But I don’t have the drugs to sort
I don’t have the drugs to sort it out
Sort it out

“Afraid of Everyone,” The National

For as long as I can remember, I have been at war with my own body. There have been dramatic battles—being diagnosed with scoliosis the summer before I started ninth grade in 1976, my collapse into debilitating panic attacks in October of 1999—but mostly that tension is pervasive, continuous—an anxiety cocktail of somewhat manageable OCD, ADHD, hypochondria, and depression.

The manageable has been orchestrated behind a dedicated stoic front that hides the main feature of anxiety, the relentless mind manufacturing and obsessing on an infinite list of what-ifs.

These self-imposed terrors are fruitless except for the drain and wear on my mind and body. Like the what-ifs on loop in my thoughts, the war with my body seems to insure that my body is always finding ways to let me down, especially a rotating list of chronic pain.

In South Carolina, where I live, we are shifting quicker than many states back toward some sort of normal after a couple of months of sheltering at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has been a paradox for me and my anxiety. Anxiety is mostly wrestling with unfounded threats, being afraid of everything for no rational reason.

Fearing a very real pandemic is rational, but in SC, I have been positioned as irrational for taking Covid-19 seriously since many in the state are following a partisan political playbook filled with YouTube videos and outlandish conspiracy theories.

My social media are filled with fellow South Carolinians, many of whom are conservative (which dominates the state), but the pandemic has made that norm of my relationship with my home town and community nearly impossible to manage.

I have moved from my normal of living an anxious (but masked by stoicism) life to struggling with the rational anxiety caused by the pandemic and now to a new sort of anxiety about efforts to return to some sort of normal existence.

During the shut down, I have greatly missed group cycling and visiting my favorite restaurants, breweries, and tap houses. Losing that normal has been exhausting to my mind and, of course, my body.

As SC has relaxed restrictions, however, watching my downtown begin to re-emerge has led to a new set of fears. First, the town closed off Main Street to allow outdoor seating for local restaurants.

Other than once-a-week trips to the grocery store, I haven’t been in any sort of crowds. People swarmed downtown once outdoor dining was allowed, and these crowds are deeply nerve wracking for me.

A normal rendered abnormal in a matter of a couple of months.

Many people are speculating about a new normal once we all return to daily life with Covid-19. No one really knows what this new normal will be.

But some believe we all will change, that life will inevitably be different.

When I look around while people return to visiting restaurants and stores, I see something different than things being different; most people have slipped right back into the normal they were missing.

As if there is no Covid-19, as if we haven’t sheltered for two months, as if we aren’t reigniting a bigger fire that could possibly rage out of control.

It is spring in the South, beautiful sunshine and warm-to-hot days. We are racing mindlessly into that hope we feel each spring, determined to ignore that this is not like any spring before for any of us.

I am afraid, the same as always, and a new afraid.

I also recognize something unexpected. My conservative home has something in common with me; these recalcitrant South Carolinians are afraid of the unknown, clamoring to regain normal just because it is known, not because it is better or even good.

The paradox of the South is a people willing to risk everything because they are risk-averse, afraid of the unknown.

Anxiety is a sort of paralysis. My current Scylla and Charybdis is either continuing to shelter, resist the reopening, or to slowly wade back into the seemingly comfortable and certainly familiar pool of the life I have desperately missed, even as I frantically treaded those waters simply trying to keep my head above water.

Either way, I will be afraid, the same as always and a new afraid I never imagined in all my fruitless pondering of what-ifs.