It’s the best way I can describe the feeling that the attendant lockdown of COVID-19 has caused in me. I haven’t spent this much time unshowered, couchbound and generally unmotivated since I was a college student who celebrated the end of every assignment with a few healthy bong rips and a twelve pack of Coors Light.
Despite spending upwards of twenty hours a day in my house, I try my best to get up, to attack each day with SOFLETE’s Die Living mindset that has resulted in the best physical, mental and emotional shape I’ve been in in years. But over the last ten or so weeks, I’ve struggled more to maintain the damn-the-torpedoes mentality by which I have always tried to live my life. Workouts are something I labor through rather than something I look forward to, books pile beside my bed, as my motivation to read is lower than ever, and the idea of spending a large chunk of each day in my home office is something that often drains me of energy, of attitude and of motivation.
The strangest part of my itinerant state is the fact that I’ve been making a living as a freelance writer for a few years now. Thus, spending entire days in gym shorts, taking near constant snack breaks and scheduling phone calls and interviews around my regular midday nap is nothing new to me.
So why now do I feel so different, so unmotivated?
Perhaps it’s the crawl that the outside world has ground to. Or the fact that, though I am still making ends meet, the market for freelancers is more dessicated than I’ve ever experienced. Never have more editors passed on more of my pitches than are right now. Never have I made less money than I have been throughout this pandemic.
Right now is one of the most unrelentingly tough times I’ve ever experienced. But what’s so shocking about it is the low frequency at which the struggle exists. So often, we’re accustomed to life’s rough patches to be accompanied by something major, something devastating; ill health, a complete loss of income, or, in the case of so many in the SOFLETE community, a particularly rough deployment.
But this lockdown doesn’t really fall into any of those categories. It’s neither swift nor violent. Rather, it’s a slow, dull burn. Like being sliced to pieces by a butter knife.
I’m not about to fall short on my bills. My wife, my son and I are as healthy as ever. We have a beautiful home, we have each other, we have some income. All things considered, there is almost nothing to complain about.
Nonetheless, motivating myself day in and out has become one perpetual struggle that needs to be readdressed each and every day.
One of the methods I’ve used to combat this sense of languish has been to reach into my bag of self-employed, work-from-home freelancer tricks that has always seemed to work on days when motivation was in short supply.
That is, to take a shower at a reasonable morning hour, to brush my teeth, floss and comb my hair. To sit down at the table and have breakfast rather than jamming a few hard boiled eggs down my throat. And, most importantly, to put on a set of work clothes that I might attack the day in.
It may seem innocuous, ridiculous even, to put on a pair of chinos and a nice shirt, to pull a pair of dark dress socks over my feet and to tie shoes that might not see the outside all day. But the psychological advantage that the ritual of getting ready for work provides gives me a much-needed shot of get-up-and-go that my regular half-dozen cups of coffee simply can’t muster.
It seems the simple routine of getting ready for work as though I were normally employed like so many other Americans sends a shockwave to my brain, telling it that it’s go time, that there’s work that needs doing and that it’s my job to do it.
Of course, this is not a cure for the sluggishness, lack of motivation, and often very real depression that has accompanied this lockdown for me and so many others. I would never suggest as much.
Rather, approaching your workday as if it were any other is simply a remedy that might make you feel a bit better, a bit more able to get your shit done. A cup of tea for a cold rather than a chug of room-temperature Tamiflu.
At this point, I’ll take what I can get.
Michael Venutolo-Mantovani, a writer and musician living Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is one of the few people on Earth who loves punk rock, creative nonfiction and Olympic weightlifting equally. Born and raised in New Jersey, he tries not to complain about the pizza down here too much.