I'm going to be real: In order to finish this column, I had to pop some anxiety medication and watch a live cam of baby goats on YouTube until I regained enough perspective to think clearly. I had let myself fall prey to the unfortunate combination of too much time reading about the coronavirus apocalypse on social media, bookended by too much time with my toddler who's home from daycare for (at least) three weeks. Preceded by lousy sleep. So here we are—the sight of baby goats playing helped, and I'm writing.
I'll tell you what this column is not going to be: It's not going to be an inspiring video of people singing out their windows in Italy to connect while they're quarantined, or another uplifting poem about how coronavirus is here to teach us all to slow down and recognize our interdependence. It's not going to be a list of all the projects you could work on during these weeks of "free time." Because let's face it, many of us are stuck home with kids who are driving us nuts, or overwhelming anxiety, or pre-existing mental health issues that are getting triggered, or massive loneliness, or all of the above. Or we're still working. None of us are actually holed up in a cozy corner writing that novel we've been meaning to finish for three years. We're obsessively trolling the news and trying not to lose our shit.
Maybe the best you can do right now is to answer a few emails, eat junk food and watch videos of kittens in boxes. Maybe you've managed to change your kid's diapers and keep them fed for 72 hours—you're awesome! Maybe you took a shower and took your dog out. Good job. You don't have to be a superhero right now. You don't have turn into a bomb homeschooler overnight and devise a four-week calendar of exceptionally creative projects for your kid(s). You don't have to keep a smile on your face.
If you need to cry or scream or break things, I hope you get some space to do it. I hope you give yourself permission. You will probably feel better after you do. I hope you know you are not alone. I hope you know a lot of us are missing our normal lives and being hard on ourselves 'cause this adjustment is awful and why can't we be more chill about it?
I suspect we are all overwhelmed in this weird new universe where we're not supposed to hug the people we love or do any of the things out in the world that make us happy. (Except perhaps go hiking. 6 feet from anyone else on the trail.) It's a strange reality that was imposed on us so suddenly, with so little preparation. And we are facing so much uncertainty. How long will all of this last? Will the kids go back to school this year? Will people we know die of a mysterious virus? Will we catch it ourselves? Will the economy collapse? And will I ever get to have my postponed 40th birthday party?
Uncertainty is a beast. I am sure that at some point many of us will come away from these coronavirus months with some spiritual lessons on surrender and acceptance, but don't beat yourself up if you're not there yet. It doesn't help.
I hope that maybe you are setting some loving boundaries with yourself, like not checking social media 400 times a day. I just turned on the app that blocks me from Facebook and the news, and felt a big exhale of relief. Checking this stuff obsessively is a form of hyper-vigilance, and as a trauma survivor, it is totally playing into old patterns that hijack my nervous system. Sometimes self-care is knowing when to turn the noise off.
Recently I've been teaching my students this poem by Hanif Abdurraqib called "All of the Ways I Kept Myself Alive Today." At first, the poet lists some basic self-care choices, like taking a pass on fried food. Then the poet takes a sudden turn and mentions that while he did watch the video of the murder again, this time he closed his eyes. This time, he only heard the sounds of the gunshots, followed by the sound of the branches on the trees lifting as the birds that were dressing them left for other lands.
When I share this poem, I like to teach my students about the word resilience, and that being able to see the beauty that still exists in times of suffering is a powerful form of resilience.
I hope you can choose when you need to close your eyes and listen to the birds. I hope you can believe that sometimes closing your eyes is the kinder, smarter choice, and trust you will reopen them when you are ready.
Necessary Magic is a semi-regular column wherein writer and artist Jacks McNamara explores queer issues, liberatory politics, magical creatures and other relevant topics. Learn more at jacksmcnamara.net.