The Virus that Ate the Future

"I want to Fly Like an Eagle 'till I'm free"*

The future has disappeared. It has been consumed by Covid-19. If I dare think about what I will be doing or where I will be this summer, I encounter an internal mental error message like the ones that come up on my computer when something isn’t functioning correctly. “This operation cannot be performed at this time”.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to consistently live in the here and now with no thought for the future. Now I know. It is disorienting, stultifying, frustrating, angering, exhausting. It’s not unlike living in perpetual grief where a sense of loss hangs over you like a gathering storm that threatens but never fully materializes.

When we have a future, it provides a safety valve for the anxiety that so often accompanies the present. The future is the eagle hope rides on. We can endure a great deal of discomfort, both physical and emotional, if we believe that our situation will get better sometime in the future.

At the present time, the people of the world have no firm idea when, or if, life will assume some form of our previous reality. With no future where do we release the pressure of the present?

I thought I knew. I thought that I could find relief by channeling my anxiety into writing, meditating, exercising, cooking. In some ways I had, until I hit the therapeutic limits of self-medication this past weekend. I usually write on Saturday, edit on Sunday and send out my next essay Sunday night or Monday morning. This past week I found myself frozen. I started and stopped writing in brief bursts of energy that then quickly faded. It was like trying to climb up a muddy river bank. Just as I thought I was making progress, I slipped back to the water’s edge yet again. It was exhausting. It was depressing.

I wondered if I had run out of anything to say. Had the creative muse abandoned me? Was I a washed up, wanna be writer after five essays? I felt as if a San Francisco fog had infiltrated my brain. It took me a week and several nights of fitful sleep to realize I was experiencing collateral damage from the Covid-19 virus. I had allowed it to eat my future.

I’m not sure how this happened, but I suspect that I had consumed too many of the bad news spores of the virus. Perhaps I had let the external grim news become my internal state. My mental immune system had become overpowered.

When one of my clients becomes overwhelmed by anxiety, I teach them to utilize techniques to re-balance and mitigate their anxiety. I wasn’t taking my own advice. I wasn’t paying attention to my breathing. I wasn’t intervening in the mental thought loops that anxiety can put us in. And most importantly, I wasn’t talking to my spouse and friends about my anxiety. I wasn’t diluting the virus’s toxicity. I wasn’t speaking my truth.

I realized that to liberate myself enough to write again, I had to write personally about my experience with this virus. I had forgotten the old adage taught by all writing teachers, “Write about what you know”. What I knew, was that I was overwhelmed with anxiety and grief. I came to understand that I was trying to control my feelings, my fears, rather than acknowledging them. I was trying to tell myself everything will be alright when I didn’t believe it.

It is from this that I encourage you, dear readers, to not be reluctant to sound pessimistic, or frightened. Don’t hold your feelings in. There is an old proverb that states, “Shared joy is double joy, shared sorrow is half sorrow.” The world is in a precarious situation. There is no vaccination for the virus. There is plenty to be anxious about. I do believe that by acknowledging our fears we begin to find a way to manage. Anxiety held in ferments into a toxic solvent that dissolves hope. Anxiety shared with those we love loses its potency.

When I work with clients who are anxious, I will often encourage them to identify what they can and cannot change. I then explain that to continue to try to change what they have no control over, they will only become more frustrated and anxious. I ask them to focus on what they can change in their lives and put their energy into those things.

I can’t change this virus. I can’t make it regurgitate my future. I can work to manage my anxiety. I can reach out, as I am here, to all of you. I can imagine a better future. I can act as if I have hope even when I am feeling hopeless. I can share and write and talk and stay connected to loved ones as we take this journey together in search of a new future.

Take care of yourselves. Love the ones you’re with. Communicate.

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* Steve Miller Band, “Fly like an Eagle”, 1976

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