Op-Ed: A Self-Isolating Anxious Mind

The last little bit of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of a film 2001: A Space Odyssey features a man quietly, solitarily living out his days in a windowless, white room, slowly aging, eventually dying, all the while being eerily observed by a giant black rectangle he seems oddly accustomed to. That’s my memory of the scene, at least. I haven’t watched the film in a while but it came to my mind recently as I sat at my desk in my dorm room and quietly ate some trail mix as my propped-up phone stared back at my lonely face like that giant black rectangle that may or not have jumpstarted human evolution or some such vague cinematic tomfoolery. It’s supposedly clearer in the book.

A romanticized representation of my listless distraction, which is more accurately just a barely audible groan of frustration, brought to you by my measly skills with acrylics.

Amarillo and Canyon are in lockdown. Classes are online. Everyone nationwide is being urged to stay inside to prevent the spread of COVID-19; meaning that I now actually have nothing but time to do all of the things I’ve complained for four semesters about not having enough time to accomplish. And I have instead finished three series, begun two new shows and consumed way too much of The Office for no other reason than it affords me an opportunity to stop thinking. I now have zero excuses for not doing good schoolwork, which, in turn, has made my schoolwork somehow worse. Picking up dinner from the cafeteria is now a highlight of every day. I’m proud when I draw a picture instead of writing a paper because at least I wasn’t still in bed.

Anxiety occasionally grips me violently at night. Statistics shave me down to a number in my brain and I fear being one of the two percent that won’t make it through to see 2021. In between periods of blissful avoidance of serious contemplation and subconsciously ignoring the exact reasons I’ve been interacting with so few people, I am struck by the weight of the situation and join the collective international grieving. In part, I grieve for my lack of grief. This pandemic has hit in a way I certainly never imagined a pandemic hitting. The sun is bright at last, the sky still hosts wonderful symphonies of color each evening, birds chirp, cars still drive around and there are very few people walking around in hazmat suits—so far zero. It all makes it very easy to forget the gravity of the situation. Which is nice, because every time that gravity sinks in, it’s like a freight train.

I read a lot, but none of the books that I’ve been meaning to dig into. I read morbid warnings and statistic pile-ups that frighten me. I read of people dealing with trauma and loss, of people trying to make sense of what is happening. It may be a good coping mechanism for some, but it really does nothing to better my condition. So, I’m trying to stop. I’m trying to call people more. I’m using my free time to check off a list of things that I’ve put off for so long it’s ridiculous they still need to be done. I may start jogging or doing small work out routines to keep active, though, I’ll be real, this is likely a pipe dream. I wrote a poem yesterday at 2 a.m. about Britney Spears. I guess what I’m trying to say is the black rectangle that watches everything I do may be less embarrassed by me in a few weeks. My anxiety has plagued me less and less. And I painted a blotchy mess resembling a nebula or my attention span and it’s been exhilarating to accomplish things and plot out the rest of my month which is dripping with potential achievement.

I have nothing new to say regarding our collective situation. Plenty of people call for invigorated creativity, heightened responsibility, safety, empathy and containing existential panic. And every toilet paper joke has been made twice over. What I can offer is an outlook. Our time alone is an opportunity for self-reflection, self-improvement and self-evaluation. It’s not made clear in Kubrick’s film, but I don’t think the guy in the white room was truly aware of what was happening as he wasted away in his isolation, doing everyday things for no reason. In the end he dies and is reborn as a floating space baby overlooking the planet earth for yet more vague, unexplained reasons. In a few weeks or more, I will be released back into everyday life, as will each one of us. What I wish to see when I survey the fruits of my isolation are not the crumpled husks of wasted days, but a plethora of beautiful successes, ranging from inconsequential to life-changing. Our initiative isn’t voided by a lockdown. Time sure isn’t stopping until we get back on the ride.

And for those like me, who may feel a little to a whole lot of anxiety about that, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has recently announced a toll-free COVID-19 mental health support line that will be available to anyone 24 hours of every day of the week. The number is (833)986-1919. Also the complete series of Samurai Jack has been put on the Adult Swim website for anyone who wishes to experience a beautiful, bite-sized piece of moving art for free. May the NSA agent who watches you from your phone camera be pleasantly surprised by your initiative tomorrow.