It’s been a weird few months. Not sure if you’re all up for an individual pandemic mental health tale, but here it is.
At many moments, I have felt like hiding, fading into obscurity. Checking out. Running.
In the wake of the closure of The Pace, I was desperate to get out of dodge. My plan was, do a mini reno on my (rented) place and sublet it for a couple of months, run away to Mexico and write a book. In the ongoing irony that is Vancouver, my most valuable asset is my place – but really only when I’m not in it.
I started on this plan at the end of February. By the end of the first week of March, the dream was fading – but I figured, I already bought the paint, and being gainfully unemployed, I might as well focus some attention on my long neglected living space anyway.
The second week of March, a small legion of friends dropped by one by one to help me start. Bradley William and Bailey Creed helped me get a start on decluttering and cleaning a place that I had basically only slept in for the previous two years. Marianne Conrod, Gerilee McBride, Maria Juliana Orozco and Naomi Grace all rolled through, lending a hand in prepping and painting.
On March 15, I woke up feeling groggy and generally under the weather. Naomi called to see about coming back that day, but I was feeling so crappy I said “I think I’ll take a day off and rest”, briefly climbed out of bed, closed all the windows and cranked up the heat.
I woke up 16 hours later inside of a video game-like distortion of the world, featuring a fish bowl vision field. I had a doctor’s appointment already booked, but I knew I couldn’t make it there on my own two feet – I was pinballing around my chaotic, mid painting apartment like a drunken sailor. What the hell was going on?
Which Nancy was kind enough to drive me the ridiculous six blocks to the appointment – the streets were almost completely empty, and the doctors office was closed. I didn’t know it, but this was the beginning of quarantine.
Still struggling to join the dots, I bought some gravol and crawled back into bed.
By the following day, I was still unable to stand up or walk a straight line. It was slowly dawning on me that the oil based primer I used for the ceiling needed more ventilation than I had managed. At the very outset of a global pandemic, I had managed to poison myself with toxic fumes.
With everyone going into lock down, it was an inopportune time to be a house guest, but by day three I was seriously freaking out and desperate to reduce exposure. I called poison control, and the best they could tell me was that as long is it wasn’t getting worse I should ride it out, and definitely avoid ER.
Alan Burton and Jason Tataren came to my rescue, picked me up and let me crash at their house, despite concern. I love you, and am eternally grateful for you both.
Esther Tung had just returned from NYC and was battling her own bugs, and made the gracious offer of allowing me to quarantine with her. Her roommate Fleur de Lisa and partner Rianna James were warm and welcoming. I am so grateful to them for taking me in.
Meanwhile, the societal new normal was a real trip. There were moments in the first couple of weeks where I thought I may be losing my mind. How could it be that the world slowed all the way down and went inside at the exact same time I gave myself a mind altering chemical bath? Cruisers patrolled the Farmers Market, empty streets, disinfection routines. Just six weeks before I was hosting a couple of hundred people a week for gatherings and actions.
I returned to my place once in a while – it was a disaster, and hard to navigate while being off balance. It took a solid three weeks to regain my footing, and there were moments I was fearful that sideways vertigo may be the new normal.
Toni Gladstone joined our pod and we ate lots, and occasionally did crunches, though not enough. There was way more eating than crunches. Alan’s milestone birthday was a socially distant picnic, instead of a Mexico Pride.
In the last months I have experienced some of the worst mental health of my adult life. As someone who has always struggled with anxiety and depression, that’s saying something. I’m not sure I would have survived being alone for that time.
I went home in June, and it was a challenging return to solitude in so many ways. On June 2nd, coincidentally my birthday, it felt like the world had caught fire. Pandemic and rioting and so much collective grief and anger. I paced my apartment not unlike a caged animal – in the not too distant past, I would have been offering up space for organizing and working through the “what the fuck” of it all. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so helpless or isolated. What could I give, without space to offer? Without a solid foundation in my own mind? Who am I when I am not making space?
June came and went. July came and went. Elaine and I ate breakfast and went to the farm for eggs. I visited Tonye’s yard as often as I could. They soothed my soul and got me through the worst of it. My brother John supported with frequent phone check ins.
I certainly wasn’t my best self through all of this, and there are moments I’m not proud of. I’ve been trying really hard to learn compassion, including to myself. There have been many days I catch myself saying things (sometimes even out loud) I would never say to a friend – loser, fuck up, failure. Some days beating back negative self talk has been my entire mission. Big huge love and thanks to Tonye, Ji-Youn Kim, Madeleine Shaw, Corrina Keeling, Ida Manuel and Fiona C Macdougall for some particularly heavy lifting there. Some days, just staying alive is enough. I’m slowly learning how to be a better friend.
It’s not a huge change, but I finally feel like I live in my home. Finally, waaaaayyyyyyy behind schedule, I have more or less completed my apartment. Hopefully in time to find a subletter so I can run away to Teprine’s country place and harvest some tomatoes and put my head back together – and maybe write that book.
Not epic, but I think a house became a home. The distance between these two points was anything but a straight line, and I am as always blown away by the power of relationships.
Single/unpartnered friends! I see you. Isolation for single folks is a whole different beast, even with podmates – though not a cake walk for anyone. Lacking even customary physical touch is it’s own kind of hell. I think of all the moments I felt completely alone in the last few months – and then I see how many people I tagged in this post and I remember that I am so wealthy in connections, even when I can’t reach out and touch them.
I’ll leave you with an exceptional thought from the inimitable Bailey, while painting – “we’re all like Russian dolls, with the earlier versions of ourselves nested one in the other. If you can figure out which doll is showing up, you get some really good insight.” Like a chrysalis where the escape is turning back inside. We’re building out – and never really alone.
Thank you for everything. I love and appreciate you. And I’m grateful to still be here. And extra grateful that you are, too.