Pandemic Diary: No, the pandemic hasn’t changed you—prove me wrong

Let’s start with this quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do  not bring forth will destroy you.

…which I bring to you via my re-reading of Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life. Cope—and others—use the full quote in the context of finding purpose, vocation, dharma—the meaning of your life, as a kind of life journey encouragement. Find your purpose and do it all out (if you bring forth what is within you, it will save you) or… well, perish and die (if you do not bring forth what is within you, that act of self-denial will destroy you).

Today, I want to fracture and pervert the purpose of this quote, because what I’ve been finding out all through the pandemic is that crisis and stress really excels at bringing out what is already in you. So, if you’ve got an entrepreneur inside you, as soon as shit hit the fan, you were distilling hand sanitizer, sewing face masks, and repositioning your coffee shop into a full catering service for white collar workers trapped in their condo towers. Avowed and formerly secret artists made pandemic art—performers found ways to perform, however inferior. Me, I reverted, on a dime, from writing escapist fiction to documenting the drama and trauma of the moment—the thing most within me is the desire to document and tell the true, real story, not the false, fantastic, soothing fable. You—well, you did your thing.

What was it?

No, really. What’s that thing, your thing? What’s within you that you brought forth during the dumpster fire that was 2020?

The end of the year always makes me pensive and reflective, a combination of the darkness and the turning over of the calendar. The first blank page of 2021—what lesson can I bring to it from 2020? What pain, baggage can I shed?

The exercise is hard in 2020 (I didn’t do it in 2019; it was impossible).

But still. Even though it’s hard, I want to do it. So. What did I learn, about muself, about you, in 2020?

Mostly, my biggest lesson? (You will hate this). People don’t change. Crisis, suffering, trauma—we pretend they temper, shape, save people? They don’t. Experience, good or bad, does not so much change people as it accenctuates—brings forth—what is already in them. So assholes, in 2020, just became more assy and more perforated. Martyrs found more extreme forms of martyrdom and self-righteous self-sacrifice (“I will leave the house never, and, also, not have any contact with anyone at all, not even six feet apart and while wearing a mask, because I want to do everything in my power to keep you safe”—no, honey, you just get off on suffering and sacrificing more than everyone else, and you want your suffering and sacrifice to be more profound than everyone else’s. No judgement here, just so long as we’re clear that you’re engaging in a coping strategy and a stress response just as much as I am—and we’re not pretending that you’re so perfectly, smilingly selfless here.)

For me, I find this year of pandemic has accentuated both my mood swings (see rant above) (also, perimenopausal hormonal shifts probably aren’t helping—but chocolate sure does) and my already unforgiving self-awareness, and also, that ruthless part of me that looks at you and says, “Meh, my life will be fine, if not better, without you, you’re too much work, screw off,” and also the “You’re my people and my responsibility and I will die for you—what do you need” unconditional lovely part, and also, did I mention, mood swings.

It has also amped up the characteristic that had made me such a good journalist back in the day—that part that goes, “Actually, there aren’t two sides to this story, there are two hundred, but this is the most compelling one—why isn’t anyone telling the story like this? Fine. I’ll do it.”

That part of me, I value and like. (The moody, ruthless bitch, less so, but. People don’t change, so I’m stuck with her.)

So what has the pandemic amped up in you? Tell me. Or—it’s probably too personal. Tell yourself. Don’t cheat. Fight the temptation to say, “The way the pandemic has changed me is…” You didn’t change. We don’t change (at least, very, very rarely). But what, that was already inside you, did this crisis bring forward, spotlight, accentuate?

The only wrong answer:

“I’ve always been am empath and, OMG, the pandemic has just made me so much more attuned to the feelings and suffering of others.”

Self-proclaimed empaths, I’ve been watching you all year, and this crisis has made you ever more attuned and aware of your own suffering and very committed to expressing it to others—and generally whining about how your suffering on behalf of others is not appreciated and recognized. A) Pretty sure that’s not empathy—do check the definition. B) Not asking you to suffer on my behalf, so, like stop. C) Asking you to shut the fuck about it, though, ok? Tx.

Um. Did I mention—mood swings? Ruthless?

And also—documenting the drama and the trauma?

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.

Bring it forth.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS Do, by all means, bring forth genuine expressions of empathy—we’ve never needed real empathy more. Hint: such expressions generally do not need to be preceded by the phrase, “As an empath, I…” Empaths focus on other people, notice and respond to what other people are feeling. Narcissists focus on themselves. I know it’s a blurry, hard-to-discern line, but it’s there. Find it.

Pandemic Diary: Sand in the well

I had a week last week. You too? You know the kind of week I mean—the terrible, horrible, no good very bad day that morphs into two terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, then three, then feels like a week—an eternity—long before it hits seven—the kind of awful week that’s barely endurable even when it’s a day—the kind of week that feels as if it is a month, a year long—the kind of week that feels it will never end…

…but, mercifully, eventually, it does.

I think it’s over, but, I don’t know. Its defining mood comes back every now and then, washes over me in a black wave—no, it’s over, it must be over, I can’t endure aother day of that week, be over, now!

Nothing bad happened by the way. Well, except the world and life—but, really. No external trigger at all, unless one can continue to plead macro causes—and I am sick of blaming the pandemic for my moods.

This beast, let’s claim for a change of pace, came entirely from within.

Mostly recovered—at least, not in a full-on hate for the world, myself, and you—I meet a friend for coffee and distraction.

Them: How have you been?

Jane: Fine. By which I mean, fucked up, insecure, neurotic and egotistical, as Louise Penny’s Ruth Zardo would put it. I had a week. Better now. Have you seen…

Them: Why did you call me? You know I’m here for you!

(When I say call, by the way, I mean text, as do they. Don’t call me. The phone rings, and I stare at it, confused—the only call I’m expecting is AHS to call if my COVID test is positive, and so now I’m freaking out, why did you do that to me? Just text, dammit.)

Jane: Yeah. I know. Pass the bean dip?

I like my friend. They’re good people and fun to hang out with. But I’ve learned that their ardent belief to the contrary, they are not there for me when I’m having a week. And not because they’re selfish or ungenerous or unfeeling. Quite the opposite. They will help me move, clean cook, rip out my a flooded basement. They will selflessly help me do a million things.

But when my emotional rollercoaster crashes, and I’m buried under its smoldering debris—hiding in bed on that no good day—I don’t call them.

I’ve called them in the past.

It’s gone like this:

Jane: Help.

Them: What’s happening?

Jane: Bad, no good day. Pain. Blackness. Suffering.

Them: OMG! I feel so bad for you! My heart is breaking! This is so horrible! I can’t stop thinking about how awful what you’re going through must be! I’m just shaking…

Jane: Hey, hey, take a deep breath. It’s not so bad. I’m fine.

(Thank you, Louise Penny, seriously, thank you.)

Them: Are you sure? Because I’m just totally devastated just from hearing…

Jane: Sorry. Over-reacted. I’m fine. Go have a bubble bath and smoke some weed. Think about puppies. Feel better?

Them: Yes. A little. Are you sure you’re fine?

Jane: Yes.

Them: If there’s anything I can do to help—you know where I am.

Jane: Sure. Take care of yourself.

Empath fatigue, kittens, It’s a thing.

Anyway. My bad no good terrible horrible week is mostly over. I’ve decided to blame the moon and the stars (say one word about hormones and my menstrual cycle and I’ll clobber you with my coatrack).

I accept that the pandemic, stress about money, and adjustment to major life changes may have been a contributing factor—but, mostly, the moon, and, also, Mercury’s in retrograde again I bet (when isn’t it), and you know what that means, right?

Them: And you didn’t call me.

Jane: Yeah, no, you know I prefer to deal with these moods alone.

Which, to be frank, is a lie—I just don’t want to manage your mood on top of trying to survive my own, you know?

You: And how are you feeling today?

Jane: Fine. Thanks for asking. You?

You: Really fine? Or are you quoting Ruth Zardo again?

I don’t know. One or the other. Hungover from the mood, and not chipper, but semi-functional. I might work today.

I will work today.

I worked today.

Jane: Totally fine. Take care of yourself.

xoxo

“Jane”

Pandemic Diary: Decision fatigue is killing me, and so are empaths

i

I’ve figured out why everything has been so much tougher the last few weeks, even though, theoretically, it should have been getting easier.

Ready?

(I am so full of insight.)

It boils down to this: decision fatigue. In March and April, and into May, when everything was cancelled and closed—and the weather was shit—things were very hard and frustrating, but our decision-making wasn’t taxed. The directive was clear: stay home, flatten the curve. And even if you didn’t want to stay home—well, everything was closed, so there was nowhere to go. Except for the grocery store and the liquor store (my poor liver). The big decision we faced on most days, in my privileged family anyway, was what board game we’d play that night—or maybe, shake things up, movie? Or, enough family time already, everyone go hide in their own rooms.

These days? There are options and no clear directives—plus a lot of mixed messaging about what’s safe, what’s irresponsible—what’s allowed. And so, every time you step out the door… decisions.

Decisions, decisions, decisions, decisions.

Wear a mask? Just take it with you to put on in the store? Nobody else is wearing a mask, fuckers, and you happen to know you’re COVID-free cause you just got tested so you’re only wearing the mask to protect them and you don’t need it and they clearly don’t care about protecting you, so why inconvenience yourself for those selfish motherfuckers? Get that coffee and croissant for take-out? Or risk sitting down, eating in—even if you’re not really concerned about your own safety, you’re thinking about the wait staff, other customers. Is your presence causing them stress? Are these genuine feelings, a true sense of risk or just paranoia induced by excessive media consumption?

Touch of cabin fever hits you, and you can go—to the parks or to the mall, or hey, the library is opening tomorrow. Should you go? Wait? Haircut? Yes? No? What’s the right thing to do? Fuck it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m just going to stick my tongue down the throat of a stranger whose risk-profile and safety practices I don’t know at all—ok, I won’t, but OMG, I understand the people who do and I just don’t want to think about what the right thing to do right now is anymore.

Decision fatigue.

I have some larger, more important decisions to make these days and the brain, it hurts, it is tired, so I don’t, I put them off. I’d cut myself some slack on this paralysis except if everyone in the world cuts themselves some slack for the next two years and does nothing, because decision fatigue and also, don’t not want to get out of bed, we are fucked.

I have, incidentally, very high executive skills (I’ve been tested; if there’s such a thing as excessive executive functioning, that’s me). That means I gather data, analyze it, make a decision quickly—and act on it immediately.

I try to tap into that part of myself now: it seems to be buried under something. Not scar tissue—more like piles of wet toilet paper, snotty Kleenexes. I can get at it, if only I get all these soggy used Kleenxes out of the way.

If only.

Decision fatigue.

It’s real.

It kills.

ii

If decision fatigue is killing me, so are empaths. This pops into my newsfeed:

OMG, so true.

My insincere apologies to everyone who goes around identifying themselves to all and sundry as an empath, usually in the first two minutes of a conversations… you’re not.

Stay with me. Empathy is real and critical, and it’s something that makes the world a better place, and we need to teach it, foster it, and act out of it.

But a lifetime of experiences had now taught me that anyone who says, “Well, I’m an empath, so all this is really extra hard for me,” is actually a self-centred, selfish prick to whom the most important thing is their own feelings.

Self-awareness, of course, isn’t a bad thing. (Well, maybe. Too much self-awareness, as you and I both know, leads to too much drinking, other things.) But wallowing in your own navel while telling yourself and others that you’re deeply affected by the feelings and suffering of others—come on. Get your head out of your ass, look around and instead of shouting from the rooftops (I mean, I suppose, social media platforms) about how much the suffering of others is affecting you… fucking DO something about their suffering.

Just a suggestion.

Empath fatigue.

It’s a thing too.

iii

Grateful that I am not an empath and that I own, for the most part, my narcissistic tendencies—by the way, owning your boundaries and telling people who violate them is not narcissism, it’s self-preservation, fuck the fuck off, I may not be a fragile empath but I have feelings too and you’re stomping on them—I try to solve my decision fatigue problem.

Mostly, I think I need to make fewer decisions—which means I just need to commit to some consistent actions. And execute them.

Ok. I got this.

Maybe…

No. I got this. I got this.

Execute.

Get out of bed.

xoxo

“Jane”

PS If you wanna read that Empath Fatigue Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/RebeccaRennerFL/status/1276673896150859776