “what can I do to work around this as best I can”. Keeping up with your diet, exercise, sleep schedule, meditation, and other healthy practices won’t resolve the situation but they can help for now, whether “for now” ends up being 2 days or 80 years.
- Use this time to better yourself but don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to do so: I’ve heard that in China, smog has started to lift. I’ve read that in Yosemite National Park, wildlife is flourishing. I’ve witnessed firsthand, a decrease in noise pollution and a LARGE increase in biking and walking in my neighborhood and on the larger scale a general trend towards more friendliness, compassion and cooperation in people. Take a cue from this trend and use this time to reflect and shore up the areas within yourself that may need it. Become stronger in spite of this tragedy. When you get depressed and want to sit on the couch, fight that urge. Get up and do something, ANYTHING. But there may be those days that you simply can’t. We are finite and fallible creatures and some days we will lose the battle. Allow yourself to be human and take the time to rest when you need it. Do not go gently into that good night but accept that you will ultimately go…and that’s fine too.
- Seek therapy: Yeah, maybe this is a plug for my practice but so be it. Seek help. Counselors are out there and we all need them now. Make that call, send an email or send a text. I and others like me are here to help.
- Stop watching the fucking news: The need to be informed is valid but for most of us, it only serves to make us more paranoid and depressed. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a therapy client or considering becoming one and therefore, likely depressed and/or anxious. The last thing you need right now is further fuel. If there are important bits that you need to know, there’s almost a 100% chance that you’ll hear it from your friends, family or on social media or elsewhere. Stop making yourself crazy thinking you’ll miss something.
I wish you well and hope you and those you care about and even those you don’t care about stay healthy and safe. Good luck!
This time you get a double bonus! 2 unrelated songs and 2 unrelated book recommendations:
Song: Cannibal Corpse- The Bleeding: mostly recommended because I was listening to it while writing this.
Song: Man, The Robot- Your Absence Has Been a Constant Presence: Mostly recommended because it’s my band and we just released it!
Unrelated Book: The Plague by Albert Camus. Mostly recommended because it so completely applies to humanity’s current state.
Unrelated Book: The Little Turtle: Mostly recommended because I wrote it. Message for details!