It was about a month deep into my quarantine when I woke up one morning and thought, “Oh, great. Another day with me,” in a tone that implied it was, in fact, not great.
I dragged myself out of bed and into the kitchen, where I was greeted by the dirty dishes I let pile up in the sink, despite having a dishwasher. By that point, I had cycled through more bouts of mania, depression, and anxiety than that machine had loads.
But it wasn’t until I made myself a fresh pot of coffee and reached for a mug that I realized I was out of clean ones. The number of mugs I have from working previously in TV news — a profession that loves coffee so much that each place you work will most certainly give you more than one with their call letters — made this both an impressive and disgusting feat. I wanted to yell at whoever was responsible for this atrocity, but I don’t live with a roommate or a significant other. And because there was no one else around, there was no one else to blame.
I wanted to yell at whoever was responsible for this atrocity, but I don’t live with a roommate or a significant other.
This is when I took myself to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I stared into the mirror and analyzed what eating all of that food that dirtied all of those dishes had done to my body.
As I went through a series of thoughts that sounded like, You’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re worthless, you can’t even do the dishes, I paused because I would absolutely never say those things to anyone else.
My next few thoughts sounded like, There is absolutely nothing wrong in this space. You are in a one-bedroom apartment with literally no one else. You have control over this entire environment. If you are having such a difficult time with your own company, why would anyone else want your company?
Which led to the realization that holy shit, there is so much more than overeating and uncleanliness to address here.
I tend to forget that I’m a person who is, quote-unquote, still in recovery. I’ll be coming up on three years alcohol-free in September and not drinking has just become part of my lifestyle. It’s something I don’t regularly have to think about, which is a blessing because I remember a time in my life when abstaining took up most of my brain space.
But I am cognizant enough to know that I am still drawn to chaos and those little hits of dopamine. And a healthy amount of both is hard to come by when you’re sitting alone in your one-bedroom apartment with your blind cat.
So I began subconsciously conjuring up a bit of drama and had fallen back into a lot of my old habits that I thought I had worked through in years of therapy. But maybe that behavior never actually left, just diminished slightly with the practice of healthier ways. And perhaps those behaviors had manifested and intensified while facing isolation.
The weeks leading up to quarantine, I worked in an office a few days a week and the rest from my home. I got additional work done in a coworking space for people who identified as women and non-binary artists and writers. I spent time with friends, and I was going on dates again. The guy I was dating during the winter months broke up with me a few days after Christmas. I had fallen for him a little too hard and a little too fast — as one tends to do at 25. And to be honest, I was really hurt. So I was seeking fun again, and I was having it.
But then, everything changed. I was on a treadmill at the gym, watching Bernie Sanders lose Michigan when the first two cases of coronavirus were reported in the Detroit area, which is where I happen to live. As an immunocompromised person, I felt an immediate threat to my existence, so I went home with no plans to resurface. Thousands of people began to die. Businesses started to close. And every person’s life depended on social distancing and isolation, a place that tends to be unsafe for people with addiction problems.
Life became my apartment and my apartment became my life. In an attempt to dissociate from being in a pandemic altogether, I avoided the news, which only half worked. I tried to focus on the things I had left, which was, thankfully, my job that became entirely remote, creative projects and friends and family who I could connect with virtually. I deleted my dating apps because dating didn’t seem like it should be a priority in this environment, plus I really wanted to “focus on me.”
Though that was a wonderful goal, there was still a part of me that craved love and affection, which I was previously getting in the form of male attention and gaze. That’s when I found myself using my cell phone to elicit those things from men who I had been seeing or had an interest in. There weren’t too many of them, but oy vey, apologies to those select few.
Give yourself a damn break. Also, maybe stop engaging in the behavior that causes harmful mental back-and-forth in the first place.
This activity included but was not limited to: posting on Instagram to see how quickly they’d look at my story, texting risky pictures, heightening conversations with flirtation with no endgame in sight. In the beginning, this all felt like a slot machine. Fun, risky, exciting. But there was a point when the pleasure in my anticipation of their response would turn to anxiety and negative self-talk.
I’d begin to overanalyze each one of these situations, which would prompt emotions and feelings. And then I would immediately shame myself for said emotions and feelings. My mind became a pendulum of toxicity and judgment. Oh, that’s a feeling. You shouldn’t feel that way. That’s a stupid way to feel. You’re smart enough to not have that feeling. I can’t believe you’re having that feeling again?!
Like, woah. Sis, you can’t help how you feel. Give yourself a damn break. Also, maybe stop engaging in the behavior that causes harmful mental back-and-forth in the first place.
After I brought all of this up to my therapist and began working on it, my rabbit hole of a psyche would find something else to fixate on. There was a week I couldn’t stop painting. Days I wouldn’t stop strumming my guitar. Hours and hours spent reading. Periods where I’d just sit there and write. The time I ate four jars of peanut butter in an interval so short I’m too embarrassed to disclose it. And I didn’t dare touch the television for the same reason I never tried hard drugs when I was using — I knew it would just be too good to quit.
Despite feeling anxious and depressed about the state of the world at large, I still had agency over what was happening in mine.
Once again, I realized that not only was I my biggest problem, I was also my only solution. Despite feeling anxious and depressed about the state of the world at large, I still had agency over what was happening in mine. Cue the mental reframe.
I sincerely wanted to appreciate the opportunity to be alone and to sit still for a while. Because a lot of the things I love doing require being alone and sitting still. And those things, like writing these words, bring purpose and fulfillment to my life. So I sought to make my head a kinder space. I made it a goal to become my own best company. And before I’m with anyone else, I want to revel in the time I have with myself. Which is why I started seeking fun again and decided to lighten the fuck up.
I now dance to music in the morning, sing in my shower, exercise regularly, and schedule time for my creative outlets and adhere to those commitments. I attend virtual support group meetings, lean on meditation and breathwork practices, and continue to work through negative thought patterns in teletherapy. I have running lists of things I am grateful for and find inspiration in.
But most relieving, I’ve created rules around when it’s appropriate to reach out to people generally. I no longer use social media to fish for reactions. I’m more cognizant about the amount of food I’m putting in my body. And as soon as I dirty a dish, I put it in the dishwasher.
It has been about a month since that morning, and I now wake up thinking, “Oh great! Another day with me,” in a tone that implies it is, in fact, great.