Rendered Speechless 7

THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY to escape a pandemic. You can shelter in place, go nowhere, see no one, exercise indoors. You can catch up on home-improvement projects, learn how to cook, start painting, read that pile of books that’s been gathering dust on your nightstand. You can finally write that memoir or novel you’ve been wanting to get to.

In my case, I seemed to have been rendered speechless. I ceased creating. I stopped writing — not able to find the words or the will. Piano practice went by the wayside. And though I read news articles incessantly, I couldn’t manage to open a book. And anything like cooking or painting or tackling a new project seemed too daunting to contemplate. Instead, I sank into a vague malaise.

In the beginning, I figured it was the increased demands of my job. The company I work for needed to shift more than 1,200 employees from the office to working from home. As a manager in our training department, I was responsible for developing the training materials to help with that transition, as well as revising all of our new-hire curriculum to be delivered over Zoom for the unforeseeable future. So, I was working 12 to 14-hour days and weekends for several weeks, and I was spending 8-10 hours a day in Zoom meetings. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.

But my sense of unease was deeper than fatigue.

On April 2nd, my only journal entry since March 8, I tried to write about what was going on. I titled my entry “COVID-19 and the End of the World as We Know It.’ 

I wrote, in part:

The world has changed — irrevocably, I think. Has it only been a month? The coronavirus was in the news back in late February and early March, but I didn’t pay it much attention. I had no idea how it would affect the entire world and change our lives. As someone I know said recently, ‘We are living through a historic time.’…

Most of the world’s countries are on lockdown. Businesses have shut down. Grocery stores and restaurants deliver or offer pickup. All personal services have closed. No one goes anywhere, except perhaps to get outside to take a walk…

I haven’t been writing. …I have only been exercising and working.

I thought maybe I was mildly depressed. And who hasn’t been, to some extent? I’m fortunate in that I have a great job that I’m in no peril of losing and a loving partner with whom to spend my time during lockdown. But, like all of us, I’ve been missing my family and friends and the pleasure of going out to a restaurant or a movie.

Instead of my usual activities, I have become obsessed with exercise. For a couple of years, I’ve been rising pre-dawn five days a week to work out, but now it is where my mind drifts when I should be focusing on other things. I plan all my workouts and track my progress — cycling, walking/jogging, yoga, strength and core training. I have joined Peloton and TrainingPeaks, Strava, RGT, BKool, RidingWithGPS, Zwift, Sufferfest (these are all subscription workout apps), and every related Facebook group. And I spend hours on my computer every day researching physical training science and interacting with other athletes.

I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life.

But I recognize this obsession for what it is — an escape from the new, unfathomable reality. Not only an escape from the disease, but also from the toxic political landscape, a different sort of pandemic. When I am working my body, the world, with all its problems, recedes into focused physical sensations: movement, heartbeats, and sweat.

I’m now in the gradual process of emerging from this strange mental-emotional state, returning to reading and writing.

But I feel as though I can’t catch up. So much is happening, so fast. The murder of George Floyd and the resulting demonstrations and chaos across the U.S. have highlighted the systemic racial inequity and violence embedded in our culture. I have both hope that this movement will finally inspire real change and fear that it will all die down and come to nothing. Like so many other demonstrations against war and for social justice in my lifetime.

And so I struggle to find words, because nothing I say or write feels meaningful enough.

I have recently realized that my speechlessness is not caused by depression; it’s grief. Without knowing it, somewhere between my disappointment with the California Democratic primary (I was an Elizabeth Warren supporter) and the social and economic tornado caused by the coronavirus, I had tipped from hope and activism into a profound sense of loss. And all my words felt small and pointless.

Now, as I watch the world roil through the lens of my computer screen, I’m beginning to emerge from my creative torpor. Do I dare hope? Will all this pain and unrest result in honest conversations and positive change? Will previously unheard stories come to light and make a difference? Will I again find meaning in my writing?

I’m sharing this personal story of my own small struggle because I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has been going through something like this, and because I want to help frame what we’ve been feeling and experiencing and together find a way to bridge the gap between our old lives and our new ones. To find meaning again in our stories, however small a piece of the larger puzzle they may be.

So I invite you to share your words — your stories — of what your life has been (and is) like during this COVID-19 pandemic and during this uneasy social-political time in our world.

Send your stories to me using the form on my Write for WTL page, and I will publish them in a new series on Writing Through Times of Change.

I believe our stories — our words — are important. They matter. So let’s share them.


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7 thoughts on “Rendered Speechless

  • Sara Etgen-Baker

    I can relate and had my ups and downs during the shelter-in-place days. I struggled with writing or being motivated for much of anything–a first for me. Like you, Amber, I wondered if I was depressed. I seem to have weathered the storm and am stronger for it and even lost 20 pounds during the past few months–something positive I decided to do for me during the pandemic…something I had control over. Now the toxic civil unrest and political climate is a pandemic in and of itself….difficult to find balance between strong convictions and not over reacting to what I’m seeing. I’m learning to detach and watch less news and making less comments. I had to let most of that go, for I truly have no control over much of it. Thanks for sharing

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Thank you, Sara. Yes, I think we’ve all had to do a lot of letting go during this time with all that is going on. I have been following your coronavirus diary posts on Facebook, and I’m glad you’ve managed to do some writing during this time. Recording this important period of history in all of our lives.

  • Pamela Berglund

    Back in March I had been keeping busy by going to my local Senior Center and leading seniors in different activities from Scrabble two adult coloring and finally to creating a book club for the seniors. My life was full, my days were full and I was able to eat healthy meals every single day. I was ecstatic. Then on March 16th my bubble burst. My family thought that it was too dangerous to go out and be among other people, especially dangerous in my house because my sister has ulcerative colitis. If she became ill from Coronavirus she would not be able to survive. So we all quarantined and I I slowly began to get experiencing cabin fever from staying in the house for so long, I was being kept busy by assisting my grandchild with his daily school work on the computer. Then one day it hit me, I was definitely living in a new world. I refused to feel sorry for myself and went on to take a journalism class online, go on Facebook everyday attend Zoom meetings with my religious organization and made phonde calls on the phone to speak with people I knew we’re feeling lonely themselves. I filled my days with lots of things to do and made sure that I did not feel sorry for myself. I reminded myself that i had a roof over my head, food to eat. I knew was not alone and had the family support that I needed to survive. The Coronavirus has changed my whole outlook unlife and where I was lazy before the virus I am no longer the same person. So is bad as the virus has been on everybody I have been able to look at it in an entirely different light. I am healthy Anna strong and I know that I will stay that way. I hope that you also will learn to feel better as time goes on because we’re all in it together and it won’t last forever.

  • Georgina Mavor

    I live in Australia and although we have had nothing like the holocaust that is going on in the USA, I too went through a period of ‘meaningless’ in which everything I did and believed in came to a standstill. I waited, and slowly my creative verve has returned – without being tied to any outcomes. I suspect very little good will come out of all this, that the majority will go on as it always has. But I know two things – nature will continue to evolve from the climate we are creating and assault us, again and again and again, no matter how much we ignore it. And second, like those before us who continued to walk the road less travelled, voicing what needed to be said, even when no one listened, is important. We may never see the impact of our words in our lifetime, I know however the truth of them will be felt and understood down the track. Keep voicing, keep telling, keep speaking, even if no one is listening.

  • Marie E. LaConte

    “Creative stupor” is a good expression to describe what many of us experienced during the first weeks of the pandemic. I sat in front of the TV for hours, monitoring the news of it, as if my monitoring could effect a change. Too much contemplation regarding a dire, eventual outcome formed the root of my paralysis, and I knew it even as it was happening. I wrote my essay, however, from another perspective, from the experience of helping my grandchildren cope with their own distinctive stresses.