A Journal of the Plague Week 2

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

I don’t know where the past week has gone. I know where I’ve gone: absolutely nowhere, save for a brief jaunt to the top of our hill for a breezy late-afternoon stroll a few days ago and a nerve-racking trip to some nearby shops for bread, coffee beans and whatever fresh vegetables I could find.

The initial novelty of the Situation and the spiky terror of the lockdown have mushed into an uncomfortable mixture of boredom and simmering anxiety that’s making it impossible for me to get anything done. I don’t even know what I’m “supposed” to be doing, but whatever I have been doing doesn’t feel right. From the outside, my days look almost exactly the same now as they did three weeks ago, with the added benefit that I get to have lunch with Jeremy every day. I get up, check my email, make some coffee, and then sit in front of the computer for the rest of the day. But whereas before I would work—or at least mostly work—now I just sit and scroll and scroll and scroll, and then at the end of the day I get up and make dinner, and whatever has transpired in the meantime is a blank.

Part of the problem is that I don’t have much work at the moment. I’m not sure how much of that is to blame on the virus and how much is the normal fluctuation of a freelance existence, but whatever the cause, it’s weighing on me. Even before all of this I was planning to try to drum up more work by reaching out to different publishers and getting more involved in the literary translation community. But now I’m in limbo because everything seems to be in limbo. Even if I thought there were publishers out there clamoring for German academic translators right now (which I’m not sure there are), and even if I thought those publishers had the bandwidth to deal with strangers cold-contacting them in search of work (which I doubt they do), I can’t muster the energy or focus to do…well, anything, really.

I feel like I should be better at this whole lockdown thing. Objectively, I’m in the best possible position: I work from home anyway, Jeremy can fairly easily work from home, we don’t have kids or even pets to take care of, neither one of us has underlying health conditions, our families are as safe as they can be, we have a comfortable flat with a nice little garden, we have a decent internet connection and lots of other things to keep us occupied, we know how to cook, and we can get practically anything delivered to our front door (eventually), from delicious bread to local craft gin. Even freshly washed laundry, which is the ultimate luxury since our machine has been broken for weeks and who knows when we’ll be able to get a new one installed.

When all of this was first kicking off, I tweeted that folks should be gentle with themselves if they were finding it hard to get things done when working from home for the first time. And here I sit, two weeks later, wondering why I’m finding so hard to get things done, kicking myself for failing to be productive, kicking myself for worrying when we seemingly have so little to worry about, kicking myself for not taking advantage of all this “free” time to practice fiddle, dance, knit, read or write, wondering why life feels so different when, on the surface, it looks very much the same.

But I know why. We’re in the middle of a goddamn global pandemic, that’s why. It may not be in my house or even on my doorstep yet, but it’s in my town and it’s certainly on my mind. I start the day by checking the news, and then I kind of never stop. I hop from one article to the next, one tweet to the next, feeling frightened, then outraged, then uplifted, then sad, then hopeful, then frightened again—and just writing that down has made me realize why I’m so exhausted by the end of the day even though I ostensibly haven’t been “doing” anything. Our bodies aren’t cut out for so many emotional lows and highs in such quick succession for such an extended period of time. As of last night I’ve been trying to regulate my news and social media intake, to not just absently pick up my phone and start scrolling whenever I feel my mind wandering, which is all the time these days.

The mental load of keeping a household going under these circumstances is exhausting as well. It’s always tiring to a certain extent, but noticing that we’re running out of [fill in the blank] is a whole different level of tiring when you don’t know whether you can get more [fill in the blank] anytime soon. While almost everything is theoretically available for delivery, every delivery service has been stretched beyond its limits. Food stores are still open, though it’s a crapshoot as to whether they’ll actually have what you’re looking for. And even if a shop does have what you want, you have to contend with being around other people, many of whom seem to have missed (or ignored) the memo that we need to be staying away from each other. When Jeremy and I ventured to the nearby shops a few days ago, I felt sick with nerves by the time we got back because there so many too-close personal encounters. I don’t want to be taking delivery slots from people who need them more, but I also don’t want to keep exposing myself to people with such a cavalier attitude toward a highly transmissible and deadly disease.

For all that I tend to worry about EVERYTHING, the thought of us contracting the virus hasn’t actually been my main concern over the past two weeks. It just seemed like a distant possibility for two people not on the front lines (unlike the health workers, shopkeepers, cooks, cashiers and delivery folks who are too busy trying to keep the rest of us alive to write self-pitying, navel-gazing dispatches such as this). But on Friday, after the stressful shopping trip, my brain decided that this was something I should be very worried about indeed, so I worried. And then yesterday evening I found myself short of breath, with a kind of constriction around my ribs and a burning sensation in the middle of my chest, and I thought: this is it. But “it” was not SARS-CoV-2. “It” was a totally predictable anxiety attack; not a full-blown panic attack, just a little mind/body ambush that convinced me I need to take a deep breath and take a step back.

Reading and worrying about ALL THE THINGS will not prevent the worst from happening. Instead, I can take reasonable precautions. Berating myself for not having the mental capacity to run a thriving translation business is not going to improve my work situation. Instead, I can give myself some time and space to think. Telling myself I’m lazy for not learning every Irish tune, dancing along to every available online ballet class (and there are a lot) or cooking every complicated recipe is not going to make me feel any better about being stuck inside indefinitely. Instead, I can accept and even embrace this strange time as a kind of stasis period without particular demands. And feeling guilty for fretting while I sit in the safety of my own home is not going to protect all the people who don’t have that luxury. Instead, I can remind myself that sitting in the safety of my own home is exactly what I should be doing right now to protect them. And that, at least, is something I can manage to do.


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