Snap Out of It: Regaining control amid coronavirus

The reason people are hoarding toilet paper is Freudian, as some theories would have it. According to Freud’s five phases of development theory, toilet training (the anal phase, as it were) is one of our earliest experiences of control. We learn to master our bodies and earn praise for doing so, by pooping and peeing where and when we should. More toilet paper=more control. This makes perfect sense to me—control freak than I am.

One of the most challenging things (of the innumerable challenges) in this Coronavirus crisis has been the loss of control. Control over how to work, play, socialize, feed ourselves, and otherwise spend our time and money are limited by our desire to be safe and healthy and to protect the health and safety of others. Stay home, stay safe is a trade-off most sentient human beings gladly accept.

What’s harder to accept is the loss of control over our emotions. I don’t know about you, but there is a CAT-5 hurricane spinning from the outer banks of my chest cavity to behind my eyes. At any given moment, I am grateful, guilty, heartbroken, stunned, angry, frustrated, anxious, focused, distracted. The tears come in a gust and go just as quickly.

“There are no right ways to feel,” reads every other social media post, as a variety of emotions should be a revelation. We’re all feeling too much, eating too much, drinking too much, sleeping too much, watching too much Netflix, and so on. I know this because, like everyone else, I am reading and sharing my every thought and good deed on Facebook. You know, so others don’t feel so alone. It’s like the online competition has changed from winning at life, love, and happiness to who can be the most empathetic.

“Take a break from the writing and take care of yourself,” my MFA faculty reassured my fellow students and me by email when this all began. A week or two into an unprecedented global pandemic, this made sense. We needed a minute if only to inventory our supplies of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. A month later, this advice hasn’t aged well, and it keeps coming from every direction. Celebrities, withering without a spotlight, are especially annoying. They make videos of dance moves, produce Zoom talk shows, and try their hands at home-cooking from their Architectural Digest-worthy kitchens. They are spreading hope and laughter and tips on hygiene and home-schooling. Thank goodness for celebrities!

The content barrage wears on me because, while some of it is entertaining, much of it is created on the assumption that us regular folks need advice on how to pass the time without easy access to Target and wine bars. Worse, they assume that we have a lot of spare time to fill.

Enough already. STOP with the hand-washing videos, and tips to cure boredom, and all that empathy, celebrities. We are not just like you. Most Americans are juggling jobs and kids without daycare, family members who are sick or at risk, bureaucratic mazes, and going to the grocery store (if they’re lucky) or to the foodbank (if not).

There is no way around it. Coronavirus is impacting all of us in ways big and small. My minor inconvenience is that I’m having difficulty writing about what I’ve wanted to write about. How can I reflect on the hilariousness of menopause and aging and trying to reinvent myself, when the virus has attached itself to my plotlines like the infectious plague that it is? When the emotional wind picks up, and I’ve had a glass of wine or two, the question becomes (please read in an Eeyore voice), “how can anything I write about be relevant to anyone ever again now that everything has changed?” Poor me.


“The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops. Eventually.”

– Eeyore (A.A. Milne)

I had a revelation last night. I cannot stay stuck forever. We don’t know how or when the Coronavirus crisis will pass or what our daily lives will look like when it does. Get some extra toilet paper because we have no control over that.

It’s like the Cure Your Fear of Flying audiobook I listen to as the plane rolls down the runway. “All you can control is how you react,” says the soothing voice in my earbuds. He’s right. We can’t control the turbulence (in the air or on the news); we can’t control how others feel or react or behave—any more than we can control our feelings.

But I can control my actions. What I eat and drink; when I go to bed and wake up; how much I exercise, who I follow or unfollow on social media—how much time I spend in front of my computer, at least trying to write. I don’t know about you, but every Monday morning, I vow to stick to a schedule and make better choices, and by Monday evening, I have failed. So begins a doom-loop of remorse and “if only’s” that just prolongs any meaningful productivity.

But I’ve got shit to do!

 Do you know that scene in Moonstruck? Cher slaps Nicolas Cage hard across the face and says, “Snap out of it!”

I gave myself one of those (metaphorically) the other night, and it helped. I had to stop and tell myself that the pandemic is not all there is to write about and that as much as I shouldn’t be too self-critical. Maybe, I could try not to lean so hard on Covid19 as an excuse for what I am and am not doing.

Because there are still many things over which I have all the control I need.

Published by Catherine H Palmer

I used to help big companies tell their stories, now it's time to tell my own. I blog about midlife reinvention and making a new life in rural Vermont. Follow me, I have no idea where I'm going.

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