Unlearning in the Time of Quarantine

Unlearning in the Time of Quarantine

When the world goes quiet and you’re forced to sit still with yourself, absent any distractions for the first time in a long while, the background noise of your mind stops humming and transforms into intelligible words. If you’re brave enough (or bored enough) you can listen to what your brain has been subconsciously yelling for years. This is the situation that I find myself in now.

We all like to believe that we’re well-adjusted people trying our best to get through the day. Our edges aren’t too sharp. Our broken bits aren’t that bad. We’re making it work. But just like someone wearing the wrong glasses, when we finally put on the correct prescription, it’s incredible how what we had accepted as normal was so wretchedly fucked.

I thought I had escaped most of my trauma relatively unscathed. I’d survived the scary parts, licked my wounds, and just kept swimming. I should be good now, right? I think you know where this is going.

There are parts of me which I hadn’t realized were badly damaged or, even worse, missing altogether. One casualty, which was a shock to admit, was my ability to communicate. But Gabriel, you say, you’re a writer and editor, isn’t communication literally what you do for a living? Yeah, it is. I’m able to help others mold their words into the shapes needed to capture the magic of their imaginations. Yet when it came to my own words, my own imagination, something had been misfiring for years.

For starters, I hadn’t appreciated how my almost 2 decades in corporate IT whittled my writing down to a sharp point. My emails, and by extension text messages, had achieved a blunt level of directness which was rude adjacent. Gone was any nuance. I didn’t paint pictures or provide context outside of the bare minimum because the speed of my work forced an economy of language. Having such a problematic foundation meant that things could only go downhill from there.

Enter my ex. She was with me through my entire 20’s and nearly destroyed me in my 30’s. The end of our relationship was bleak in ways I didn’t know existed. Imagine being trapped in a jar (sans air holes) with a fly who had the temperament (and strength) of the hulk on a bad day. Things were so unstable those last few years that I felt like I was walking on never-ending eggshells, petrified that one wrong move would lead to another meltdown. When I finally escaped I was terrified of anything dragging me back into that vortex. This fear translated to my online writing. I kept things vague because I didn’t want her to find a reason to engage with me. The few times she did it twisted my stomach with panic. I lost the power of specificity and much of my writing ended up sounding like platitudes and proclamations instead of a human trying to share their own heart.

This painful combination of scenarios birthed the most useless method of engagement: ambiguous terse conversation.

No wonder my writing fell flat. No wonder it failed to connect with anyone.

It was the equivalent of hiding in a cardboard box while shouting from a megaphone. I was a garbled mess who was afraid of the outside world seeing me. 

Something’s gotta give. Either my fear goes or my ability to write does because I can’t keep living in this ineffectual half-space. I’m hopeful that by being brutally honest in this post it helps me reunite with the writer I once was and is a first step in healing these long suffering wounds. 

*fingers crossed*


Photo © Gabriel Novo


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