Have you ever done the “in bed” thing with fortune cookies? My friends and I thought it was a riot in our 20s. It’s a simple game: You add “in bed” to whatever fortune your cookie gave you. For example: “You will meet a mysterious stranger … in bed.” Or: “A new adventure awaits … in bed.” Very funny. Har har.
That’s sort of how it feels now with coronavirus. Every time I worry about our relaxed rules, I add that asterisk: But, coronavirus. For example: “I’m drinking a glass (or two) of wine per night. But, coronavirus.” Or: “The kids are sitting in front of screens for 5 hours per day. But, coronavirus.” Or: “The kids are bypassing carrots and hummus to stuff their faces with ice cream. But, coronavirus.”
Maybe you have your own version of this fun game. Whenever I’ve broached the subject with my friends, they admit that they’re succumbing to the Quarantine Slide. They’re making bigger, stiffer drinks than they used to. They’re baking way more cookies than they used to. Their kids are spending way more time on screens than they used to. But come on. Coronavirus!
In the early days of the pandemic (before we were even calling it a pandemic), I reached for these crutches because I was scared. And it was a new kind of scared. No one had any definitive answers about how this wily virus infected, presented, or killed. In the early days, when the virus was primarily in Washington state, the federal government dismissed it as “just a flu,” and something that would just go away. I remember saying to Steve, way back in March: “No one is coming to save us, are they?”
Now, the mood has shifted. We’re all antsy and anxious about being cooped up with our families for two months. It’s not normal for people to be together all the time. We’re worried about the economy. But we’re also, increasingly, really angry. We’re judging each other. We’re railing at the government. We’re looking for theories that confirm our own suspicions. We’re lashing out at teachers and officials that we feel are doing the wrong things. We feel as though we have no control, and that’s emerging as fury. And so, we reach for our calming crutches to take the edge off.
Except, here’s the thing. It’s been over two months for us here in Washington. The coping strategies are becoming habits. And habits are hard to break. By most accounts, this probably won’t be our last quarantine. We’ll emerge for awhile, and then, as cases spike, we’ll withdraw again. I need to find other ways to blur the edges than my nightly glass (or two) of wine.
Here’s my cycle: I wake up with a wine headache, and I vow to abstain. Then, I’ll have a day where doing dishes is a Sisyphean task, where Evan falls dramatically from his chair when asked to do math, and one of the cats pukes on the computer keyboard. That lovely, velvety glass of Pinot Noir just beckons me. It promises — and delivers — exactly what I “need”: a way to turn down the volume on the irritation and anxiety. Pouring that glass, I feel like failure, but when I sip it, I feel like I’m tumbling back into a pile of fluffy pillows. And then, I wake up with a wine headache again.
I’m not drinking to excess. Usually, it’s one glass. Sometimes, it turns into two. But that adds up, and I’m concerned. Both about this “need” to find edge-smoothing from alcohol, and the insidious calories my Velvet Friend is delivering to my waistline. If I’m honest, the latter is what makes me most worried. And that’s because my big crutch — which is detestable rather than pleasurable — is my eating disorder.
In times of stress, my decades-long struggle with food and weight pops back up like an unwanted houseguest. It’s a long story, so I’ll give you the Cliff Notes: At 15, I wanted to lose a few pounds. I got positive feedback for that weight loss, so I lost more. And more. Before too long, I was 89 pounds and my dad was weighing me every week. But I was clever: I took some old ankle weights from my figure-skating days, cut off the straps, and stuffed them in my pocket.
I “cured” myself so my parents would get off my back, but by then, the die was cast: Restriction was where I went during times of stress. Sometimes it was food; sometimes it was punishing, hours-long workouts that I disguised as “training” for my many running races and triathlons.
When Bini was 2, I realized that my destructive behavior was incompatible with my efforts to be a decent mother. So I took a year, and did intensive therapy. I worked with a nutritionist. It was a very uncomfortable process. And I did make some progress. But again, I wouldn’t say I was “cured.”
So. It’s 2020, we’re in quarantine. I’m home all the time. People keep bringing me baked goods. There’s always a delicious bottle of wine ready to be uncorked. I’m spending a lot of time in my own head. I’m stressed. I’m anxious. It’s fertile ground for my old nemesis.
But I’m terrible at restricting my food anymore. It’s not very fun. So I’m back to my punishing workouts. I ride my Peloton until I look like a wet cat. I lift heavy weights. I swing kettlebells. Exercise is helping people stay centered, right? But Steve isn’t fooled — he knows what I’m doing. I know what I’m doing.