I told Jed the other day I might be experiencing some sort of late reaction. I feel things that I should have felt when the pandemic hit hard middle of last year. Remember 2020? Instead it’s 2021, August to be exact, and I feel an intense version of hopelessness. As a major in internet psychology, I started thinking is this low-grade depression? What’s scarier than “sad” for me is the feeling of futility, the feeling that there’s no way out.
It’s the news. I swear it’s watching too much news. I usually don’t watch the news, to be honest. A major character flaw that, in one way or another, has made me lose certain friendships. But for some reason, I can’t stop watching and reading the news. And what do I see? Shitty things of course! I don’t need to enumerate them for I’m fairly certain you know what I’m talking about.
Back to this delayed reaction, I realized I unconsciously shielded myself from feeling the pandemic. After the devastating loss of my father last year, I thought I have acknowledged this other loss as well (especially it’s not an insignificant loss either), but turns out I only marginally addressed it. I remember feeling vaguely invested in the woes of my friends regarding lost opportunities, the uncertainty of when we could go back to normal, the boredom of being in the house all day every day. At the time, I could understand what they’re saying (of course), but a big part of me was relieved to be in this mandatory pause, focusing on all the baking and cooking I could do instead.
Until I finally caught up one year later. I feel it all now, palpably so. My personal grief has abated to a manageable degree, I’ve worn myself out of cooking, and now all I see is this endless doom and gloom of the pandemic, not to mention the state of our hospitals and frontline workers, the situation in the Middle East, climate change and calamities. Not that these weren’t present before, but once the veil of my own personal grief has been lifted, this other reality washed all over me like a big fat wave out at sea.
Almost all of July I stopped enjoying my cooking. I mean I still cook but not with the same vigor and excitement I had last year. I’m exhausted without doing much of anything. I feel guilty knowing other people are suffering and I still have a job. I’m just feeling a whole lot but there’s not much to say other than it’s heartbreaking how after a year it’s still relatively the same. It’s like one step forward, four steps backward. And somewhere at the back of your mind you know you have to keep believing it’ll be over someway somehow.
I’ve stopped talking to friends too. Not that there’s any animosity (I don’t think so), but what is there to talk about? Being at home—waking up the same exact way, looking forward to nothing but the overwhelming sense of sameness—has left, I think, everybody weary yet numb at the same time. Even established routines, like some form of exercise, have done little but remind me of the formulaic way our lives will move forward for God knows how long. I stopped talking to friends in a normal way, even though I miss talking to them. In person, that is. It’s more like social media checking, a like here, a comment there, glad to know everyone’s still alive. Most of the time, there are these spikes of dopamine from watching the latest memes, the aspirational interiors, the hilarious TikTok videos, and then I realize I’m back to my couch, where I work and live in the internet forever and ever.
The other day, I watched Pete Davidson’s standup on Netflix and I laughed at this bit where Pete described how his friends usually react when he’s whining too much about his problems. They’re like, “Man, I gotta get to work. You can figure this out. Go offline or something.” Go offline or something. Isn’t that our response? That’s how I usually respond too. When things get too overwhelming and I find myself scrolling too much on IG, I reprimand myself to just stop. Literally, step away from any screen I’m on (and there’s a lot of screens btw) and go do something tangible. So I read.
I notice reading is one of the most calming of my coping mechanisms. (I wish I could say the same for exercise lol.) Not books per se but anything I could get my hands on. It could be essays online, other people’s thoughts, cookbooks, memes, cartoons, Reddit threads, Substack newsletters, more newsletters, interviews of people, and link lists and recommendations. I’m in search of commiseration. When feelings are overwhelming, there’s nothing more soothing than reading what other people are going through, what other people are thinking, feeling, doing. So I read. In a time when I can barely do anything outside my house, I’m thankful for the transformative and calming effects of simply reading.
So to leave in some sort of positive note, I’d like to share some of the great essays and articles that have helped distract my mind from the worst. Maybe you’ll enjoy them too!
- Rosie Spinks’ Newsletter on Substack. I have been a longtime follower of her writing. These days she just pivoted her newsletter to talk about climate change. Her archives though are like perfect summations of present culture and modern living. Very insightful writing!
- The whole Bon Appetit website. Their content are mostly food-related essays, yes, but they’re incredibly engaging and interesting. The Stories section of Healthy-ish is sooo addictive. Prepare to lose hours on it.
- For your existential needs, AskPolly is here to the rescue.
- Helen Rosner’s “The Joylessness of Cooking.” Talk about relatable content.
- Haley Nahman’s newsletter called Maybe Baby. It’s like talking to a friend, a whipsmart, articulate, and cool friend. Start with this link. Oddly comforting reading how she copes with quarantine life.
- I just discovered this series called Women Cook For Me created by a photographer Sophie Davidson about creative women and what they’re cooking. Like hot coffee on a Saturday afternoon—relaxing.
- Swiss Miss – an oldie but a goodie for much-needed inspiration.
- Oh I almost forgot this very interesting newsletter titled “Place.” They publish writing that talks about place in its many forms—travel, home, restlessness, identity. Lovely reading especially these days when… you know where I’m going with this.
- This fantastic, fantastic writing by Jennifer S-G called “Continuing.” I have never read something so relatable, so on point as she describes what continuing actually means.
- Not reading related but I truly enjoyed watching Anthony Bourdain’s new documentary “Roadrunner” by Morgan Neville. I downloaded the whole thing from you know where. If you don’t know, drop me a message on IG. *wink
- Who doesn’t like reading about love?
- Oh one last thing, this box breathing technique has helped me tremendously in times of anxiety. The image of a square box is forever etched on my mind. Try it!
“Approach your work with a playful sensibility or relationship to play rather than a relationship to accomplishment. If you’re lucky enough to be like ‘Okay, so I don’t have to do that,’ then try to be like: ‘What’s going to fill my heart? What’s going to really actually give me the opportunity to ask my deepest questions?” – Ross Gay (via The Creative Independent)