Extraordinary Times

Collecting, drawing and coloring botanical specimens of lavender definite would have counted as A Waste Of Time to the old me.

I think I’ve finally figured it out.

For the past couple weeks, as the quarantine measures have gotten increasingly strident and public worry has escalated accordingly, I’ve found myself to be… strangely calm. Sure, I’ve become very diligent about washing my hands and increasingly deliberate about cleaning the house, and I’ve been following social media just as much as anyone else (for better or worse), but none of it has come with the expected fear-based underpinnings that I would have expected.

Apparently, this kind of calm is pretty common right now among people who normally struggle with anxiety: the circumstances of the world at last match the worst-case-scenario contingency planning that runs in the back of our minds so this is familiar territory. we feel at home. As someone who has, truly, experienced sleep-disrupting, appetite-suppressing, hand-wringing, heart-pounding, chest-squeezing anxiety, I count myself among this group of People Who Struggle With Anxiety, thus the royal “we”.

And yet, somehow, this explanation still didn’t quite feel like it ‘fit’ to me, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Yes, in the past I have struggled with anxiety, but it hasn’t been troubling me for a goodly while now. Even my recent bout of depression- which probably has many of the same roots as my anxiety- has been in significant remission since the beginning of the year. So, if I wasn’t feeling anxious before the pandemic, why should I be feeling calm now? The unresolved thought kept gnawing at me.

But I think I’ve finally figured it out: the reason why I’m feeling so calm right now- in fact, even good, is because the external world has become so extraordinary that I’m no longer worrying about living an ordinary life. Does that sound vain? Maybe, but it has preoccupied me for the past several years: the intense, chest-crushing fear that my life was slipping past me in a thousand mundane moments that would never amount to anything meaningful.

Call it an identity crisis, or a mid-life crisis, or a whatever other kind of ‘crisis’ feels appropriate: it was certainly a crisis-level event. The constant, overhanging thought of is this really how you want to spend your life?! Is this really all there is? Sucked the joy out of life. I couldn’t enjoy my job. I couldn’t enjoy my artwork. I couldn’t enjoy my home. The constant fear that nothing I did would ever be extraordinary meant I couldn’t enjoy anything ordinary.

And now, that fear is gone. Now, cleaning the house feels… pleasant. Even satisfying. Doing my taxes was a satisfying accomplishment. I’ve learned I like the act of washing my hands: I like that they smell nice- the suds are silky and pleasant, and warm water is a joy. Cold water is a joy to drink: I’ve become much more aware of my body and it’s enjoyment of creature comfort. I have time to just sit with the cat. I can read a book without feeling like I have to time myself to Stay On Task. I can just enjoy eating, moving, resting, drawing, coloring, writing, tidying… ordinary things are now supremely satisfying because it’s enough just to experience them.

I don’t yet know what this will mean for down the line when Things Go Back To Normal- if that is even possible. I hope that I can maintain some of this enjoyment of the qualia of life. I’m sorry that it should take a world-wide pandemic for me to learn to enjoy the little things, but now that I’m experiencing it, I hope I can find ways to keep the habit going.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on March 27, 2020.

One Response to “Extraordinary Times”

  1. I say hold my hand, deary. It’s gonna be a buh-humpy ride. That is, if those who believe in something to fear ahead are right. Otherwise, it’s just more clouds of fear we are flying through to a plateau on which we will not notice much of a difference once this panic clears. As I’ve said elsewhere, we survived the crypto-sporidium scandal…bird flu debacle…we’ve dodged SARS, so far, right? It’s not the age of polio. And, the Brits haven’t re-unleashed the “black.” So, we should get through this and soon find ourselves back in the hum-drum place of “what do we do next, now that the circus has left town?” Our old anxieties will return, no doubt, unless our lives change for the better. This crisis is just a thunderstorm, passing.
    More on this once I get to reading all of what you’ve written and I am not half-asleep. 😀

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