It took two years, but I finally got COVID. Which now, warrants a very different response. In the early days of the pandemic, we were encouraged to stay 1.5m away, wipe down our groceries, bump elbows and avoid contact with all public surfaces. Now, there’s this expectation that everyone will have their run. The panic has subsided. Those like myself, who have the privilege of not having to remain cautious, aren’t holding back anymore. Life isn’t just back to normal; it’s on overdrive to compensate for the last two years. The recent music festival I attended with 7,000 strangers jumping around made this very clear.
(If you’re interested in having a time capsule of sorts, please check out my friend, Jess’s new book Melbourne: 262 Days in Lockdown.)
Having COVID was my second time being taken out in a month. First, it was a back injury right before the festival. It was excruciating physically and psychologically. The pain was so bad I wasn’t able to even sit up on the toilet. Then there was processing the possibility I wasn’t going to make the festival I had been waiting 2 years for. That, out of all the times I could hurt myself, it had to happen when I had something important coming up.
It was one of those times where things are so sh*t they feel surreal. I found myself lying in my dark bedroom staring at the ceiling in a state of disassociation. Despite the anger right below the surface, I told myself I wasn’t going to explode and make things worse. I was already in physical pain, I didn’t want to take on any more. So I surrendered. I leaned into a state of acceptance. Recognising, that in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge deal. I can just go next year. And all of my friends and my partner – who I told not to stay home with me – were going to enjoy themselves. I told everyone my life was feeling a bit like a sit-com episode – and that I can’t help but laugh. Ultimately, however, due to a positive attitude, a lot of anti-inflammatories and pain killers, and a great osteopath, I was able to get into a state where I could go! I also prayed. Legitimately. Which I now think I should do more often.
COVID was challenging in a different way due to the isolation requirement. I slept through as much as I could as the small living space was starting to feel imprisoning. When I emerged after the week, the world had a special kind of vibrancy to it. As I write this, I’ve hit the one-month mark post sickness and am still very much in the recovery process. There’s been a slump in my energy, mental sharpness and motivation. Projects such as my counselling business and art have been put aside. Being in any sort of recovery reduces one down to their roots. You don’t thrive; you do what you can to just get by.
I’m being called to find peace with where I am and to ‘be here now’ as Ram Dass would say. What I’m taking away is the knowing that sometimes we are steaming ahead; at other times we’re stationary. Which is okay. Life is to be experienced rather than raced through to the finish line. There are places I want to go, but these goals should be held lightly rather than in white-knuckled fists. The purpose of having a vision is to excite me and keep me motivated as I work towards it But the destination is not the be-all and end-all. My worth isn’t tied to my productivity. And my productivity and pace will inevitably vary over time. Lisa Olivera’s book, Already Enough is helping me integrate this.
We go through different seasons – as I was reminded following a visit out of the city to Mt Macedon. The fresh air was welcome and the changing colours of the falling leaves were beautiful. I reflected that life is always in flux. Nothing stays the same and that’s a good thing. Change gives life. And by that, I mean the feeling of being alive. Change stops us from becoming desensitised. As I experienced going back outside after COVID, it keeps us engaged and present. So the world always has some vibrancy to it.
Right now I’m feeling a desire for change in many areas. With my living arrangements – my partner and I have spoken about moving to ensure we have more space, natural environments and like-minded people around us. In my local community – the amount of corruption that has come to light has left constitutes demanding more integrity in politics and action on issues like climate change. In my career – I have a stable, non-emotionally demanding job in the digital space, but am feeling called to work with people in a way where the difference I’m making is more tangible (I’m looking at casual counselling roles on the side). In my body – COVID and my back injury have impacted my fitness so I’m finding myself having to change my approach. I’m not able to throw heavy weights around like I used to. Where I wanted size and strength, I’m now after just feeling fit and taking care of my mental health.
The beauty of growing older is that we do away with the skins we wear to fit in with society and sink deeper into our true selves. Wants give way to needs. We soften and find acceptance. We come to respect our rhythms and capabilities. Again, I’m okay with slowing down. We’re heading into Winter here, which is always a bit more challenging for me as a boy originally from the sunshine state. The melancholy always creeps up on me around this time. I lose that spring in my step and tend to sulk. This is why I’ll look to the reminder tattooed on my shoulder that reads: “whatever season you’re in, do it well.” It’s in the handwriting of a good friend who gave these words to me in 2013 – around a time when I was dealing with a lot of uncertainty around the direction of my life.
Mari Andrew’s recent blog, Which season are you in? has a similar message. Using examples from her own life, she writes that we should honour where we are at rather than trying to force change. While my fitness and business are slowing down, I’m turning to my art. I recently did a Young Writers’ Festival workshop for poetry and will soon have my first gallery exhibition which I’m excited about. If you’re local in Melbourne, please do check it out. Either way, wherever you are, whatever season you’re in, I hope you do it well.
There’s much I don’t know about birds and trees, but this I know for sure: they don’t wonder or worry about whether their lives have meaning. They simply be what they be. In the process, they befriend people like me who are elevated simply by taking time to appreciate the gifts so freely given by the natural world. – Parker J. Palmer