I’m not who I thought I was

So Malaysia announced yesterday that it is extending its Movement Control Order until April 14.  This was completely expected, and I’m very glad that Malaysia is taking proactive steps to (hopefully) get ahead of this and flatten that curve, but I still felt a bit emotional at the news.  Which is OK.  There are many ups and downs in this situation.

Do you guys follow ManRepeller?  As I try to buy less, I’ve been enjoying the site more and more.  Because so much of what they cover is truly high fashion, it isn’t even aspirational for me.  Just pure inspiration.  They have great interviews, pieces on remixing and styling, and info on taking care of your clothes.  But mostly I really like the writing.

Anywho, Leandra has been sharing essays from quarantine.  (Salty language warning.)  These have been fascinating and uplifting and make me feel like I’m not going through this alone.  Instead of mangling her words, let me just excerpt you from one of her essays:

Today is different from yesterday which different from the day before. I think that’s what it’s like when you’re in survival mode, right? I mention it because last night when I was FaceTiming with my mom, she said something like, “To be perfectly honest, I feel more in my element than usual. I’m a survivor.” It clicked for me as she was saying it that what I have been calling her “refugee mentality” for a very long time is actually the sensation of living in a heightened state of survival mode where no time exists beyond the time that’s right in front of you. There is no planning beyond the one hour, 12 hours—if you’re lucky, 24 hours ahead because there’s not enough information to think further out. All you have and all you know is what confronts you at the moment. Trying to prepare for any period beyond that frame is futile; too much is changing and it’s happening quickly. You know? I realize I’m most comfortable in this heightened state of paradoxically routine panic and chaos, too. It can make me feel like a prisoner of my own life when there is no reason to panic. Abie does not maintain this quality—he thinks years ahead of me. That’s one of the primary things that attracted me to him, this sense of psychological freedom I could feel emanating from him. I’ve never been able to identify that before this moment.

And I realized that this hit pretty close to home for me.  You see, I thought that I was our emergency parent.  Not the blood and guts parent.  That’s James.  (I’m not squeamish.  It just somehow ended up in his purview.)  I thought that I was the one who could hold our little family together, beat the odds, knock or wood or do whatever it took if the challenge arose.

But that is the operative word.  “Challenge.”  I like challenges.  You want help to run a marathon?  I will write your training plan, encourage you every step of the way, and then attempt to pull you over the finish by my sheer will alone.  Planning an event?  I got that.  Cleaning our your closet?  Taking a class?  Cooking a meal with three ingredients left in the fridge?  These are probably all terrible examples, but you get the point.  I like a challenge, but it’s a particular kind of challenge.  One with a finish line.  One you can plan to pieces and then execute.

But this kind of open ended, attempting to thrive in a time of survival?  I don’t got this.  I can’t plan my way out of this.  This whole accepting what is and doing what I can in the face of so much unknown?  I’m really struggling.  I’m not saying that this is easy for anyone, but I feel like I’ve had all of my attack strategies and coping skills brutally ripped away.  I don’t know how to handle this.

And that hurts.  Losing this piece of my identity.  If that sounds too harsh, at least realizing and letting it go.

I guess you could argue that I could plan what I can.  I could at least attempt to plan through April 14.  But I doubt that is actually the end.  Even if it is the end of restricted movement, I certainly don’t know what anything will look like then.  Instead of limited planning and taking advantage of this time, I feel like this New Yorker cartoon:

Day 6! Couldn’t decide between starting to write my novel or my screenplay, so instead I ate three boxes of mac and cheese and then lay on the floor panicking.

So yeah.  I’m not feeling motivated to learn a new skill or cook through a new cookbook or watch all of a series I always meant to start.  Which is weird.  There are times when I would have been overjoyed to have all of this unscheduled time.  All of this time together as a family.  This is certainly not how I would have pictured it.  It’s like a super weird staycation.  But it is a lot of time together.

On her Organize 365 Podcast, Lisa Woodruff talks about using this time to make memories.  She says she didn’t have a chance to bake cookies at Christmas, but she’ll be baking with her kids now.  So there’s that.

I’m curious how my thinking will change the longer this goes on.  Maybe I’ll start to get back some of my planning mojo.  For the most part, I’m giving myself permission not to “crush” this lockdown.  I probably won’t come out of this with a new skill or the ability to do pull ups or to speak a new language.  And that’s OK.  I’ll just keep repeating my mantra which is “All I have to do right now is to be at home with my family.”  Which seems reductive, but is also true.  I’m not going to plan for a future I can’t yet picture.  I’m not going to stress about all the unknown.  I’m just focused on this moment.  And all I have to do is be at home with my family.

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