By Brian Panowich
The past two years did a number on me.
I mean a full-on Las Vegas size chorus line to my brain and trust me when I say that is no easy task. I’ve always thought of myself as a freight train under pressure. I take the bad and the worse and spin them into gold. I’ve always been like that. But I just wasn’t prepared for the one-two punch of 2020 and 2021. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older and softer these days or just that some things are not meant to be handled on your own. Maybe a combination of both. I’m also thinking that if the last two years left me a whirling wreck, then maybe it did the same to some of you. So, I’m slowly coming out of my hazy loss-of-time to write this column in the hopes that my personal experience will let somebody out there know, at the very least, that you are not alone.
When the pandemic started, I was all the things that everyone else was — worried, scared, skeptical, even hopeful, and I would sit around the kitchen table with my kids and discuss the rising numbers, and listen to the endless reports being funneled at me through my TV and computer. I learned how to home-school my kids. I wore pajamas a lot. All the while, my last thought of every evening was “this too shall pass.”
But it didn’t.
Then the fighting started. And it was everywhere. The civil unrest. The division. The pure unfiltered anger that snuck into my family’s life from every crevice. I tried to keep my head up. I tried to stay focused. I even wrote a few positive columns for this magazine to do the little bit I could to try and quell the noise. But nothing worked. The dinner table slowly devolved into the couch or the bedroom until most of my meals were eaten while I stood over the sink and wondered what day it was. The ‘vacation’ aspect of quarantine wore off pretty quickly and the isolation became intolerable. The pajamas stayed on. The mail piled up on the counter, unopened.
I stopped answering the door. I stopped answering the phone. I spent days and days more interested in the paint color on the wall in the garage than in my children’s schooling. The world outside was completely falling apart and I began quicky to not want any part of it. I signed off all my social media accounts. I felt like the internet was crushing the wind out of me. This was not okay. I was not okay.
By mid 2021, I had all but given up on working out. Prior to the pandemic, I ran five miles a day, and less than a year later I was carrying around fifty extra pounds. I didn’t want to look at myself, so I stopped doing that, too. I was so successful at blocking out the outside world and everyone in it, that I started to block me out, too.
We had a new president. It didn’t matter. The mandates were being lifted. It didn’t matter. The sun seemed like it was starting to shine. Nothing mattered. In the span of two short years, I had completely gotten lost — in my own living room.
I did read a lot of books, though. Too many to count here, but I will say that when I began to read new novels from my publisher that mentioned a world post-Covid in them, it shook me. My peers and compadres had used the isolation to create new art and tell new stories while I turned into a ghost. That’s when I figured out that I absolutely wasn’t just going to bounce back on my own. I needed help.
So I blew the dust off my computer, did a quick search, and picked out a name. I found a therapist that did telecommunication, and I made an appointment. When the day came for me to sign on and talk to them, it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. Inviting a complete stranger into my life to listen to my problems? After I’d spent so much time pushing everyone and everything else out? It felt ludicrous. But I did it. And I felt better. I was far from fixed, but it was a starting point.
The next day I did something I hadn’t done in months. I made my bed. Someone told me once that if you start your day by accomplishing something, even something small like making your bed, that it can point you in the right direction. And so I started to make my bed every day. And wash my face. And make breakfast. And I followed through on my weekly appointments with my therapist.
I’m beginning to feel like me again. But a different kind of me. A me that can admit that I’m not made of steel. I can experience trauma. And believe me when I say that isolation IS trauma. But I survived it. And so can anyone else. Depression is no joke. Anxiety is as deadly as smoking. But it doesn’t take being a superhero to beat it. It just takes the monumental effort to answer the phone. And if a therapist isn’t someone you think you can trust, then how about a guy who just wrote about being at his most vulnerable in a magazine for his whole hometown to read. Just call Augusta magazine and ask my publisher for my number.
I’ll pick up. I know how important it is.
Appears in the May 2022 issue of Augusta Magazine.