June 25, 2021 • Recharge

What Nourishes Me, Destroys Me

Tom Hanks in CAST AWAY, yelling at Wilson the Volleyball.

What happens when good habits go bad? Since we started moving out of lockdown people seem to be fairly focused on the habits they picked up during the pandemic that they don’t want to give up. For instance, they’re more aware of how they spend their time now. They’re not just going to say ‘yes’ to everything. Everyone seems to want to work from home. We all apparently hate bras and possibly hair dye, even though Botox is on the rise. A few people have told me they are reading more. Some have mentioned they are exercising regularly. 

This is great. I hope everyone keeps up their good habits. The truth is, I’ve been working from home for a long time so I already came into this period with many tried and tested routines, which served me well this past year. I am now more focused on bad habits. Or what have recently morphed into bad habits, catching me by surprise. Sort of like a zombie movie: one minute everything is fine and you’re coping, the next your brain feels like it’s being eaten alive. 

Which is to say, that over the course of the last year, much to my own dismay, I have morphed into a gossip hound. Not even good gossip. We’re talking supermarket checkout, processed corn syrup for the brain gossip. 

I’m not sure how this happened, or when even — at some point checking the Daily Mail in the morning became routine and not the result of an accidental Twitter click — but I do know why. Extreme isolation is brutal. Our brains crave connection. They need it to survive. And as bad as celebrity gossip is, it’s arguably better than talking to a Wilson Sporting Goods volleyball (is it though? I must say I’m unconvinced). After months on my own, with hours spent by myself, it wasn’t just comforting to read about the doings of famous people I did not know (nor had I ever previously cared about), it became some sort of survival measure for my brain. (The official term for this sort of relationship is ‘parasocial,’ and based on the fact I had never heard the word prior to this year, and have now seen it used with some frequency, I’m guessing I’m not the only one who leaned on this particular crutch in the past year.)

This is not a treatise on celebrity during the pandemic, though the popularity of this Instagram suggests a treatise would be deserved (at a party the other night, people told me there are entire Reddit threads devoted to it). Instead, I have been thinking a lot about the things we all did to survive the last year, and how now that we are coming back out into the world, the fact these habits are no longer necessary does not mean they are going away on their own. Our pandemic selves may not be a fit for the post-pandemic world. But how to move from one to the other, without feeling bad? 

Lately, I’ve been reminded of the year during which my mother was sick and, I now realize, dying. There was a period of time when the only relief from the bleakness of constant care and witnessing her decline were the five or so minutes at lunch when I would go down to the hospital cafeteria and eat two double chocolate Tim Hortons (hello, Canada) donuts for lunch. Months later when my clothes no longer fit and I was unable to run one mile, let alone the five I’d been accustomed to, I knew I was supposed to regret all those donuts. But I couldn’t. The five minutes of relief they brought each day during that difficult time was five minutes more than I otherwise would have had. Why should I feel bad about that?

More than anything, this struggle is mostly just a reminder that just as the world flipped overnight last March it has, at least in this country where we tend to throw as much money at a problem as possible to make it go away quickly, flipped back just as quickly. The switch, however welcome, is equally as disorienting. The habits we established to get us through then may take a bit longer to go. But they will. And, as with so much, feeling bad about them is a waste of time. At some point presumably, I will no longer be able to walk you through the details of Angelina’s custody battle, though I don’t intend on giving up Cristina Yang anytime soon.