Right now, a drug addict paces in the ER, so desperate for a fix that COVID-19 holds no terror for them.
Right now, some sick person is waiting too long for an ambulance because two paramedics are running up to an addict’s apartment to Narcan them for the third time this month.
Right now, an addict is spamming one of their doctors’ overloaded phone lines with demands for prescriptions.
That addict could be me.
It’s been more than eight years since I got clean. Since I experienced the magic mix of luck, grace, privilege, and yes, hard work too, that helped me (so far) beat the odds.
If I were still deep in my addiction right now, I could do any of the things I’m thinking about. It would feel like a matter of survival to get the drugs I needed, and the threat of deadly illness to myself and others would feel very far away.
Someone who routinely takes a handful of pills they know might kill them isn’t exactly dialed in to any logic of self-preservation, let alone consideration of others.
I’m not doing anything great in the pandemic so far. I don’t work in an essential business like health care or food acquisition. I’m one of the many whose most useful contribution is to stay the fuck home and take really good care of myself to minimize the chances of getting sick, or having to go the ER for any other reason.
But at least I’m doing that instead of being an active liability. And if all I’ve accomplished in the past eight years is just developing the ability to be less of an asshole at a time like this, I’ll take it.
Yesterday, I heard an opinion that those like me who live with mental illness won’t suffer as badly during the pandemic as those who are used to being happy and productive.
The logic goes like this: we’re used to feeling bad, we’re used to sitting on the sidelines and not being able to do much, so how is this different?
I didn’t know how to react when I heard this. I wanted to talk about what it’s like to be seen as a constant liability to the world. I wanted to point out that right now a lot of mentally ill people are trying extra hard not to be a burden on an overloaded system. When their symptoms torment them, the knowledge of the crisis feeds their shame and lowers their resistance to judgment and stigma.
There is no time to be mentally ill while the world burns, the thought repeats. So what if they’ve run out of their meds, or if the only thing keeping them going was that therapist they can’t go see now.
They will not ask for help. They will try to cope as best they can. Some will fail to make it through.
You are loud today, world.
This is not a week when I can even try to defy you, blot you out or forget you.
There is no muffling the parts of your voice that shriek at me not to write. That tell me it won’t matter, that any story I tell is unimportant. That thinking about the projects I cherish is shallow and self-absorbed.
You are here in the room with me, humming and babbling and singing.
So get comfortable.
I have found extra chairs.
Sit here, pandemic.
Read over my shoulder, climate change.
Correct my spelling, cruelty. Play with my paper clips, ignorance. Have a mint, fear.
Let us write together.
I have a secret. A dirty, dirty secret. One that’s been embarrassing me more than my drug addiction, or mental illness, or other general faults and vulnerabilities.
Writing that makes me immediately feel the need to write that I’m also sad, frustrated, angry, worried, afraid, et cætera. As is normal for the times we are living in. And those things are true.
But, at certain moments, I’m happy. And when I am—here’s the REALLY embarrassing part—I think I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.
The last five years have brought a flowering of creativity and the growth of a completely illogical degree of self-acceptance. Never total, never unchallenged, but there.
As the world goes to shit around me, I’m having fleeting experiences of joy and wholeness. My superego tries to tell me I’m shallow and self-absorbed for feeling these things. My heart is not listening.