Lockdown forces us to listen to ourselves



I met someone recently. Me. Listen, don’t worry, I’m not going to endlessly drone on about what sort of impact this pandemic is having on all of us. I’ve done that before, as have many others, and frankly the idea of dwelling on the virus and its impact on our society has been saturated, satirized and recycled, probably because it is such a flexible topic, or maybe because none of us has any answers and ends up just talking past each other.

Question: do you think we missed out on a set of experiences and with that instances of growth over the last year, and perhaps more astonishingly, can the first domino towards substantive personal growth really be a deadly virus? Further, have we unknowingly messed with the concept of synchronicity? Also, who has the time to sit there and philosophize about all this? Oh … right. We all do. Also, this paragraph is what it sounds like in my head almost all the time. I am constantly scrambling, trying to find “the meaning” or some sort of pattern so I can finally relax a little.

Everyone keeps talking about not being able to be around other people, and I think this new reality has finally given us what we probably need the most; the opportunity to really get to know ourselves. Also, I think it may have catapulted me into an unexpected midlife crisis. And I am not alone.

But hold on; I don’t know anything about what a midlife crisis really is, let alone if I am in the midst of one. It is entirely possible I am just reacting to not having many choices or that I am just experiencing the stressfulness of the unknown, but the past year has been eye-opening. This treading water effect where you are exhausted from not getting anywhere, or the eggshells you walk on have stopped making noises. Yes I realize how peculiar that sounds. No, I don’t mind sounding peculiar. It’s about the only thing we have left that this virus can’t touch.

I feel like we’re all in the book Walden, a bunch of rag tag Henry David Thoreaus, only this time the solitude came to us, and instead of being fiercely self-reliant we are beholden to all levels of government in every you can imagine. Wait, I promised myself I wouldn’t touch politics in this piece, meaning if I was writing this on paper, that last sentence would have been where the pencil snapped. Yes, in a way I am also the pencil. More on that never.

Mental health is a cunning adversary, and not without a sense of timing. Long bouts of depression, wicked anxiety, break-ups, lost job/income, new job requirements, personal bankruptcy, failed small businesses, a rise in suicide – all of these issues are impacting us or someone we know – the ramifications of which we might not fully understand for decades, if ever. Meanwhile, we seem to have little choice but to allow something called COVID-19 to define who we are right now, and I can’t shake the gut sensation that something behind the scenes of this crisis feels off. The spokespeople on television, the contradictory news, the ideologues who mock people in masks, the mask-wearing folk who swarm the maskless inside grocery stores, the grandma who dies without seeing her family for the last six months of her life – all of it feels unnatural, like we know there is a curtain somewhere that requires lifting, but we don’t know where to find it.

Most people I know feel something similar. We all have a different way we define it, if we attempt to define it at all. For most of us it might just be a feeling we get when our pattern-seeking brains are attempting to find normalcy embedded in the lifestyle shift. This pandemic is as pivotal for the planet as WW2, the difference being WW2 caused people who would have never met to cross paths, while COVID is keeping us isolated from everyone except our friends and family members inside our bubbles.

As a fun thought experiment, I try to imagine all those personal connections lost, simple interactions that would have inevitably led to relationships, and cohabitations, and new human beings. Fate seems malleable as pivotal moments fall outside our control as we wait out the crisis, our hopes and worries wrapped and beribboned like the Amazon-delivered gifts last Christmas. By looking inwardly to fill the void from not moving freely, I think we are also taking inventory of our entire society, reassessing our views on everything from nutrition to celebrity culture. While our collective lens appears tinted with uncertainty for some, others are experiencing definitiveness, where all of a sudden your own transformational life choices arrive early.

For example, I have spoken with dozens of individuals and couples who used COVID to springboard themselves into early retirement. Many other couples, including young millennials, have abandoned their urban, shoebox-ridden lives for century homes in less populated areas, including places like the Madawaska Valley, just so they can finally escape the city.

As for those of us still years away from retirement, with kids, a modest income, household debt and typical family issues, a midlife crisis seems almost compulsory. And hey, my version of midlife has everything you might think it would have – relentless anxiety, insomnia, a tendency to be almost completely non-communicative with friends, family, and colleagues, and an overriding sense that I have fallen short of attaining most of my life goals. Oh stop I’m fine, and in my blind acceptance that this is my midlife crisis, my mental health Mardi Gras, if you will, I recognize an intense longing to revisit the things that have lingered since my teenage years.

These are not just creative pursuits, ladies and gentlemen, they also happen to be the easiest kinds of creative pursuits to mock.

The following statement is 100 percent true: I am a 44 year old man who now specializes in taking photos of snowflakes, as well as an apparent preference for strong, phallic symbolism, usually in the form of a picture of an icicle. Furthermore, I have come out of retirement and (now behave ladies) am once again a dope ass white rapper. Come on, how can that not be a clear list of midlife-related symptoms?

A thought just occurred; maybe I am wasting this endless COVID chapter, even though I am finally fulfilling those parts of me that were pushed aside all these years, dormant dreams shaken awake for  selfish endeavours that will hopefully translate into a better me. Or maybe not. I really don’t know anything except that I love taking those photos and spitting those lyrics.

If approached the right way, maybe the stresses of this pandemic can be redirected, resulting in me being a better father and husband. Oh crap, I just did what I said I wouldn’t do – drone endlessly about the impact of COVID, so I’ll just end this paragraph by saying I’m a better rapper at 44 than I was in my 20s (no – for real, it’s true. I know).

I spend a great deal of time meandering through my memories, immersing myself in taking photos and writing words, or singing with my daughter. These things just feel like therapy to me, and I think what I am really trying to do is build something for my kids so they can get to know a side of their dad they hadn’t really met before.

When I am dead, the recorded songs, the photos, the video rants where I only record my eye darting as I rant about stepping on Lego – these creations are an insurance policy in case they never meet this version of me.

It’s been a tough 12 months. My marriage is a little strained, financial problems remain, and I’m having trouble keeping that anxiety at bay. Admitting that kind of detail isn’t easy, by the way, but I think that’s the point. I wish I did have some sage advice to give, but I think we are all better off just listening to ourselves for once; that thirsty, relentless, omnipresent voice inside, begging us to start filling the well again. It could be taking photos and writing songs, or refinishing furniture, or tending to indoor gardens, or culinary arts, or voraciously reading, or reaching out to an estranged friend or family member, or even becoming happily withdrawn from the world and the people who live here. Maybe the best advice is to just be you, even if that means meeting yourself for the very first time. It isn’t easy to look in the mirror, I know, but that is precisely the point.

All photos James Di Fiore

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