Is Anyone Else Just Barely Functioning Right Now?

Like most of us, I’ve spent the two weeks or so—is that it?—glued to my screens, unable to escape the gravity of the COVID-19 black hole. The surreal headlines, the climbing numbers, the horrifying frontline dispatches—first from thousands of miles away, in Italy, now ever closer to home here in New York City.

When I’m not doing that, I’m watching everybody else and how they’re dealing with all of this right now, utterly mystified as to how in the hell they’re doing it.

It being: the earnest optimism, the rigorous self-care, the overnight reinvention of their daily routine, the graceful settling into their new normal. The creative socializing, the witty memes, the gratitude lists, the dedicated at-home workouts. The powerful, compassionate, brilliant journalism my peers are churning out. The general appearance of doing pretty OK.

This is all both beautiful and baffling to me. The ingenuity and strength—where are they getting it? Why can’t I find mine? (Am I pessimistic? Are they naive?) Shouldn’t I too be finding silver linings and ways to thrive? To make the most of the situation, to rise to the occasion, instead of just getting by?

Except then I remember something: That the “occasion” is a global pandemic. That to just get by is actually enough right now. And to be not doing OK is normal and natural and not a problem.

So, here is how I have been doing.

I’ve been waking up feeling paralyzed. Overwhelmed. Helpless. I’ve been going to bed disappointed by lack of productivity and optimism that day, and hoping to wake up feeling different (more sanguine or bad-ass or something).

Self-care routines, not so much honestly. I haven’t been live-streaming workouts and getting in the best shape of my life. I’ve actually been sitting on my butt all day. I’ve slacked off on my daily meditation. I have not been motivated to use the time saved not commuting to take up knitting or bread-baking. I haven’t Marie Kondo’d my bedroom, or done quarintinis with friends over FaceTime. (I have been scrolling through Instagram watching other people doing these things, and wondering what’s wrong with me that I cannot.)

Instead of diligently limiting my news updates to hourly intervals or curated newsletters, I’ve been frantically flipping through the permanently open tabs on my laptop and refreshing the feeds on my phone every few minutes. (What will go to shit next?)

Work-wise, I’ve been doing what feels like more or less the bare minimum and having a hell of a time concentrating.

Food? I’m not getting creative with a can of chickpeas (despite having written this last week) or sticking to three square meals a day. I’m spooning peanut butter into my mouth at odd intervals and working alarmingly quickly through the one-pound bar of chocolate from Trader Joe’s that was supposed to last a couple weeks.

Oh, and the existential crises, you guys! Ever-widening cracks are exposing the most ugly and shameful parts of our supposedly very civilized societies. The existential questions always percolating in the back of my mind, the ones that come to a simmer whenever my anxiety or depression burners get turned up—those are now at a furious boil (and being joined by some fun new pandemic-specific ones).

You know the ones. Questions like: Why are we here? How is society so effed up? How did we not prepare for this? (Seriously, people?) Why didn’t we listen to the experts who were sounding the alarm for years? Do we even have a shot of stopping climate change if this is how we meet a pandemic? Is this regular life now? Why do we work 40 hours a week? What am I even doing with my time on earth? What’s next? When?

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