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Planning to Improve

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but the quarantine is bringing out the worst in me. Even as an extremely lucky and unbelievably privileged individual, I am not very good at any of this. I’m not sure if all people feel this way, or it’s just a result of having grown-up in an emotionally chaotic family, but I don’t do well with lack of control. When this all started more than a month ago, I actually thought I had it in me to just make the best of a bad situation. Now I’m not so sure.

And it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to. More than anything, I wish I were a person who could see this as a time to get caught up at work, replant my backyard, get into better shape, read a few of the many books stacked up on my nightstand, and still be able to contribute to the lives of people who are suffering way more than I am. I desire this so much that, every Sunday, I make a to-do list, including reminders to myself to work on remaining emotionally balanced.

The truth is that we are only human and we’re all doing the best we can.

I do pretty well for a few days, Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting. I squint hard to see my work as being only slightly different than it was when we were all on campus together. I take notes on conversations, offer suggestions, ask questions and encouragement, and figure that everyone feels pretty much the same way I do. At the end of a couple of days, though, I’m exhausted. Even if I’ve gotten up early to run that day, if I make it out the door on the second day, it’s a miracle. By the third, I don’t even set my alarm. I’m so tired I can barely get up and shower and head to my computer. When Thursday rolls around, I’m eating leftover pasta for lunch and not even pretending to make a healthy salad. After dinner, I eat not one Weight Watchers ice cream bar, but two, which I’m pretty sure eliminates the effects of the first.

I do try to read before bed—after mind-numbing television that we both seem to need—but it’s still hard to turn off my brain and fall asleep. I stare at my phone again, at one of the many silly games I’ve downloaded during the pandemic and I eventually fall asleep--but not before I’ve let my mind race down several bad rabbit holes. I travel quickly from resignation about the whole thing, to thinking I could have COVID-19, to feeling exhausted and out of shape, to being so mad I could scream. In other words, really fun to be around. Early on, I hoped it wouldn’t come to this. I imagined I could support others, encourage cheerfulness, and help us all look toward brighter days. Like that was ever going to happen.

I’m not a particularly optimistic person in the best of times. In what I’m sure is a pretty basic defense against being disappointed, I don’t often let myself dream of something spectacular happening in my life. When it’s late at night and I can’t sleep, I torture myself with thoughts that the quarantine and all of its side effects is perfect for a person like me. But I also know that I’ve been reminded of some very good things during this weird time we’re in. Some are no surprise, while others definitely are.

First, I am the luckiest person on earth to be quarantined with Jodi. She is open and supportive and funny, and truly game for just about anything. Plus, she doesn’t seem to care what my hair looks like—at least not yet. I also feel blessed beyond measure to have the friends and co-workers that I have. Everyone I know is doing so much to make this work for their kids and families and neighbors. That in itself ought to shame me into having a better attitude, if nothing else. And, it actually does move me closer to being less tiresome about the whole thing.

As strange as this all is, I suppose it’s like anything else in life. We kind of fantasize that we have it in us to be superhuman and be the glue that holds the rest of our worlds together. The truth is that we are only human and we’re all doing the best we can.

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