One Small Step at a Time

Once again, the world has changed in the space of a week. This time last week, I was worried about how I could share my experiences about being home schooled when I still couldn’t separate what was a result of the learning environment and what was a result of the emotional neglect and abuse. Since then I wrote that post, I’ve learned my employer might be forced to close due to the COVID-19 lockdown in the state of Wisconsin, learned my company was deemed essential due to a variety of reasons (though a lot of it has to do with us stepping into the medical face-shield business to help meet demands), settled into remote work life, learned my employer was going to be reducing everyone to 50% hours (alternating weeks to keep as few people in contact as possible), been told the factory was closing for two weeks due to an outbreak at the factory, and then was informed that we remote workers would still be working our 50% schedules despite the factory closure.

That was all by Thursday of last week. Since then, I’ve applied for unemployment, spent at least eight hours crunching numbers to figure out if I could survive on unemployment plus 50% of my normal monthly pay, felt a moment of gratitude when president fuckface signed the latest stimulus/relief bill into law despite the fact that it’s literally his fault things are this bad (the cognitive dissonance going on the US is sickening right now), and realized that being unemployed every other week is either going to be the best or the worst thing for me.

I could actually get a lot of personal projects done, focus on my at home workout routine, and get my life into some kind of order. After all, I’ve been trying to push myself outside the normal context of my life for a while now and the standard ways of doing it, travel or intoxicants, aren’t financially available options for me. It turns out that pandemics are also really good for completely changing the context in which you live your life. I could use this to find myself, get my shit together, and maybe even get a book finished.

Alternatively, I could fall into anxious despair, indulge in ever eating impulse I feel as a result of being bored, play through my entire Steam library, and let myself go entirely. It’s difficult to deny my anxiety when I can’t actually tell myself that I’m worrying for no reason. Turns out there are a lot of legitimate concerns preying on my psyche right now and brushing all of them off would be irresponsible or even deadly. Trying to thread the needle and only worry about the issues I can actually have some control over takes a huge amount of energy and all my best coping mechanisms are struggling to keep me mentally even.

It is easy to focus on despair. It takes almost no effort to look at my life and see how much has changed for the worse, so it takes almost no effort to fall into a .negativity spiral. In most of my reflections and even in the writing of this post, it takes active effort to stay neutral. It takes an exhausting amount of energy to try to keep myself balanced. Turning my mind to the positive and the good I can do right now feels so distant and impossible that I almost want to let myself give in to inactivity, laziness, and torpor.

The only thing keeping me going is discipline and the mantra of the disciplined: it takes no more effort to get up on time today than it does on any other day. There is a mental toll for living in the world we do, where a pandemic is running rampant and there are still people out there actively making things worse for everyone else, but that means you need to adjust your goals, not change them. You don’t change the target you’re aiming for, you change the steps you expect to take to get there.

I don’t expect myself to get six hours of sleep or to even be out of bed and working on anything by a certain time anymore. Now, I expect myself to be awake by half past seven in the morning. Now, I expect myself to talk to someone outside my house every day. I expect myself to sit down and spend time reading. I require myself to eat three meals a day. I make sure I’m tracking my daily activities, journaling, and spending some time playing Animal Crossing every day.

Once I’ve laid the foundation for a new normal that can carry me through a life of working one week and not working the next, then I can build on that. Until then, I need to focus on taking care of myself and trying to keep myself out of negativity spirals. If I can manage that much, then I’ve made good progress on my goals of writing and living a healthy life. In the meantime, if I feel up for writing or doing a lot of work on one of my D&D projects, then that’s great. If I clean the bathrooms or reorganize my desk, great. That’s all a bonus, not a requirement.

It feels strange and kind of awful to find myself in a world where my weekly goals are avoiding the pits of despair and making sure I file my unemployment insurance claim on time, but it’s not like I can just move into a different world. This is where I live now, like it or not, and unending anxiety and negativity isn’t going to help me. I’ve had my time to be an anxious mess, arguably even too much of it. Now is the time to rebuild what life I can make, hope nothing further goes wrong, and hope that there’s something on the otherwise of this waiting for us to come through it.

I sincerely hope this brings people together, even as it forces us apart. I hope we all become more empathetic, understanding, and caring people as a result of the suffering we have to endure. I hope everyone learns a little bit about the kind of lives that cause people to flee their home. I hope we all learn to communicate better, both as people sharing our feelings with each other and as active listeners when someone shares with us. I hope we all realize that knowledge is good, expertise is preferable, science is meant to help us, and that all three of those things should be respected. I hope we all come out of this better and ready to come together.

I hope for a lot of things but I know that first we have to survive this. First, we have to find a new normal and only then can we build from there. We’re three weeks into this thing in the US, two weeks into social distancing, and there’s still so much to go. It’ll take a while, but I think we’ll get there.

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