Looking back on my decade of loss during a global pandemic

Gratitude to Minnesota artist Beth Bowman for use of her image.

“It’s the pause that refreshes!” — early Coca-Cola slogan

Here’s the marching orders I got from Glenn, a fellow writer: “So you don’t want to write. And you say you don’t want to write about COVID-19. Why then don’t you just write about not wanting to write about the coronavirus?”

— Hey! You got peanut butter in my chocolate!

— You got chocolate in my peanut butter!

Of course I’ve been inactive here on Medium since the year began, when I wrote this chirpy piece back in January. I still stand by it, but sometimes a metaphor that works about optimism and ambition (bowling) doesn’t work for clinical depression and pandemics (The Hunger Games). What was the big deal? Wasn’t I a writer already, after many years in the business? (And by that I mean, yes I did make money from my writing.) Did I forget that I had my own voice? Was I doubting I had any authority to write about anything whatsoever?

Yes, yes, and yes!

But wait a minute: at least I could take a shot at answering Glenn’s question, “Why not write about not wanting to write about this insanely terrifying global pandemic we’re all going through?” because I knew what was upsetting me about it in the first place.

It was this:

I’ve been living with social distancing and isolation for over ten years now.

It really starts to get to you after, oh, year five. Within a decade you completely doubt your ability to relate to anyone whatsoever. I passed that milestone in March, when most of us first went into lockdown.

But this year has had its share of good news: few of the friends or family members I know who tested positive for COVID-19 (and had all the symptoms across the range we’re currently aware of) were hospitalized or died of it (one of my oldest friends lost his older brother, who had high morbidity due to other conditions). I consider myself (and those I love) very lucky indeed. I follow the protocol: mask wearing, hand washing, people distancing, remote working. As I mentioned to a friend, my rationale is I can’t know the sort of “party” the coronavirus is gonna throw when it gets access to my body. Would it trash the house? Would it eat all the food in the fridge and break a couple windows on its way out? Who knew? It’s a gamble I’m not willing to take.

So, forced isolation. Like my previous ten years. What, you may be wondering, happened prior to 2020?

In 2008 both my parents died, Mom at 73 and Dad at 76. Way, way too soon. I still miss them and work through my grief every day. Also after that year I ended a close relationship and left a dream job that only became less dreamy after an acquisition. I don’t regret my decisions to all these things, I only regret the consequences that followed. It was tough to rebuild relationships and career connections. It still is.

Things got complicated as my horrific decade plodded on, with more deaths and relationships ended, further misunderstandings and confounding situations, bad jobs and rude people — the kind of stuff that tests your mettle and makes you wonder if anything’s worth doing at all. You never really get used to the deaths, the loss, the grief and loneliness. It subsumes you, becomes part of you. And I haven’t been liking the person I became.

So fellow Earthlings, I feel your pain. It’s not going to end soon enough for any of us, and many won’t make it, whether through job change, family loss, divorce, disease (novel coronavirus or otherwise), or mental illness. It’s going to be really, really tough. Take it from me.

And that’s why I didn’t want to write about COVID-19. It’s like an epic Cecil B. DeMille film version of my last ten years — which I wouldn’t even want to watch again at Eastertime with buckets of popcorn and the whole family around.

If you — like me — are craving a happy ending, let’s hope it comes soon. Probably my best advice (and take this with a grain of salt, coming from a certified depressive) is find something you can control, even if you think it won’t pan out in the end (it probably won’t — even this writing, with as much control as I can muster, still probably won’t win over a ton of new readers). The beauty behind finding control is it allows you to focus, so you can begin seeing life as a journey rather than a destination.

There were so many moments in the past ten years when I broke down and didn’t think I could take another step, or make it to another useless working gig. But I did. One step at a time. One great chat with a friend who gave me a small lift, enough to rouse me to get up and try again.

And that’s what I wish for you: a pause that refreshes.

At least until we can all dream in color once again.

Michael Maupin is chief storyteller at StoryShed Learning & Media LLC, and blogs from Minneapolis, Minn. A recovering screenwriter, he launched his WordPress blog Completely in the Dark in 2001 to explore narrative in filmmaking. In 2008 his parents died, so he switched the blog’s focus to family stories — trying to make sense of life while still being “completely in the dark.”

Writer, editor, and media maker. Blogs at Completely in the Dark (www.completelydark.com) and lives in Minneapolis, MN. I notice things.

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