Arrive Alive

The touch, the feel of COVID
The terror of our lives….

I don’t think this is what Cotton had in mind

Furlough has got to be the strangest experience I’ve ever had. And I assure you that as an empath and a larper, I have had some strange experiences. It’s days full of “what should I do next” followed by either a thousand ideas and no energy, a clear thought pattern and no idea where to start, or the inability to think at all and the mind just goes blank. I am very confused by these weird posts where people are “gotcha” blasting anyone that isn’t being hugely productive and living their furlough to the minute with hobbies, clearing task lists and accomplishments. They’re indicating that anyone who isn’t high level achieving is lazy and undisciplined because now we literally have all the time in the world. But I think they’re forgetting something really important: furlough is not a vacation.

I’m not ok. No one I know is ok, and, honestly, the longer the shutdowns for the novel coronavirus continue, the more personal it becomes that, for some of us, merely surviving the experience is an accomplishment. And I don’t mean that in the “hur dur, I’m so inept” self depreciation for humor’s sake kind of way. I am realizing more and more that lofty goals in a time of uncertainty are just not a thing that will happen for me. My mental health can’t do it. I’m having to come to a place of acceptance at the end of isolation week 5 that being fully functional for 3 days a week is my normal. And I’m pretty far leaning into the introvert side of the spectrum.

The last time I felt like this I was unemployed and the ennui was absolutely making me feel brainless, helpless and hopeless (albeit neither friendless nor living in Greenland).

There’s no set schedule. You go to bed on time and stare at the ceiling for hours. You accidentally sleep through your morning alarm the next morning as a result. You make coffee and forget to eat breakfast. You know you should be doing something but can’t remember what. You miss a dose of your medication. You clean the rabbit litter but not the cat’s. You start feeling like Robin Williams in that Jumanji meme.

And that’s the introverts, who were basically born for this sort of society. How are the extroverts doing? Forgeddaboudit. They’re DYING to have in person human interaction. The Pokemon GO nerds (who are the largest group of extroverts I’m actually keeping tabs on during SIP) are completely unsettled by how distinctly … quiet … it is when they go hunting. They’re trying to figure out how to raid with proper social distancing. Can you in person battle a trainer that’s standing 6ft away? You sure can’t understand what anyone’s saying through their appropriately nerdy themed homemade mask. My party friends are twitchy to go get a beer, have a birthday, go bowling, go out to eat, take a pottery class…. just about ANYTHING that will get them in the presence of a group of people. Even if they’re essential workers and still seeing a wider variety of humans every day than those of us Sheltering In Place, somehow it’s still not enough. There aren’t enough cars on the roads. The bars are all closed. The parades were all cancelled and, in our area, even the public parks are closed. Don’t even get me started on the people that needs their sportsball to survive. It’s like making Nana miss her stories. And don’t you DARE make Nana miss her stories. It’s a serious world ender.

Back to vacation. Vacations are a finite period of time wherein you and your place of employment have agreed that you will not come in to work and you can do basically whatever you like instead. If you want to watch Netflix in your boxers while eating cereal at 3pm and scrolling through Hulu on your phone, they tell me that’s what vacation is for. If you want to build a deck, have at it. If you want to write a novel, good luck. Because it’s a finite period of time we find it more acceptable to accomplish or to not accomplish as you will. People tend to not be very judgey about whether you had a productive vacation or not.

Furlough, on the other hand, is vague. It’s nebulous. It’s got a lot of financial worries and regularly changing rules that are sapping some of our time and energy. No one planned to get furloughed. No one planned to be suddenly unemployed. Furlough is defined by uncertainty. Vacation happens on purpose.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? An itty bitty tiny change in the perspective of things. But, like the difference between a butt dial and a booty call, perspective changes EVERYTHING.

So I want you to know something:

If all you manage to do this furlough is come through it alive and relatively healthy, you’ve accomplished enough.

Stressing about why you can’t seem to motivate yourself into anything “productive” is going to tax your immune system and rob you of the chance to find what baseline living looks like for you. Everyone should know their bare minimum. Finding out during furlough is enough. Have a bit of extra energy one day? Cool. Do something extra. But don’t beat yourself up if you wake up the next morning with all the ambition of a salted slug. Let’s take one from the incredibly corny highway campaigns:


See no evil…

I didn’t die…and I missed you

I know it’s been a very long time since you saw me here. There’s so much I was unable to share with you. I moved. I’m about to move again. I fought depression, anxiety, allergies, physical injuries that chained into one another and lasted for a year and a half with some still-lingering symptoms. I fought writer’s block. I wrote. I hated it and never posted. I fought impostor syndrome. I discussed the pros and cons of writing a blog with my mother, who is both keen on and terrified of starting her own. I entered a relationship. I watched a friend of mine begin a Patreon and slowly grow his following (so proud of him). I lost what I thought was a solid relationship with a convention I’ve been heavily involved in and dearly loved. I pulled side gigs. I started a year long quilting project for 2019 that is (not surprisingly) not finished yet, but taught me so much about small daily progress.

I’ve been medically prevented from playing the harp since October of 2018. It was like I died. And then I died again. And then I died some more. No one wants to say the injury is permanent. The word is carefully and daintily avoided. Every milestone: you should try again and see how your body reacts to the harp. Nearly every time the result was the same: I paid for 5, 10, 15 minutes with 1 or 2 weeks of constant pain. After developing a second sympathetic injury in January 2020, a doctor finally stopped pussyfooting around. If you want the pain to go away, you have to quit your job.

Was I relieved that I finally had a medical reason to leave and pursue something else? Was I terrified of job hunting again? Was I afraid I’d make everything monumentally worse if I went ahead and continued to work at my job while I searched for another? Did I even qualify for short term disability while I searched for something else? Was I worried about my clientele and the current disputes I was working on their behalf? The hands on repairs sitting in my queue that no one in the house but me was qualified to handle? Was I brave enough to imagine a world where I controlled my day and rose or fell on my own ingenuity, skill and determination?

It was a very confusing time for me. I hauled ass through St Valentine’s. It’d be too much of a lurch to leave before then. In March, the Coronaclosures began. I was furloughed during the first wave, having already been away from work for several days as I had become symptomatic for influenza the previous Saturday.

I have been in social isolation for 5.5 weeks. I can finally play the harp for about 45m with only minor issues the following 2 days. I’m finally able to build up my strength again. However, if I do anything akin to the benchwork I perform at my job, I go right back to nearly a week of recovery. My former occupational therapist said she thought the bar minimum time off bench that would be necessary for me was 6 weeks. She’d prefer 8. How unexpected to have a global pandemic provide me with just that reprieve.

So here I am, getting back my typing strength, considering subjects for future posts, and packing my house for the next move. I’ve missed you all terribly and am hoping that if I take anything away from this experience it will be:
1. Stretch your hands and arms every day. Especially if you work with them. Even when it’s something you consider simple like typing. You’ve only got one set and it ruins so many aspects of your life when they’re not properly respected.
2. No matter how hard I close my eyes, the reality isn’t going to go away. Not my pain. Not the injury causing it. Not the virus. Not the depression. Not the fears. It’s time to go back to taking life by the goat horns.