I need to write something. It needs to be 500 words. It needs to be posted today. At first, I was going to post a poem because I have lots of poems stored in the archives, but then I decided that would be cheating. So, here we are at the edge of burnout. This week marks one year in quarantine. One year of sitting in my bedroom, day after day: wake up, walk the dog, work, eat, work, walk the dog, work, walk the dog, eat, scroll, sleep. Intersperse that with some major dissociative episodes kicked off by mindlessly checking social media, and you’ll have a good idea of what this pandemic has looked like for me. It’s probably been the same for you, too. Or maybe you’re one of those people who had the personal strength to get super into CrossFit and cut carbs out of your diet for good. If you are one of those people, good for you. I am not.
For the last several months, I have not even been myself. I’ve holed up in my room, watched a lot more TV (I don’t even think anything on the streaming services is good), gotten obsessed with social media (even though none of my friends are doing anything interesting because they too are trapped at home). Nothing makes life seem very shiny. In fact, life has been pretty dim.
My therapist and I agree that I am probably depressed. More specifically: Seasonal Affective Disorder coupled with a mean case of COVID-19 burnout.
Depression is a mean beast. It forces you to distance yourself from anything that might be good for you. Sunshine makes you happy? Forget about it; you’re hanging out in your bedroom with the blinds drawn. Drinking water? Honey, you’re lucky if you can force yourself to drink four cups of coffee and imagine what it would be like to chain smoke. Talk to your friends when you are feeling most alone? Go ahead and get comfortable with the sound of your voice because you definitely will not be reaching out to your support systems.
Perhaps the depression isn’t wholly unexpected. I mean, look around. I think that the start of this bout has a more concrete beginning than previous bouts. Whenever I finish something difficult, I tend to crash-out for a couple of weeks. Postpartum, I guess. That scooped-out feeling is something that has been written about frequently on this blog. At the beginning of February, I challenged myself to write 100 pages in a week to submit to a novel incubator. It was two weekends of non-stop work and was perhaps the most focused I’ve been in years. I gave my phone and my wi-fi router to Richie and closed myself off to the world.
I did hit the mark, submitting my half of a novel just in time for consideration.
Writing is a lot like what I imagine being a runner is like. This creative expression is an exercise, a practice that must be maintained for the sake of your form. If you are out of shape and you attempt a marathon, you’re liable to get hurt. Writing a 100-pages after not being very productive for about a year is probably as close to tearing a tendon as I’m going to get. I pushed myself too hard, and now I have to be laid up for a couple of weeks before things get back to normal.
I keep reminding myself that spring is on its way. Spring is coming, just like last year and the year before that and that and that. So yes, I am experiencing burnout. But who among us isn’t? If you’re doing a-okay throughout this whole hot COVID-19 mess, message me your secret. Or admit that you’re inhuman. But things are getting better; I’ll acknowledge that. While I’m waiting for my vaccine and for life to return to normal, I’m going to go back to the recuperation ward and stop picking at my scabs.
My mother’s heart disintegrates; she plays
The Cure, Plainsong on repeat, turning
her face from mine to pretend women
don’t cry. I’m under the whispery weight
of a synthesizer, pulverizing tear ducts
into dust in the back seat, making myself
small at the end of the world where no one
knows what I get up to. I trace my name
into foggy ruts of old initials, then wish
I could sublimate into a Gulf Coast Christmas,
but saltwater solidifies once a galactic year,
and so swiftly flee her front seat suppression.
We go on, running through red lights, racing
the timer to meltdown so my mother can
disappear into her pillow behind closed doors;
I open my bedroom window into a flower bed
full of rosemary, sprinting down the street
until my feet leave ground, skipping first
and then flying off Bloodworth to head north,
ignoring more perceptive packs straining
on all fronts. I beat my wings ragged
to surge high above clouds, seeking the sun,
but I am the seagull who can’t escape winter;
frozen, I’m free-falling fast down to snow,
back broken, memories fading into another
New Year’s morning soon buried deep.
Smothered, I’ll disintegrate come spring.