April 28, 2020

The Mental Continuum of Quarantine: Monotony, Exhaustion & Depression.

Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


I notice myself not calling friends and family as much anymore.

I’m not disconnected—I’m lucky, married—but it seems as if there’s nothing left to say. If most dialogue doesn’t literally begin with, “What’s going on?” it is at least implied, “What is going on? Not much.”

Groundhog Day continues for most: waking and cooking and cleaning and whatsoever activities you use to keep busy. For those of us with passions in the arts or fields that require great study to become great at, time can be well spent. Still, the monotony is unrelenting and challenging to dissolve, especially sans the most basic secondary needs: fresh air, nature, human interaction.

For me, the most disturbing weeks have been the first and last, the latter pretty much no matter what week we’re in. The former for other reasons; in the first week I was as happy as I remember being in recent memory. The dark circles around my eyes disappeared as I slept great and still took a midday siesta. A mandated “stay-cation,” and it was logically more relaxing than any vacation I’ve been on. No bags to pack, no travel to the airport, not even a walk to the store because it was dangerous.

The first-world pandemic of horror expressed at home as gluttonous pandemonium. Our groceries and wine were delivered and both indulged in nightly. I spent my afternoons leisurely catching up on busy work I hadn’t been able to, then plunging into creative projects that for years have been stuck in the sludge of priorities. I spent evenings in laughter, catching up with loved ones overdue for a phone call, basking in longer phone conversations than we’d had in years (and I pity those who lack the courage to transcend texting).

At first I was elated, then quickly self-aware of how disturbing this was: We’re in a Goddamn quarantine because an international virus is dropping people like flies. Why am I so content? Did I actually need rest and time off this badly…and will I ever get this again?  

Somewhere around day 10 everything shifted. There is a principle in Chinese Medicine—really all of medicine—that emphasizes the importance of dosage: That which can heal a condition may also in the improper dose exacerbate it. Have you ever been exhausted from too much sleep? Gotten a headache from too much coffee? Grown sick of your romantic partner whom you adore from spending too much time with them (one we can all presently relate to)? All the mind and body want in every moment is homeostasis, which means our perfect prescription is ever-changing based on our place in time and present activities—which means being assigned a particular medication in perpetuity is usually questionable.

By the end of the second week, I grew tired of calling people. We all had less to say, which occasionally made social interaction more depressing. In a not-so-odd turn of events, social distancing generated more pathological social distancing. I regularly have to sleep during the day and can’t sleep at night, and it’s become more challenging to detect what the body wants.

Whereas cooking every meal was briefly a fun project and no doubt healthy (I lost four pounds in nine days), now it turned me into Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”: tedious at best, mania-inducing at worst. Nightmares of more dishes in the sink and chopping vegetables, staring blankly into the refrigerator wishing some kind of ghost would pop out of it to prepare just one meal, psychotic ideations of simply water fasting until this was all over just to absolve myself of the repetition.

My back hurt from loading and emptying the dishwasher, also probably from sitting at my desk. I had less stamina for working on projects as the demand for initiative wore on me, and what I really wanted was sleep. I could see the quality in my work suffer when work became all that was.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; in Chinese Medicine, the heart refers to the mind, and “fond” might arguably translate as stimulated. Absence makes my mind sharper. Now in our new normal on Day 28, I look forward to new things, simpler things:

1. Days where I feel energized enough to call a loved one. Some calls last three minutes—today’s lasted three hours. I am grateful phor my phellow philosophers philling my mind with pheelings of phreedom.

2. Group texts with homies that make me laugh.

3. Still fantastic meals if I do say so. If you can Google, you can cook, and I’ve learned by going slower at the sink and cutting board respectively, I’m able to mitigate some irritability.

4. My almost daily run in the park (I do the mask and distancing), sometimes followed by a few minutes of Qigong, sometimes even an extra block walk out on my way back home. The weather’s been unfortunately irresistible. We leave our shoes in the hallway, “outdoor clothes” in the foyer, and Purell immediately upon entering.

5. That 7 o’clock cheer for the heroes has become my daily highlight, thus serving as a nice reminder of the concept that enough giving of sincere gratitude eventually comes full circle in nourishing its giver.

6. Finally, I’ve never spent more time on social media. It’s a nice distraction, a way to pseudo-connect and get an occasional laugh. I’m grateful for it—but what might this suggest about those who are always on it while not in the middle of a pandemic? (The proverbial quarantine of a hollow existence…)

As we supposedly optimistically reach a plateau in cases, I fear I’ve also hit a plateau of illusion. Just as fish don’t know that they’re wet, maybe I no longer know that I’m quarantined. I know that I miss my mom and brother, friends and clients, but their absence has transformed within my consciousness, just as it did when I lived in Los Angeles. We’re just not together anymore. They’re not a part of my world. Though in Los Angeles, I knew when my next flight home would be. I knew when I’d see them next—when I’d hug and kiss and laugh with them all.

Here, we don’t know. For the first time in our lives we can’t know. Some say the end of April, while others say August. Both extremes seem unreasonable. I just can’t see a celebratory Cinco de Mayo this year—equally impossible to envision is still being in this f*ckin’ apartment on July 4th!

Thank you to the front line, the grocers, and delivery folk. Couldn’t do it without ya!

F*ck you to the fools responsible for our lack of preparation; the ignoramuses who don’t distance; and sociopaths who kept working past the point of reason, incidentally harmed others, and revealed themselves as part of the problem.






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