I woke up today fighting off a strong feeling to just stay in bed, even though I knew that wouldn’t help me at all. I could think of little else that might help me today, as I started going about my day. My reaction to stressful feelings (which I neither endorse nor reccomend), things some experience as acute anxiety, is to think of something else, focus on something that makes me feel engaged and “productive” (like tapping out these words, to organize the thoughts behind them) and worry about the anxiety-producing tasks later (three or four medical appointments — one involves finding a new doctor– and spending a few hours on the phone to take care of paying some old tax penalties).
I began thinking about a recent conversation between Lewis Black and Marc Maron (on Maron’s WTF podcast) I heard the other day. They covered a profound point about the disorienting situation we find ourselves in, and the required American response to it. Profound, but obvious, once you think about it for a moment.
Lewis Black is famous for his angry rants. He got one of the last big laughs my mother had before she died in 2010, answering his own question about whether the voting booth is a place where you ever find the name of a candidate you truly believe will do a great job representing your beliefs. “No! you pull the curtain closed and it’s two bowls of shit! And you have to pick one!”
At one point Maron says that lately, in his isolated state, in these crazy times, when the latest infuriating news story unfolds, he just feels like crawling off and dying. Black chuckles sympathetically and says “you missed the anger exit! You drove right past the anger off-ramp.”
Black tells Maron that he had never much experienced anxiety or depression in his life, but that during his first ten weeks in solitary in his New York City apartment he became familiar with both, acutely, daily, hourly, for the first time in his life.
He realized why: anxiety is an appropriate response to the terror of an uncontrollable pandemic that kills tens of thousands, especially when you’re in the epicenter of the American outbreak and in the top risk group for death (Black is 72). He noted that depression is also a natural and understandable feeling, when you’re suddenly prevented — by a legitimate fear of death — from doing many of the things that made your life enjoyable, even bearable, before the pandemic. Then Black points out the great American disconnect.
Here in the good old USA, of course, we’re pretty much required to pretend everything is pretty much fine. How are you holding up, man? “I’m fine, all things considered.”
You’re not fine, really, even if you mostly are safe. You’re also more than usually isolated, anxious, disoriented, depressed, angry, many things are legitimately buffeting your moods these days. You’re right to feel all those feelings. Sure, you’re not intubated in a hospital like thousands of Americans, not dead in a portable morgue outside an overflowing hospital, not beaten up or shot to death by white nationalists violently overthrowing the results of the most recent US election, acting to defend a president who continues to show depraved indifference to the unchecked mass death of his citizens, but are you really “fine”?
I ask you to consider the question again — are you really fucking fine?
I try to give everybody I know a wide emotional berth these days. We are all in a very, very tough emotional situation, a do-or-die daily struggle. Nobody knows how to handle this, though we manage to put together coping strategies for a very difficult situation as best we can. I spend a couple of hours writing every day, take in the news, read an article, a court decision or two, cook a meal, play the guitar, learn something on the piano, walk 4.5 miles in 75 active minutes or so. Good for me, most days. Most people I know have much different routines. Those routines are good for them, most days.
This is not in anyone’s experience, how to emotionally adapt to a quick spreading incurable worldwide airborne killer disease that appears intent on infecting people for the foreseeable future. We’re now eight months into this semi-lockdown, with no end in sight. Places that have not tried to reasonably control the spread of this horrible disease have seen huge surges in infections — those places continue to infect every place else. The federal government washes its hands of the whole deadly situation as its leader defiantly hosts super-spreader events that infect dozens of his own inner circle.
Add to it that half of our country is militant in insisting that scientists and politicians urging safety precautions based on science, are a bunch of lying, tyrannical, traitorous liberal weenie douche bags whose lying, self-serving heads should — in a more just world than this one — be on pikes. Wearing a mask is a sign of contemptible cowardice to a sizable proportion of our fellow citizens. Anthony Fauci requires government security protection due to the many death threats against him and his family.
Add to it that we have a stridently divisive president, who lost the election decisively and trials in the Electoral College 306-232, and still insists he won the rigged election while his most ardent lackeys (and more than 73,000,000 of our fellow citizens) passionately defend his decision to not give up until it’s actually indisputably proven that he actually lost the election — which many of them believe he hasn’t actually lost.
These are not any way close to “normal” times, which, lest we forget, always provide most of us many reasons to be sad, stressed, anxious, angry, depressed. These trying days are about the furthest thing from “normal” time. Conjuring this coordinated constellation of shit would challenge the imagination of an inspired writer of dystopian future novels.
If you love Trump, you’re outraged because he got robbed by corrupt lying liberals and an army of his enemies in the lying liberal media. If you hate Trump, well, you have reason for outrage, too.
Entitlement to our feelings is always in dispute, often very hotly. Much human energy is spent contesting the strong feelings of others, “unreasonable” feelings we don’t feel, relate to or agree with.
People we love, when they have strong feelings, need to be heard — it’s the very first thing they need. When they are hurt, we need to soothe them. To pretend everything’s fine so you can feel like you’re not a “loser” (whatever the hell that is) well, it may be characteristically American, but that don’t make it… I don’t know… right.
Yes, it is always good to feel gratefulness, as we all should, if we have our health, are not in danger of eviction and homelessness, are not being forced into poverty (as millions of Americans are and have been in recent months), are not mourning for dead loved ones, like millions of our fellow Americans who lost the 246,000 American loved ones already recently dead of COVID-19. If we are not directly in danger, or grieving soul-tearing loss, we should be grateful, of course. Gratefulness is a great blessing we can give ourselves.
Remember, though, you have every right to feel what you are feeling in these scarily maddening days. Seriously, if you are not, at least sometimes, feeling anxious, depressed, angry, discouraged, oppressed, disoriented– what the hell is the matter with you?
Have a blessed day.