I woke up disoriented again this morning. The way you do when you’re a kid in the early hours of the morning of a sleepover. For seconds that felt like hours, I couldn’t remember how I’d arrived here. No idea where I was, all context escaped me. I gasped, I clutched, I dripped sweat. My life came back to me in slow time, but before then I was panting. Afterwards, I was still panting.
I was vibrating in tune with the TV’s low hum. It was still on across my bed feet beyond my feet. Some forgettable show frozen, greyed out and blurred. Auto-pause. Did I want to “quit” or “continue?” It was too early and I was too bleary. I was still shaking off sweat beads and an anxious gut clench. Making choices would have to be a task left to future me. Too much, too early, too rattled. This violent wakeup has become routine now. Still bad, but not as bad as it used to be. This routine doesn’t recur as much as it used to either. But once it’s happened again, like it did this morning, it can consume the day.
Tapping jitters followed me from bed to bathroom. Jolts of adrenaline wriggled up my legs into the shower. Getting dressed became a ham-handed ordeal. My fine motor skills were a little out of reach. They were behind the cortisol that said I should go across the street to buy doughnuts for breakfast. What was that dream about? Why did it frighten me so much? What was I not remembering? It didn’t matter, never does. It slipped away before I could finish making my way into the kitchen. Then it was time to grind the 1/3 cup of coffee beans for my quad shot of espresso.
Toast. Egg. Smoothie. One part grain (baked). One part protein (boiled). Two parts fruit (blended). I flicked, switched, and pressed buttons. The Breakfast Automatic. I ignored my brain’s cry for sugar and fried trans fats. This too, part of the routine, I’ve gotten used to it. Espresso’s done right on schedule. It synced with the single serve smoothie cycle finishing. And toast popping. And egg beeping. When that caffeine hit my blood stream, 45 minutes after breakfast, maybe I could also be in sync. Me and the world back on the same frequency. It was something I hoped for every morning, but never looked forward to.
But as with every morning, that hope was only a fantasy. A way to extend the liminal space between the kitchen table and my desk. A stretch of living room that I’ve always wished were longer. Working from home has had its perks. Yet this, the short distance between private and professional, has never been a perk. The virtual backgrounds in video calls have made paper barriers during business hours. Their proffered getaways range from outer space to abstract art and piles of puppies. Yet, I haven’t felt the freedom of downtime at home since remote work became the norm.
Every day has been indentured isolation. I’ve woken up, I’ve worked, I’ve done chores, I’ve worked. I’ve tried to read, I’ve tried to watch TV, I’ve tried listening to podcasts. I’ve worked, I’ve worked, I’ve worked. The books have all become research; the TV, instructional videos; the podcasts, motivational fuel to burn. I’ve become a workaholic singularity (as if there were any other kind).
I’ve gotten more done, I’ve gotten less done. Still, I was anxious sitting in front of my keyboard and monitor. I was sweating long after all that coffee had settled my heart rate. I only wanted the torture to end. I launched a couple of apps, opened a few documents, typed, clicked, tapped and the hours became void.
Lunch, snacks, dinner after a while. Didn’t feel like cooking so I payed someone in the restaurant at the end of my block to do it for me. (If you could call fast food joints a restaurant.) Didn’t feel like picking it up so I payed a little more for someone else to do that for me too. Didn’t feel like eating the greasy garbage when it arrived. I was sure you could pay someone to do even that, but not exactly my kink. Instead, I shovelled it down by my own hand.
Eating at the end of evaporative disappearing days was always supposed to be a break. But there’s no break when work is still in sight from the kitchen table. There’s never been any break when you can get emails in your pocket, on your wrist, up next; in your eye. So I bought some escape too. $14 a month and endless one-season cancelled TV shows to stream. Endless digital balm to numb the brain, strain the eyes, and simulate a lack of loneliness at the foot of your bed.
“Are you sure you want to continue watching?”
The voice of our generation. Uncertain, “quit” or “continue” indecision. The panting is back, such heavy breathing over nothing of substance. I’ve always known the answer, but it’s stressed me all the same.
It was already dark, then darker. My head hurt but not numb enough. My stomach hurt. Was it the food or anxiety? Did I pick the right path? Tomorrow I could make better choices. I’d wanted to quit, but I’d already clicked continue.
Please, continue into oblivion.