The New Old Normal

So this isn’t a huge deal, but it’s big to me. Today, I cracked open the 3-inch binder that holds the manuscript of my first-ever novel and went back to work at my first round of rewrites. It’s the first time that’s happened since March 7. Not that I’m keeping track or anything.

I stopped working on it because the real world suddenly became too real, and there seemed to be no more room for my lovely world of make-believe. March 7 is right around the time I heard about hospitals in Italy triaging people out of health care if they were older than 65 or had other conditions, like diabetes or COPD. And that quite literally scare the wits out of me.

Three days later, the first COVID-19 case was found in Michigan. Six days after that, my workplace closed its office. A week after that, the state of Michigan entered its Stay Home, Stay Safe order. The entire world knows how that’s playing out.

Throughout all that time, I’ve been doing variably well at managing my anxiety. I’ll straight-up tell you I have a generalized anxiety disorder, which in basic terms means that if there’s something to worry about, I will — and if there’s nothing to worry about, I’ll make something up. And when there’s a pandemic going on, well. Imagine the world’s greatest glutton at the earth’s biggest buffet, where the buffet is serving up thinks to be anxious about and the glutton is me.

At my worst, I had a panic attack on the way to the grocery store where I honestly didn’t know for a moment if this all was real or not. Honestly. I did not know if the world was shutting down and people all over were sequestering into their homes, and my wife and I were only daring to go out to get food at 3 a.m. wearing makeshift masks and rubber gloves. DID NOT KNOW IF IT WAS REAL or if I was dreaming. If you haven’t had an experience like that where you couldn’t distinguish reality from surreality, I’m not quite sure how to describe how unsettling and — well, frankly — terrifying it is. Thankfully, it lasted less than 10 minutes, and I wasn’t the one driving.

Then came the month or so of being unable to sleep at night, save for a few hours here and there. Thank god for melatonin. Not ashamed to say I went through a period of frequent crying, which was mostly anticipatory grief. Passover was, honestly, awful. Not that I wasn’t grateful to be able to share it with my wife, it was just that the gulf between the way I was actually feeling (afraid and anxious) and the way Passover is “supposed” to be (joyful, liberating) was so vast.

But lately, my keel has been getting more even. The past week or so, I’ve even been writing. And today, I thought it was time to dip a toe back into the world I had built. Interestingly, this pandemic has pointed out some changes I need to make. My novel is set in Amsterdam in the mid-1600s, and a part of it involves a plague epidemic. Boy howdy, do I understand that better now than I did when I first wrote those chapters. I need to go back and add more to it to humanize it and make it more compelling.

I admit to being a bit rusty today — I didn’t even get through a full chapter. I was really susceptible to distraction and procrastinating. But I did it. And that was one step to getting back to my new old normal. And that’s a milestone for me.

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