Binging In Times of Uncertainty

I think I’ve found some sort of sanctuary during this 2020 pandemic.

About 6 months ago, I was working front desk at a hair removal clinic. What seemed, at the time, to be the height of the pandemic was really taking its toll on my overall health. I have my mom who works in the hospital. Her and my sister live 1,500 miles away from me. My father lives 1,800 miles away from me. I was sitting in what now did not feel like home at all, away from my family, while a tiny number on my phone (that I checked every single day) climbed higher and higher. 10,000 cases in my dad’s area, 4,000 in my mom’s, and 5,000 in my own area. Are we going to be okay? I remember my mom told me once that they took all of the masks from her floor, because the hospital as a whole was short, and the emergency had priority on them. I just about had a panic attack then. Thinking about every single person I cared about driving to work, being in close proximity to so many people on a daily basis. We can’t afford not to work, so we just have to be “careful.”

I think I started following this growing pandemic back in December- ever since I saw the first newsreel about it on my Twitter feed. Now I’m not some future-seer, but I felt this twinge in my stomach when I saw the cases growing in China and other parts of the world. That twinge only grew once cases started appearing in America. One was enough for me to start planning for imaginary, dire scenarios in my head. I found a new addiction, and I later found that there was a term for this new addiction- doom scrolling. Every morning, before my morning bathroom break or my morning coffee, my first light of day was the bright illumination coming off of my phone screen. I was placing myself in a pit of despair every morning, like some kind of masochist. Punishing myself.

Then, my state shut down. With the shut down, I felt that I was safer, but everyone I loved still had to work. Every morning that my boyfriend got up for work and left at 5:30am, I was on my phone checking on updated numbers at 8:00AM. I thought to myself, There’s really nothing I can do to protect the ones I love. I could feel myself getting physically sick. Tight-chested, headaches, increased heart rate, and that doesn’t even include the massive anxiety that seemed to bury my mind in heavy, ten-ton thoughts. I would get up from the bed just to settle on the couch and scroll through my phone. Internet, news, twitter feed, news, local health department website, twitter feed, twitter feed, twit… I mean, it went on. I didn’t look up from my phone till about lunch every day. What are other people saying about COVID? What are their experiences? Is it that bad? How many cases in my state today? My mom’s? How is it progressing around the world? If there were ever to be offered text message updates at the time, I might’ve taken them.

Some time after the shortness of breath I was constantly experiencing, I realized that I would literally kill myself with the stress of this. I mean, being so far from my family had already taken its toll on my emotional stability. Added on top of that, the struggles of being a 20-something year old in capitalist America, realizing you’ll probably never be fully comfortable financially but striving to find the closest thing to that as possible. Work and school- both full time. Trying to- unsuccessfully- run a website and write for another. Meet all kinds of deadlines and find the time to nurture all of your relationships- with your parents, baby sister who doesn’t even understand why you’re so far away, your long distance friends, and most of all, your lover. My plate was pretty full, and my mind was in a constant state of activity. I didn’t know how to stop even if I wanted to. When the shutdown started, instead of sitting at a front desk, I turned my job into doom-scrolling and reporting every single piece of new news to my boyfriend- who unfortunately, was on the receiving end of my temporary insanity. It’s like I was addicted to activity, and not working didn’t slow me down, I just found a more toxic way to stay active.

So, I decided to replace the reality of my phone with the fantasy of television. I completely detached from the real world and reattached to imaginary ones. I had all this time on my hands, so no better was there a time to binge some tv shows- the really long ones too. I got up every morning, shuffled with my duvet around my shoulders to the living room, plopped on the couch with a glass of water and coffee, and turned on the television. This is exactly how I would spend the rest of my quarantine (and subsequently, the rest of my year.) I finally got around to cleaning. I was filled with a false sense of happiness and fulfillment while watching a new show. Who cares what’s happening outside this front door when all of my new favorite people are right here on the other side of this screen? I still checked in with my family, but I tried not to let that reality steep into my pool of ignorance. Dinner table talks shifted from the end of the world to “What happened today on this show and that. Who’s dating who, who fought, what did they say, who’s the hero and who’s the villain?”

It wasn’t until I finished the first series that reality really started to set in once more. I had just watched the last available season finale. Sid was laying down for work the next day. A small shadow began to lurk at the corner of my mind. I thought to myself, Wow that’s such a good show. I love these characters. Wow, I wish there were more episodes. What should I do now? What do I do now? I felt that I had lost all sense of purpose in that moment, and the once small, lurking shadow had completely swallowed me and my living room whole without my realizing it. I walked into the room where Sid lay on the bed, and I just started bawling. “What’s wrong,” he would ask. “I finished the show,” I replied. We didn’t say much afterwards. I felt that I had just lost a friend. Who was going to keep me company and distract me now? I was left in the dust while all of my favorite characters got to live on in that fantasy land where people aren’t dying of a new disease, where a pandemic didn’t ensue, where money isn’t even a question, where you always have your friends and family by your side. I wasn’t part of that world. I woke up the next morning with a new set of determination- find a longer show. This continued on and on, and I did find a longer show (one I didn’t even finish until after the quarantine was over.)

I returned to work. I definitely stopped checking the number of cases daily. I check them probably once a month now. But there continues to be this air of uncertainty and discomfort around me- around everything- that has seemed to linger since quarantine. Probably because we are still very much in the MIDDLE of this pandemic, even though most of us have returned to work full-time, like everything is normal. It’s also probably because it’s an election year, I’m still far from my family, and the world seems to be deep in the shitter with no way out. So my binge-watching has continued. I still cry all the time, and I just start a new show every couple of weeks whenever I feel like I’m nearing the end of another. I’ve found coping with the shit of current life in tv. It makes sense considering I grew up mostly as an only child. I didn’t go out to play much with friends and siblings. I stayed in and watched tv or read a book. When I was in trouble or grounded, I just buried myself in more books. I could never feel truly bored as a kid as long as there was some sort of media near me. I went on to bury my nose in books until I was about 16, and I finally started getting busy with friends and whatnot. My whole life has been spent coping through media, and it gets me through tough times, but it also takes me too far away- to the point that when I come back, I’m disappointed that I’m stuck here. I can probably find something better, like writing it out, therapy, or exercise. Maybe I’ll start after finishing my next binge.

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