It ain’t poetry, but maybe it can soothe

I have been in bad pain now for six days.

This is where I would put the cliché “pain and I are old friends,” but you know what? Pain and I are long-time enemies. Pain is mother-fucker, a bastard, a son-of-a-bitch, an asshole. I hate pain. Pain is a demon that has been torturing and tormenting me, regularly, for as long as I can remember, from the usual childhood injuries of course, but mostly through the agony of migraines that started when I was a teen and continue to this day, and post-surgical chronic pain from nerve damage to my spinal cord that requires daily doses of opioids and regular steroid shots and radio-frequency “nerve burns” to keep at bearable level. But it never, ever, ever goes away. Pain has been pounding at the inside of my left eyeball and eyebrow, and clawing at the back of the base of my skull on the right-hand side, for longer than Gen Z has been alive. My neck pain is old enough to vote. My migraines should start getting mail from AARP any day now. Fuck pain.

And for six days now, I’ve been in pain where my migraines are alternating with a flare-up of my neck pain for supremacy. And you might wonder why this is. Well, it’s because I’ve been tensing my neck and shoulders and clenching my jaw.

From the stress.

You feel it too, don’t you? There’s a friggin’ pandemic outside your door. You can feel it, can’t you? Like a damn Stephen King monster, waiting out there for you to make a false move. You just want to walk the dog, or pick up a gallon of milk, or get a 4-pack of toilet paper (good luck with that!), or grab a box of tampons, or whatever, and you feel like you’re taking your life in your hands just by stepping over the threshold, don’t you? Hell, just opening the door! It doesn’t matter that your rational mind is telling you that the virus isn’t airborne and there’s no darn way you can get it just walking Fido down to the mailbox and back. Your panicked lizard brain is screaming at you, all the time. Someone touched your door handled! Someone brushed against your car door! The mailman wasn’t wearing gloves! That cat brushed against an infected person! Unclean, unclean! Stay inside or die!

Pretty stressful.

Right? You hear that voice; you know what I’m talking about. You’re stressed to the gills. My body is expressing it with tense muscles and a clenched jaw, translating to (goddammit) massive fucking pain.

But you don’t have my issues. So maybe you’re sleeping 12, 14 hours a day and thinking, “WTF is wrong with me? No on needs this much sleep!” Or maybe you’re obsessively watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. Or your favorite anime. Or playing Animal Crossing 10 hours a day. Or have read 4 volumes of Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and are halfway through volume 5. Or have been playing your piano so much your fingertips are dry and cracked. Or have completed 127 new cels for your next animated film. Or like me, have poured out thousands of new words of text.

(Or on the dark side, beating your partner or your kids. Or buying 20 sacks of potatoes at the grocery store. Or having long talks with your dead father. Or something even worse.)

Stress manifests in different ways in different people. I carry mind physically, partly because that’s how I’m built, and partly because I have an autistic son who needs me to keep it together and so flipping out is really not an option.

I can’t help much if you’re in the darker category other than to urge you if you’re locked down with an abuser to get out. I know it isn’t easy, especially now, and I speak from experience. But please try. Please. You don’t deserve what’s happening to you.

And for the rest of us—those sleeping 14 hours, or watching Cowboy Bebop on an endless loop or re-reading their Jane Austen collection for the ninth time or whatever—I would urge you to have some patience with yourself, show some kindness to yourself. You are going through a period of (literally!) unprecedented stress right now. Unprecedented! Cut yourself some slack. Adjusting to such stress is not something you can do by flipping a switch. If you need to take it slow, take it slow. After all, if you force yourself beyond your limits and snap, you’ll be no good to anybody, especially yourself.

And then, set yourself reasonable goals. This won’t last forever (there; I fell into a cliche, but it’s true), and keeping that in mind will help. You can’t control it, so deal with the stuff you can. Cook. Shower. Eat regularly. Brush your teeth. Sleep regularly. I’ve worked from home a lot in my career, and it’s the little regular things that keep you going, believe it or not. Getting up in the morning. Having breakfast. Showering. Lunch. A break in the afternoon. If you need a nap to recharge, then take a damn nap. There’s a pandemic on, FFS; no one is going to begrudge you a 30 minute break. Bring in the mail. Empty the trash. Walk the dog. Feed the cat.

Anchor yourself in these mundane but very real tasks, because they are stuff of life, the tiny threads that can help hold you grounded to the world, help prevent you from coming untethered. Life is a series of moments, many of them mundane, almost all of them completely unrelated to anything to do with the virus. So do those, and think about them while you’re doing them. Yup, I know it sounds silly, but it’ll help.

This is not profound. This is not the universe in a grain of sand, nor am I the Dalai Lama. This is a time of huge fear and transition and stress, and I am a terribly right-brain, rational person. But it seems to me your dog needs someone who is worried more about feeding her, and your lawn needs to be mowed, and isn’t it time you vacuumed because that carpet is starting to make that awful crunching noise, don’t you think? I mean, yuck, right? And maybe in the mundane, you can find a bit less stress, and a bit more peace.