There are so many accounts of what it’s like to live in our current anxiety-ridden space of the unknown. People have opinions on the measures our city and state officials are taking as the pandemic permeates our lives. Governments are right but people are wrong. People are right but governments are wrong. No one is right and everyone is wrong. Everyone else is wrong and you are right.
From the inside of our homes and minds, perspectives other than our own feel fleeting, non-existent. We see from where we stand, sit, eat, work, lounge, binge, sleep. It’s all from the same forest so these familiar trees trick us into thinking there’s no way we could miss anything because it’s all right here in front of us. My god, if you can’t see what’s right in front of me, you must be blind.
Since Week One, much has changed but mostly it’s stayed the same. No classes or schoolwork to fill up the hours in my days since graduating in December. No celebratory trips to take since vacationing abroad in January. No gap-filler job with the Census since its postponement in March. Just the same number of hours to fill in a week as ever before and less imagination with which to do so.
Imagination comes from what? Time to sit and think about nothing and everything, I suppose—time to sit and compare reality with fantasy. Time to sit and dream of all the yes/ands one can string together and see what comes out on the other side. But then, what to do with that image? To me (a task-master), imagination feels pointless when I’m stuck inside and can’t move items from the Idea List to the Todo List and then check them off.
I have long understood that structure is the glue that holds my life together. It’s what I longed for growing up in my alcoholic home. So much so, that when given the opportunity to choose between freedom and structure as a 17-year-old, I chose structure because I didn’t trust myself with freedom.
So now that school (structure) is out, I find myself lost at sea, in a vast expanse of imaginational freedom. Lost in the comfort of my own home and head. Surrounded by a familiarity that keeps me physically safe but stunts my mental growth. I’ve started several projects, from essays to social justice research to home improvement to meal planning to binge-watching to looking for food in the fridge. Each leaves me feeling like I should’ve chosen a less taxing option.
I have more than ample time for all these projects and still, I have yet to finish one. I have a hard time concentrating and thinking things through. I have a hard time remembering what I started, let alone maintaining motivation. I read and get engrossed in one chapter (or sentence) only to find myself too distracted to get through the next.
My brain feels flimsy, able to neither create new information nor absorb anything of substance, no matter how trivial or interesting. I feel like a sponge, both wet and dry. There is but too much information already in my brain. Every new bit that crosses my path drifts without opportunity to be learned. And then, in anticipation of that pattern, I actively avoid new information. I seek out only the familiar so that when new information does cross my path, I readily reject it, sensing its unfamiliarity, which can only be of no comfort.
I find myself longing for the days of structure. Classes to be at by 9am. Papers due by Sunday at midnight. Internship hours to complete by the end of May. With the structure of deadlines set by someone else, I can easily fit in the things that contribute to my wellbeing. Go for a run by 7am or stop at the gym on the way home from class. Schedule time to do research for whatever papers are due this week and actually do that research. Log internship hours and make adjustments for weeks ahead I know I’ll fall off track (like midterm and finals weeks).
About school, I loved that didn’t have to think about what to do, I just had to follow a schedule. A schedule by which I was accountable to others. And that’s really the thing about structure. If I set my own schedule, I’m accountable to only myself. It’s easy to manipulate myself into thinking I don’t really have to do a thing because no one is going to be disappointed in me if I don’t do what I said I would do. Which is a lie I tell myself to get out of honoring my own values in any given moment. Make no mistake, I will be disappointed in myself and do plenty of internal berating. The lie is thinking that disappointment in myself is less heartbreaking than someone else’s disappointment in me.
Why do we allow our internal dialogue to be so cruel, to say things we would never say to our favorite people? If you’re like me, it’s because you grew up being told, shown that what everyone else thinks of you is more important than what you think of yourself. And even after years of therapy, this one is still hard to sit with and believe from the heart.