If someone were to do “34 Days of Quarantine by the Numbers” featuring only one subject–and for the sake of science let’s say that subject were me–it would be as follows: 3 books, 38 episodes of The O.C., 1 bad banana bread, 18 jogs, 45 pictures of magnolia and callery pear trees, 24 eggs boiled, fried, and scrambled, 19 rounds of Quiplash, 2 pastel still lives, 42 cups of coffee, 9 HIIT interval circuits, 1 homemade chicken stock, 3 preserved lemons, 2 Zoom birthdays, 32 pre 7:00am wake-ups.
These are the good numbers. The bad ones I haven’t calculated, and I don’t have any desire to. I’m well aware it’s not a productive line of thinking. But for every escape to 2006 Newport Beach through a computer screen there has been an equal and opposite crush of anxiety on my couch, a panic attack for every book I’ve finished, enough tears to have salted all my fried eggs, and recurring thoughts of disordered eating that IV drip into my stream of thought. Quarantine has, undeniably, turned me into my best and my worst self.
Before this pandemic, the future had a somewhat defined shape for me. Now everything feels nebulous. I’m no longer certain where I go from here, where this country and this economy goes from here, where humanity goes. I don’t think what I valued before (spontaneity, thrill, “stuff”) will be what I value after (security, patience, consistency, pragmatism, compassion). I already have indications that those values have changed.
So, when I ask myself why I’m suddenly waking up at 6:30 every day and doing yoga and unearthing my love of cooking and singing and dancing and caring for my body with vitamins, water, and moisturizer–*gasps for air*–it doesn’t feel like it’s just the extra time I have on my hands. Frankly, with work, cooking, etc., I don’t think I do have more time. It feels like my coping mechanism–my desire to have a semblance of control in a world where I feel paralyzed by powerlessness over others’ grief, and over my own.
I’m eating three square meals every day, but I’m also crying about my inability to feel control over my food and exercise regimen. Thoughts of food restriction and self-hate creep into my consciousness. These are ugly, unhappy tears and they always feel selfish.
I’m taking photos of magnolias whose petals are now just beginning to brown at the edges, while feeling grief settle temporarily in my shoulders, the way grief does, from my inability to be outside without a face mask.
I’m dancing and singing and creating, but in moments by myself I am so lonely and so sad about the state of the world that it feels like a knife twisting in my viscera. I miss strangers, I miss bodies, I miss the golden moment of getting a seat on the subway, I miss someone holding my face in their hands.
Two days ago I went for a run outside with a mask on. At the top of Lookout Hill in Prospect Park, there is a congregation of magnolias and cherry blossoms that are always dropping their petals in a celebratory-looking way. I stopped here to look out on Long Meadow cast in shadow at sundown, strewn with people in masks with their dogs and their frisbees. Maybe because I had just powered up a giant hill, but also maybe not, I doubled over and I sobbed from the collective grief hanging in the air. For the thousands of lives we’ve already lost, for my friends and strangers whose job security has been taken away or compromised, for the people witnessing death and loss every day and have to come home and move forward with their lives, for the people who are compromising their health to keep the essential pieces of our world moving.
And so: I have never been worse, and I have never been a better version of myself. It seems like a condition of the world we’re forced to live in now, and it may last for longer than I’m prepared to handle. But, maybe if you hear from me that even at “my best” I am also at my worst, then you can give yourself the space to let your multitudes exist and offer them compassion: the good, the bad, and the turbulence in between.