At the beginning of isolation the bad days came once a week. They were tinged with a melancholy that, beholden in the right light, had the romantic quality of a Shakespearian play. On one or two particularly melodramatic occasions I even shed a few tears, luxuriating in its cathartic after-effect while shamelessly pity-texting a friend pining for sympathy.
“I hope this email finds you well during these strange and challenging times.”
When I first began using this email greeting, which has replaced standard emailing etiquette across the board, I meant each word wholeheartedly. I truly did hope the email found them well. But like many of the recent changes and upheavals in our daily lives, the things that once felt significant can lose their meaning quickly.
In recent weeks my intermittent sadness has given way to numbness and fatigue. The daily doomsday announcement, which I once tracked religiously, is barely afforded a passing glance. Like many of us I was a fervent amateur epidemiologist at the outset of the pandemic, but the endless debates about lockdown exit strategies that weasel their way into every single conversation are beginning to grate.
As of late I’ve noticed that the bad days are coming fast and steady, their recovery periods longer. One bad day spills into two, then three. The novelty of the early days helped absorb the sting of overwhealming loss, but as time crawls on, the sacrifices demanded of us have become harder rather than easier to bear.
My threshold to tolerate human suffering, real or fictionalised, indigenous or exogenous, is diminishing, making it harder to accommodate my affinity towards darker genres of music and films. I had to watch ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ in two sittings to get through the whole thing, which is unlike me, and there have been days where my staple diet of heavy techno has felt too crushing, as though my body, feeling waif-like had to physically receive the impact of the pummelling beats.
I’m not the only one feeling too raw to enjoy dystopian commentary on the fuckuppery that has defined the 20th century. Black Mirror series creator Charlie Brooker has returned to writing comic scripts “aimed at making myself laugh”, claiming he doesn’t think there is much appetite for a new series at the moment.
Like Brooker, I am revisiting artefacts from happier times to help me get through the present tense.
I have found myself gravitating towards uplifting and over-produced pop classics reminiscent of more innocent periods in my life; their plastic, shiny texture feels safe and sanitised, the banality of the lyrics a welcome respite from the all the doom and gloom. Prince, Kyle Minogue, and Britney have all had a look in, but Robyn is the Swedish goddess whose syrupy lyrics and bubbly synths have been my saving grace. At my lowest ebb I played Rebecca Black’s infamous song ‘Friday’, which also served as a handy reminder of which order the days of the fall (and also mostly because Vice made a mini-doc about her infamous rise to fame).
This retroaction of music appreciation has proved a tried and tested coping mechanism during periods of distress throughout my life. I select a song, usually a girlhood pop favourite, and play it obsessively on loop, its repetition simulating a synthetic predictability that counters the loss of control defining reality. I have recently complied these songs into a Spotify playlist, which I have labelled ‘Guilty Pleasures’ in case it should one day be discovered.
For those of us who have been lucky enough to escape loss of employment, illness or the death of a loved one, although we may be growing stagnant through sensory-deprivation, at times it can feel difficult to rationalise that we are in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis. Confined to the familiar domestic setting of our own homes inventing endless chores to distract ourselves, the carnage and devastation typically associated with a crisis is happening elsewhere, quite literally out there. I imagine what it will be like recounting my personal experience to future generations: ‘It was awful, a huge tragedy. I worked from home, couldn’t see my friends or get laid, and basked in the sunshine reading books.’
When the low points do come, (as one friend aptly put it, “Most days are grand, but some days you wake up and feel like you’re in the middle of a pandemic”), I try to remember the frontline healthcare workers. They have borne the brunt of the suffering while tirelessly performing their duties; the first-person stories they tell their grandchildren will be harrowing.