My breaking point came during virtual yoga. My mat was jammed on the floor at the end of the bed with my laptop on the dresser, the only place in my teeny studio apartment that can fit both. Somewhere between sun salutation and warrior two my headphones crapped out, and the nice lady’s soothing instructions froze and crackled. “Why can’t I even have this right now?!” I screamed, throwing my earbuds at my boyfriend, who had the audacity to keep breathing on the couch.
I have always been tightly wound. Take a chemically anxious brain and add a stiff upper lip, a classic New England upbringing, and a dash of millennial generational pressure and you get someone who is unconditionally unchill.
As you can imagine, “gracefully” is not the term I would use for how a person like me handles the COVID era, when things are objectively very bad. I can’t control anything in the outside world, and I can’t tread the pathways that normally keep my brain calm—pathways like planning trips, interacting with humans, and giving friends big, long hugs. So, my uptight frostiness cracked before I even got to savasana.
I am comparatively lucky—I have stayed healthy, most of the people I know have stayed healthy, and I’m just trying to keep it that way. But my reality is still my reality: I am still stuck in a small apartment with an above-average-sized human who exchanges oxygen infuriatingly loudly when he reads; my paychecks ride on the precarious wave of the economy; and I miss my mom. But regardless of the fact that we are in a global health crisis caused by a rampant virus and exacerbated by a toxic political climate, I figured I could Type-A my way out of sadness and ennui. I could fix it!
In Season One of the pandemic, back in the spring when we thought this wouldn’t last too long, I got creative. I planned Zoom scavenger hunts and bought elaborate spices for meals I was sure I would cook. I told myself I would learn to identify native plants around my apartment building. In Season Two, I mainly drank too much. I decided making new cocktails could be a creative outlet, and that taking a beer for a walk counted as exercise. When that failed to feel good long-term (shocker), I started aggressively packing my days and nights with things that were supposed to make me feel good.
But it turns out you can watercolor too hard. And yoga isn’t as much of a brain massage when you have to do it at 5 p.m. every evening because you’re sticking to a rigid schedule you’ve arbitrarily set for yourself.
Control, which felt so hard to come by, was driving me crazy. And by trying to overcontrol the things I did have power over, I burned myself out on the few sources of joy still available to me. I was trying to fill time so I didn’t have to think about all the overwhelming bad things, or to fixate on what I was missing out on. But that didn’t feel great either.
The pandemic interrupted the flow of everything.
Now, as days get shorter, case numbers keep skyrocketing, and we get deeper into the cold and dark season without our usual celebrations that bring in the light, I am trying to figure out how not to go too hard in either direction.
I don’t want to be stressed out by the things that are supposed to bring me joy (I have enough angst to contend with), but I don’t want to Netflix my nights away, either. I want to acknowledge the rough parts and let the good ones come easy.
I wish I could tell you that I had some blanket theory that could make everything OK. That if you delete Instagram, drink lots of water, and click your heels together, it’ll all come together. But I don’t and I can’t. There is no amount of journaling or number of early morning meditation sessions that can ease the shitpile that is right now. Maybe try a dance party or calling your dad? Can’t hurt?
My new plan, for whatever the next season brings, is to shoot for balance—and to not beat myself up too much if I don’t achieve it. Yoga and boxed wine in mostly equal proportions, and a load of grace if the scale tips every now and again.
Hansman is an award-winning freelance writer based in Seattle, Wash. (But she still has her East Coast reflexes.) Her book, “Downriver: into the Future of Water in the West,” is for sale everywhere books are sold.