Small Beautiful Things
This is my third week of living in self-isolation. The world is chaotically chugging on, and many lives have been devastated. As of April 2, 2020, the American unemployment rate is 32%, and that number is projected to continue rising. Over 217,081 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, and 4,857 have tragically passed. We live with a constant stream of bad news, worry, uncertainty, and selfishness. The tunnel vision that accompanies panic is very real, as is the numbness, the inability to concentrate, the lack of appetite. As we're collectively finding our footing, we must self-regulate in new and often unexpected ways. As Anthony Scaramucci said, "Panic implies that there is no rational thought taking place. That we are frozen and incapable of adjusting. Powerless to logic and subject to seemingly unthinkable behavior."
To avoid panicking, I turned to small things. Pablo Nerudo wrote an entire book called "Ode to Common Things," which illustrates the very obvious yet understated fact that ordinary life is rife with interest and wonder. Children know this, but many adults have become too obsessed with the grand to notice the glitter littering the pages of everyday life. With that in mind, I wrote the following ramble. There are no bullet points, numbering systems, bold headers, or takeaways because sometimes life requires a bit less click bait. xoxo
At noon on a Monday, I went for a run on some wide dirt trails that kiss the back of my apartment complex. The sun was warm but the breeze was chilly and I found myself worrying that my lack of sun protection would expedite facial wrinkling. I listened to an episode of the Joe Rogan podcast in which he talks with Tom Segura about nothing important. At one moment, I found myself laughing out loud as I passed an elderly couple walking, hand in hand, very slowly along the top of a ridgeline. I hoped they didn't think I was laughing at them.
Soon, the trail narrowed to a rocky, single track section that zigged and zagged down the side of a cliff. As I let my body embrace the momentum of a downhill saunter, I nearly stepped on a thin black snake, whose body stretched across the width of the trail. I was running too fast to stop, so I clumsily lengthened a stride to step over the creature, causing it to dart frantically beneath a shrub. I yelled "fuck!" very loudly, but I doubt anyone heard me.
I ran for a few more miles before noticing that I hadn't been listening to the voices of Tom and Joe, that my attention had turned inward to my own thoughts, problems, stories, and self. My attention span has never been long, and I've fought this circumstance my whole life. In grade school, I would let my mind wander anywhere it pleased, forcing myself to catch up on boring school work later. In high school, I began doodling along the edges of my planner while my teachers droned into the abyss, catering to the lowest common denominator because small public schools must do the best with what they have and what they have is often the ugly step brother of nothing.
I doodled not because I wasn't paying attention, but so that I could better pay attention. It helps, sometimes. Running helps too, because if my body is tired my brain has the space and calmness it needs to expand. If my body is antsy my brain can think of nothing else but the endorphins that will come when and if I let my body loose. This keeps me in shape, but the double edged sword of the matter is that I need to keep running further to reach the same high. I'm a very healthy version of a drug addict, with toned muscles and a bronzey tan and low blood pressure to prove it.
The problem with a short attention span though, is that I become bored very easily, causing me to cut people off in mid-conversation if I've had a bad day, to leave books half-read and TV shows half-watched. Onto new, more interesting things. My therapist tells me this is a common side effect of ADHD, which he is so sure I have that he's prescribed me Ritalin, which I politely decline each time I leave his office.
As far as brain things go, I know I have an eating disorder, but I'm not sure I have ADHD. When people ask me what it feels like to live with an eating disorder, the best way I can answer is that my brain becomes very loud. There is space for nothing but my eating disorder, and in a cruel twist of my poor attention, the eating disorder steals the show. It becomes impossible to think about anything else. When I was very sick and the eating disorder was especially loud, I would walk through entire days thinking about very little else. Mental illness is all-encompassing, a reality few can understand unless they've lived in such a brain.
Now that my eating disorder allows space and time for new, more interesting thoughts, I often find myself the child I used to be, distracted by a bird, or a strange sound, or my lovely cat. I have the space and freedom to let my mind wander, to let myself be so lost in my own delicious thoughts that I nearly step on a snake. I have the space and freedom to plug my ears with the sound of someone else's voice only to choose my own. To find small, beautiful moments in ordinary life. To find small, beautiful moments in the midst of a quarantine, in the midst a worldwide pandemic and contagious uncertainty.
When I talk to the people I love, many bemoan the extended solitude, and it is understandably hard. I miss hugs. I miss handshakes. I miss seeing faces and sharing human interactions. But I've found that the secret to coping with these strange and uncertain times doesn't lie anywhere but inside my own brain. I could entertain myself to death with my phone or TV, but nothing feels quite as luxurious as slipping into my own thoughts, uninterrupted, on trails where no one else bothers to roam, with nothing but air between my thumping heart and the beating sun.
Later that evening, I joke to a friend that I took my daily dose of vitamin D, and that the sun is better medicine than Ritalin could ever be. I call my parents, and picture them in their cozy kitchen, acres of farmland stretching for miles in the distance. I recall summer days in the countryside when the air was hot and thick. When the sun drummed over cornfields and cow pastures as my brother and I picked weeds from the garden, snapped the ends off green beans or piled strawberries high in a basket, red stains streaking our fingers and mouths. I remember having space and time and freedom to run, to scuff my knees, to get lost in nature without anyone's voice tickling my eardrums.
I remember summer days stretching endlessly, and school days when I counted down the hours until I could go run in a grassy field with my friends. I remember how languid time can be if we let it, and how quickly those seemingly long days passed. I know that one day, life will resume with the rapidity of a freight train and I won't have evenings to myself to paint or write or drink wine with my friends over Skype. But I know this moment will pass, and the hardships it brings will be surmounted because if they're not, that will be the end of us. And even if, in some strange way, this is the end of us, wasn't that dream a bit fun?