It’s 8:30 on a Monday morning, and I’ve been in quarantine for 23 days. Or more. I’ve lost track of time. As I wrote that, I had to double check if it was Monday on my phone calendar.
A month ago, I was on a connecting flight in San Francisco to go to Europe and Morocco indefinitely (okay, probably like a month because money doesn’t grow on trees):
It was to be my Eat, Pray, Love debut. I was going to write my book, figure out what I wanted my career to be (I’m going through a quarter-life crisis, we’ll call it), go makeup free, taste Cafe Con Leche at cafes, wander the streets of Europe again in flowing skirts and stop in Seville in southern Spain to reminisce of my year there as an au pair (I do not recommend being an au pair FYI but I DO recommend living in Spain), and generally have this momentous moment of human freedom in recovery.
LOL. Whatta fantasy. A classic example of drafting too many idealistic expectations on any given situation (remind anyone of how they thought recovery would go?)
It was for all intents and purposes – a disaster.
On the first day, I waltzed around Barcelona, blissful yet jet lagged as hell, and blistered both ankles so terribly I got back to the hostel and had dried, cracked blood all over my shoes. It never healed, and I hobbled mercilessly for the entire trip.
My digestion refused to work itself out, and the jet lag didn’t either. I slept on average three hours a night. The two friends I was initially traveling with were scared shitless of Coronavirus, which caused us to pivot plans often in graceless irritation. The ‘grand’ hotel we booked for Marrakech was a classic Instagram scam, meaning the lighting of the photos was glorious and the hotel itself lacking (with a delightful construction project taking place at all hours beside it).
On the fourth day, my grandfather passed away.
Every day was a ticking time bomb for Corona. And you could feel it in the air and passing looks on the streets. And on the seventh day, Pres Trump announced the very-botched travel ban statement that had us frantically scurrying out of Marrakech at 3am, thinking we were trapped.
So, needless to say, the book didn’t happen. I barely wrote a single word the entire trip. And I dropped $1,000 on a one-way back, with a gut-punching 18-hour overnight connecting flight through my ex’s city of Munich, Germany.
Most of all, my grandfather could not have a proper burial and his death will continue to hang over my family until we can all be together.
Needless to say, it wasn’t the experience I was anticipating and I came back like a dog with its tail between its legs to begin a 14-day self-quarantine, having scurried through some of the most affected spots in Europe.
It’s given me a lot of time to contemplate recovery, productivity, and expectations.
I’m having an interesting reaction to the conflicting ideologies on ‘quarantine productivity.’ It’s like there’s two camps of thought amongst those of us in quarantine but not tangibly affected by Coronavirus (i.e. those of us who are employed still, or unemployed but not in immediate need, or have families that are OK and not financially starving) and it’s the following:
Either be super productive and start ALL the projects you’ve set aside for when you finally ‘had the time’ … OR do nothing because this is all overwhelming and our mammal brains can’t process it and we’re grieving and traumatized and life is chaos.
I don’t particularly resonate with either of the sentiments.
In the first days of quarantine, I really thought this might be the time I start – and finish – that book I was to begin in Europe.
Spoiler: it hasn’t happened.
My creative energy is at a pretty resounding low. The way I look at it: there are two types of work, and each have different characteristics. Procedural work occurs out of structure, scheduling, planning, and requires consistent execution. It’s basically your ‘admin’ work. Creative work is unpredictable and unstructured. In fact, the more I try to plan out creative writing, the worse results I get. This is why every time I’m insanely productive with writing is right up until the moment that I’m given a deadline. Then, it’s kaput.
So, I haven’t started it. And for the first two weeks of self-quarantine I was basically a big puddle of self-pitying and glazed eyes. I did very little for myself. I’d read Instagram quotes from famous authors guiding me to accept this stagnancy was normal and OK, and I’d feel better for a minute, and worse the next hour.
Here’s what I determined. The less I did – the worse off my mental health was. And look, I get that this is overwhelming. And, much like my ill-fated trip, we probably shouldn’t aim for the moon in terms of expectations of our productivity in this quarantine.
But, for what’s it’s worth – as of the past week or two, I abide by the simple belief that small acts of self care will have an impact on your self worth.
I’m noticing a shift.
It’s not really big enough to detail and drone on about, but it’s enough of a shift that I’m convinced I’m on some sort of agreeable path.
Everything you do right now is for you. Much like recovery.
No one is going to ask what you accomplished while you were in quarantine. Like ‘ohhh Bridget, what language did YOU learn?”
No one cares, and they don’t want to hear about what you did productively in quarantine and feel like shit about their own lack of it. (And if for some reason it does happen, it’s that prick co-worker who only asked because he/she/they is chomping at the bit to then tell you how many side lunges he/she/they did per day.)
Most of us are just going to grunt and groan our way through this pandemic, and do weird, catatonic side nods in Zoom meetings when someone mentions the phrase ‘weird times’ and generally all be less productive, less creative, and have less sex. (I read an article on it – if there is a baby pandemic boom, it’s gonna be first born children. Who wants to have sex trying to homeschool kids in a house you can never leave?)
You don’t have to do anything well – but you should do something.
And you need to eat.
… You thought I was gonna get through a whole blog without mentioning food?
There will continue to be a lot of solidarity around people not eating well right now:
Jokes about snacking
Self deprecation about weight gain
Uniformed anxiety on lack of movement
Admittance of skipped breakfasts
For those of us with eating disorders, we know this is intrinsically tied into diet culture. And that these admissions are fear-based, and make no one feel better.
Please do not halt your recovery because it seems like ‘everyone is doing this’.
Be the example that they do not have to live this way.
And look, if you flubbed it the first couple weeks, okay so you did that. I did too. I ate crap, I didn’t eat full meals. I snacked on an indisputable amount of Pirates Booty and bought multiple boxes of white cheddar Cheez Its, which I’m still eating regularly and likely will this afternoon.
I didn’t cook a thing – ordered out food that sat in the fridge, and ate homemade butterscotch and walnut cookies at night. My diet was a hot mess. My digestion just unspeakable. I ate trail mix as breakfast for a week straight. I did Yoga and strained my neck, probably from doing too many YouTube Yoga videos. AAAAAAND I started poking viciously at my stomach in the mirror when I’d get up from laying in bed.
I am a walking example of ‘’learning the hard way.’’ I love to say that in a self-deprecating way, but now more than ever I’ve proven it’s true. I will almost always inherently resort back to weird disordered eating when shit hits the fan.
I think it’s more about how long I’ll stay there at this point. And hey, that awareness has gotta mean something, right?
This time, it took nearly two weeks. I just distracted myself from this pandemic by working out next to my bed and eating crap so I could then feel worse about myself and work out more. Ahhhh the cycle. Love it.
It’s funny how many of us feel this sense of control with eating disorders. And really it all just perpetuates feeling out of control. The irony. It’s the instant gratification of restriction or working out that provides the relief from our anxious thoughts. But, it lasts a grand total of an hour or two. Then, the same anxiety resurfaces and we feel compelled to act on it again.
I can pinpoint the cycle, even as it happens. In fact, I actively know when I’m in it. I just don’t stop it because it’s familiar, and occasionally even momentarily comforting in its familiarity.
But, it only lasts so long. Then, it just dwindles self-worth.
So, I picked myself up a few days ago – and I got on with living. And with recovery. It started with piano playing. Then, it led to poetry analysis (I graduated as an English major). I forced Zoom calls with friends when I wasn’t feeling it, and went on a short jog to try and shake up my digestion.
It has led to writing this.
I don’t really think I’m doing anything really well – I’m just doing it.
Some days, it takes a ton of Netflix first to get up and do it. Today, I’m finally watching The Jinx. Other days, I wake up with this willful need to learn or create something – anything. And mostly, that stems out of some hard-wired belief of being purposeless, especially as I navigate being unemployed in this pandemic.
When I stop putting grand expectations on what I’ll create or accomplish in a day – it’s like a self-esteem boost when it ends up being more than I figure.
Take notes about what you do in your days. It’s probably more than you think and it may spur you to keep on doing something when you’re feeling low.
And I’m eating well. Not great. But well. Because I was tired of distracting myself with hunger or shame of mass amounts of cookies.
I stopped deliberately snacking around meal times so I wouldn’t be hungry enough to eat a full meal. I recognized I was just going to hungry again in a couple hours and that hunger was going to distract me through the afternoon.
And I accepted that that YouTube workout video was hard enough. I didn’t need to go on doing several of them in a day and filling my little windows of creative time and energy with toning my side obliques.
I’ve gained weight in the past three weeks. Frankly, I probably needed to. But, I do want to acknowledge that it’s happened.
I’m softer than a month and a half ago. I can feel it in my hips, in my quads.
And somehow, just somehow, I’m okay with it. Not thrilled. But okay. It reminds me of something I wrote once: ‘That little bit of weight you hate? That’s your life.”
This softness is a representation of life right now. And life is weird, and stagnant, and unknown, and on the flip side it’s also pleasantly responsibility-free, for me anyway. And calm. And my stress levels are quiet (as long as I limit my news intake) and I’m finding the subtle joy of being unemployed and somehow more ‘free’ in a quarantine than I was two months ago in my nice-paying-salary job. And I just know, I believe, that there will be another job down the road. It may take longer than I think, but it’ll happen.
And maybe I’ll start an outline of that book. I was riding bikes yesterday, feeling grateful to live in Colorado, when I thought about a series of short stories on recovery, rehab, and relationships. Felt like lil’ twinge of excitement. An idea.
We’re gonna get through this. And maybe not in some notable fashion. But, we’ll do it anyway.
And we’re gonna have enough to deal with in the aftermath that we don’t need to add disordered eating behaviors to the list.
So, get up today and eat your lunch (it’s now lunchtime where I am if that gives you any indication how long this took to write.)
Take a walk. Settle in, my friends. We have one life. This is it. And it’s happening, in spite of the pandemic.
I feel like in some ways I’ve trained for this. When I was in rehab six years ago, life was oddly familiar to this present day. We couldn’t do anything without permission, couldn’t go anywhere outside of the compound we were in, and our lives were unfolding and we had little control of time or days.
We can do this. As beloved Glennon Doyle says, we can do hard things.
And we’re doing them, friends, it’s up to us how we choose to live through them.