“…Wherever you are is called Here,/And you must treat it as a powerful stranger”
“Lost” by David Wagoner
It’s been a year.
Today. Today makes one year.
And while I celebrate surviving that year, I have to name it Lost. Taken or Stolen might also work but that victimizes my situation and I am not here for that–that allowance would keep me stagnant in anger and helplessness. I cannot be about that anymore.
Lost. Lost speaks truth on so many levels. Most obvious of those, ground floor entry so to speak, the impact of my battle with Long Covid sapped my energy and muddled my brain’s acuity leaving me with only faded and blurred watercolor memories of the last year. So many things happened–events, trips, the life of my family–and while I was physically present I was also encapsulated in a bit of a Long Covid forcefield shielding my mind from the details, the weight, the value and thus the fullness of anything.
Lost. Second floor. Abandoned by my sensibility. For most of the year, my emotions neutralized themselves. I felt no surges of excitement, sadness, anger, anxiety, joy…which sounds sort of great in some ways, right? No anxiety for the person who has always struggle with anxiety is pretty fantastic, yeah? And I guess in some ways it was a nice departure. My body was dealing with an erratically racing heart as well as so much inflammation and overwhelm that it could not also manage inflamed emotions. Rationally, I get that. But honestly, I just felt radically empty most of the time which is why I assume the year doesn’t exist in vivid memory. Without emotions to tie to events, to anchor them inside of me, they just sort of float off into the distance leaving a vague shadow behind.
Lost. Third floor. And this cannot be overstated and is far from the cliche it sounds like: I lost myself. What does that mean?
Well, it is hard to quantify and qualify in a way that relates the compounding weight of the truth of this statement. Most obviously, in losing my ability to be fully present, to feel vibrancy of any shade of emotion, to think without roadblocks emerging between each and every thought, to participate in conversation without confusion, to remember even the simplest but most important details (this list goes on a while, I’ll stop here), it was impossible not only to be myself but to remember what it felt like to be myself. I want to emphasize that. I wasn’t just less than myself due to illness–I have been there before. I suffer with other chronic “stuff”. But I was lost inside of myself–I could not remember what it felt like to be the person I was before that positive test. Not on any given day did I feel fully me. And not on any given day could I harness the hope of finding that person because my energy had to be focused on simply getting through the day in the shape I existed. Exhausted already, I further laid waste to my energy supply in creating a mask that would hide the truth from those around me.
The things by which I identify myself–cooking, reading, writing, exercise, smiling, ridiculous optimism–had to be either relearned, modified, or set aside.
Cooking, my favorite way to show my love to others, transitioned into a chore. On my worst days, just the thought of standing in the kitchen and thinking through steps in a recipe, left me frozen in how to proceed. I could not desert cooking completely, but my skill and joy in it certainly deserted me.
As a reader, I found myself having to adopt new reading practices in order to maintain. Gone: my pencil in hand adept at skillful annotation and noting depth and nuance in a text. Adopted: a letting go of disappointment in myself for just reading the story without deeper investigation because I knew that reading in any form was good for my brain’s recovery.
As a writer, well, if it wasn’t mandated for work, it probably didn’t happen. I could not face my loss for words, my confusion mid sentence, my inability to see a piece through. A singular email at work could take me an hour to construct; I had no energy for personal writing. I lost my confidence in staring at a blank screen with a brain that felt equally blank and hid behind my illness rather than writing my way through it.
In a fleeting attempt to maintain some semblance of my former reality in the face of so much loss, I tried to reinsert my pre-Covid, relatively intense, exercise regimen (even if watered down a bit). I quickly learned that I could no longer exercise during the work week if I wanted to be able to function in the world. I had to live inside of what my doctor called “the energy envelope” which meant instead of HIIT training and weightlifting, I was walking…and not during the work week. My physical strength began to mirror my eroding mental strength bewildering me further in who it was my body would allow me to be.
The rest of the list here–smiling…optimism–existed mostly because I reached deep inside to exude a picture that would bring about fewer questions about how I was really doing. A reach that left me fatigued beyond measure.
Lost. Top Floor. My coping strategies evacuated with everything else that comprised who I had previously been. All those years of managing chronic illness while also maintaining my strength of perseverance…all those skills honed over years even in situations like Long Covid where no answers or cure were clear…none of them could be called to mind and put into practice. I tried. Believe me, I really tried. But, honestly, that perseverance took so much more energy than I had inside of me. Something as simple as starting an anti-inflammatory diet (something I have done successfully before) required more thought than I could see through to fruition. Eventually, I stopped trying to cure my Long Covid symptoms. I preached patience to myself because it was the only tool in my arsenal that I could muster. I allowed myself the grace to wait rather than shaming myself for not fighting harder.
So I waited. Impatiently patient. Resigned to maybe never seeing “me” again. Accepting of the need to rebuild from scratch.
And then, I guess you could say I snuck up on myself, because I never saw or felt “old me” resuscitating herself. And yet, she did.
And so here I am, a year later and I am cautiously optimistic that I am on the other side. In the last month of this year, I have read a book with the complexity of thought that mirrors (almost) the way I might have before…the inflammation that has flooded and plagued my legs and hands has receded…the cardboard has retreated from its post as a blockade between my thoughts leaving them feeling connected, even if only by a thread…I have found myself more fully present, laughing effortlessly, enjoying small moments and not needing to take a nap because of the effort…I have felt like myself for the first time in nearly a year and for that, there are no words. It’s not perfect. There are still hurdles to clear and some days are harder than others. But this moment brings honesty to two things I lost sight of this last year.
Gratitude and Hope.