Day 96

Life descended into misery quickly and aggressively.

It’s 96 days, give or take several hours, since my self-imposed shelter in place order began — though I wouldn’t describe my existence as a lockdown or quarantine these days.

Phase 3 of Chicago’s COVID-19 reopening started June 3, I think, in the midst of world-rocking protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. I had crossed two state lines to spend a few quiet, peaceful days — or so I’d hoped — in my hometown.

But wherever you go, there you are. My anxiety sat patiently in the passenger seat of my rental car down I-55, cutting west at Springfield, across Missouri and into Kansas City. It begged for scraps of the Butterburger I wolfed down in the parking lot of a gas station and got a contact high from sour sugar coating the gummy worms that were a sorry excuse for dinner.

It listened along to 1619, the New York Times Magazine‘s beautiful storytelling podcast about being Black in America since the first enslaved people were brought to the colonies on a ship from Africa.

And it came to play on the spotless floors and high-piled carpeting of my mother’s house, pulled up a chair to the fire pit, stood vibrating next to me while I stirred stock the pot for into my mom’s favorite risotto recipe.

My anxiety had been climbing steadily week by week anyway, as my contact with the outside world continued to decrease and my willingness to engage with it beyond an errand or short walk continued to wane.

I’d met weeks earlier with a psychiatrist in my desperation to find another deep breath, to sleep through the night, to focus through another work day, to rediscover hope. Adjusting to a dramatically increased dose of the SSRI I’ve been taking since just after I moved to Chicago, my body and brain fought for equilibrium in the form of a borderline manic bump.

This doesn’t feel good. Not much feels good.

I’ve resorted to popping a Xanax each night before bed, half a milligram of blissful darkness that blankets my brain until my alarm stirs me awake in the morning.

Waves of agony from the battering our white-supremacist world — and my complicity in it — and my flailing, futile, neverending work to dismantle what little of it I feel I can — beat at me every day. I cry. I pick fights. I shut down. I crave brief, superficial comfort from new Queer Eye episodes and frozen yogurt with cookie dough and the weight of a cat on my lap.

I read. I’ve devoured anti-racism books. I scroll #BlackLivesMatter and #sharethemicnow and #JusticeforBreonna and stories from Black racial justice educators until my heart threatens to explode. I repost. I share. I donate. I email representatives. I’m joining a Me & White Supremacy book club.

I don’t know where my anxiety stops and my exhaustion and heartbreak begins, or the other way around, or some version of it.

But it is privilege even to sit — albeit uncomfortably — with those feelings knowing I am safe and protected and prized in this country, which is built on the backs of Black people, just for my whiteness.

Yesterday, I volunteered to help out at the first farmers market of the season, checking in with vendors, monitoring customers for symptoms, and ensuring everyone entering was wearing a face covering.

A white man approached me and refused to put on a mask, proclaiming it a free country and the parking lot where the market is held a place he is entitled to enter without a covering — after all, we were outdoors and he pays taxes.

He blustered and yelled and spittle flew from his uncovered mouth; I was later called out by a fellow market attendee a Facebook post for being brave and gracious. I spent most of the afternoon treating dissociative water.

It was the second day in a row a stranger had nearly assaulted me: the day before, a woman with a mental illness lunged at me when I went into the alley next to my apartment to ask if she was all right.

The man filed a complaint with the city, which I had to take time out of my day to respond to. An inconvenience that dredged up all the feelings I had yesterday and boarded over all the positive vibes I’d been feeling after my first in-person yoga class in more than three months.

And it occurs to me only now that the maskless man I came to blows with could not only have toppled me with his size and strength but killed me with the squeeze of a trigger, had he been carrying a concealed firearm.

I could have died. Me.

That’s how fucking crazy the world has gotten. How toxic whiteness and the patriarchy are. That man was a red-faced, bile-filled manifestation of both.

It’s a wonder more people aren’t choking on their own anxiety.

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