Lockdown life was already so familiar to me my reality barely changes when COVID-19 grounds an entire planet. But for the fact I no longer have to force myself to go out more than once a week, I have colleagues again for the first time in years. It’s weird, mostly wondrous, and we’re all finding out whether our work ethics stand up to scrutiny.
Some of us are discovering the reassuring comfort of scheduling while others learn to get stuck in and not come up for air until something is done, no matter what the clock says. We’re trying one another’s work habits and coming up with personal hybrids that allow us to remain productive without negating or overriding this odd situation we’re all in.
We’re not machines.
I couldn’t have chosen better people to be stuck with during a pandemic and they are my strength, as they were throughout the year I lived out of a suitcase so I could help my parents navigate stage 4 cancer. That was surreal enough but I always found the words, somehow. But between 2013 and 2018, chronic depression took away my writing voice, which was also my livelihood. I knew then as I know now my mental health and my future hinged on finding the words again and never letting go.
But nothing I attempted to commit to paper during those five years made much sense. I was desperate to communicate but no longer knew how to; it had never crossed my mind I would ever forget.
Most days now, this unprecedented pandemic reality feels as unintelligible as chronic depression once did.
My writing voice is back but I can’t take it for granted anymore. How do you even begin to reckon with the unknown when you cannot name it though? In my case, I read a lot. I read anything I could get my hands on, voraciously although I often had to stare at a paragraph for a while until it yielded its meaning.
This is what this pandemic feels like, too. Mental overwhelm turns into physical torpor and thinking gets harder and harder, assuming you manage not to lose the thread altogether. I do, several times a day, and by the time night comes, I have nothing left after too many hours spent staring at a screen trying to corral reality into words. The advent of COVID-19 has already shrunk my modest income so much I’m staring into the abyss again. It’s as distracting as it’s disheartening.
All the squalid details, I realize, likely wouldn’t be helpful in the least when many of us are in the same leaky boat, determined to row forward but getting more worn out by the day as despondency sets in. “And then a pandemic happened” is the punchline, our precarious lives and the words they inform are the joke.
And yet, our appetite for schadenfreude continues unchecked as some seek solace in knowing others have it worse, and the most unscrupulous rush to service the ever-growing disempowerment market and capture the desperation dollar.
Greed still rules, but our collective mental health also appears to be more fragile than ever now that we spend more time online.
When language begins to get fuzzy again, I remind myself that weeks or even months indoors are a blip compared to half a decade. Before the internet became a lifeline for the world, it was already a lifeline for those of us leading isolated lives so hopefully it scales.
The problem is there’s always grifters using it to predict the future and cash in on our insecurities, pledging blind allegiance to capitalism. Fear-mongering is the new niche du jour as people play at Google MD with COVID-19 for pity clicks while others are here to tell us what we will feel and be and do.
We live in a formidable age: Messiahs have Wi-Fi and crystal balls are connected to the internet of things. While there’s nothing new about the internet’s ability to elevate grifters to superstardom, it’s always the most vulnerable in search of relief and respite who end up footing the bill as unscrupulous self-marketers keep profiteering from human fear.
In normal times, it’s tolerated because it gets traffic. But these aren’t normal times, words are more powerful than ever.
The wrong ones could drive anyone over the edge of the abyss.
Nobody has a clue what comes next though and how could we when we’re stuck at home all day? One thing we can nonetheless be absolutely sure of is that this pandemic isn’t about me and it isn’t about you: It is about us. And we’re all desperate for the unfathomable to end so we can begin to rebuild what it has destroyed.
We don’t have to stop and wait until this is over.
Never mind that our words haven’t caught up with our reality yet so we don’t really know what to say, what to write, or even what to do but life goes on regardless. We have new parameters so maybe we can establish new paradigms that match them. Because something good has to come out of this, for all of us.
But how can it as long as we refuse to consider others?
Productivity tips are useless when you no longer have a job. Investment strategies are useless when you no longer have a job. Even recipes are useless when you no longer have a job because you know that at some point you won’t be able to feed yourself. ‘Woe is me’ has had its day too because woe is us now. No one gets to show off because they mistook the human condition for a pathology either.
Look, we’re all hurting.
An entire planet is triggered and traumatized so how about perspective?
The yearning for human warmth and fellow feeling has gone global, a yearning made all the more urgent by the necessity of social distancing. For many of us, words are quite literally all we’ve got left so the challenge now is to find those that can see us through.
As an aside, words are the only reason I’m still alive. Despite evidence that the internet still favors clickbait that has people gawking in horror at everything, I have to believe they still have power.
And there’s another reason: With social media, the internet has given anyone who wants one a platform so what if we get to be our own hope this time? And what if we get to pilot and pioneer new ways of being a human online by treating our digital presence as an ongoing act of digital diplomacy?
Can the internet erase borders and unite us at last? Wasn’t it what it was designed to do before we hijacked it for personal gain at the expense of the public interest? Capitalism turned many of us into personas, products, and brands so can a pandemic turn us back into humans?
Having more questions than answers isn’t a bad place to start and that’s why we need to keep trying to find the words instead of allowing the pandemic to put life on hold.
We’re still here, we still live in a world of possibilities: us.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.