Rough One

Today started OK. Woke up at a decent hour after not enough sleep. Sipped coffee and read the news (which, now that I think about it, probably isn’t the best thing for me in this new dynamic). Then I went and sat on the patio, got some sun, listened to a podcast. Snuggled with my wife once she woke up. Ate a big lunch. So far, so good.

I was hoping to spend the afternoon thanking the last of the people who wished me “happy birthday” on Facebook, maybe do some writing, perhaps finally get my home office looking like an office again.

Anyway, it was about this time that, for some reason, our downstairs neighbors – who are wonderful and always incredibly considerate – started either moving furniture or doing construction or test-firing a cannon collection, not sure really, but it started ratcheting up my anxiety. I’ve got noise-canceling headphones which have been a life-saver in the green room at work and if I’m ever writing at a cafe but are pretty ineffective at blocking out the literal shaking of my apartment floor.

On top of that, a couple moved into the loft next door just a few days before L.A. shut down and, while they may very well be wonderful, philanthropic people who foster animals and are working on a COVID-19 vaccine, all I know about them is that the husband runs up and down the stairs like a 5-year-old several times a day and it sounds/feels like he’s doing shuttle runs in work boots on our rooftop. So naturally, as soon as downstairs would take a break to reload, next door would offer some rumbling to fill the silence.

I started to feel panicky and I don’t normally get that way. (At least I don’t think so.) In the time before the virus, if I felt anxious, I would just take a drive, go for a run or just get the hell out of the house. But now, all of those things actually amplify my anxiety. All my usual coping mechanisms are gone.

Feeling defeated, I told my wife I was going to lay down for a bit. I eventually dozed off but each slam from below or bang from next door jolted me awake, heart racing.

I keep hoping that I’m going to turn a corner and things will start being easier. I pick days which feel like they’d be a good place for a fresh start – a Monday, the first of the month, my birthday – but it just ends up being another anxious or uneventful day.

I’m reminded of a feeling I had back when I left the structure of working full-time in Japan to be a stay-at-home “author” in Seattle. In a blog post I wrote at the time, I described the feeling as follows:

In high school, I was on swim team and we used to train 6 days a week in an Olympic-sized pool with lanes. At first, I couldn’t go very fast and I always seemed to drift into oncoming traffic. But, the more I swam, the more comfortable I became. I got used to where the lane lines should be in my field of vision. I learned how to breathe. I also learned how to take advantage of being able to flip-turn and push off of the wall every 25 meters. Eventually, I reached a point where I could swim for hours with no problem. That’s what Japan was like.

Yet, put me in the ocean and I felt like a beginner again. There was no structure. No walls to push off. I felt, quite literally, out to sea.

And that’s how I feel now. As haphazard as my work hours could be at Universal, it provided the hard landscape I could build the rest of my life around. Now, with no structure and no routine, I’m back out in the ocean but, this time, the life guards won’t let me come ashore.

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