Leaving The Pandemic Behind Is Like Giving Up Soylent

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

It started as a wacky experiment that my wife and I did – “Let’s drink nothing but nutritional sludge for a week! They say you can survive on nothing but Soylent, the food replacement drink – but what’s that experience like?”

The answer: Pretty crappy. Soylent – at least back then, I’m told they’ve improved the formula somewhat – was like drinking heaping glasses of pancake batter with a sandy, bitter taste at the bottom. And near the end of the week, we came to dread the taste; Soylent turned the pleasure of eating into a regular discomfort we had to tolerate to survive, sighing as we lifted up the cup full of gray muck to choke down another couple of thick ounces.

It wasn’t fun.

But it was oddly safe.

My wife and I were – are – both heart patients, and our weight and cholesterol readings are constant undertows of anxiety. And as such, though we did not realize it because the experience was so normalized, every meal was a mild fearpoint.

Were we putting too much salt on this food? Were we endangering ourselves by having this turkey breast instead of a salad? Oh, God, we’re drinking the whole milk, not the skim we should, will this kill us? Here I am eating Chex Mix, I probably had too much…

What we discovered is that every time we ate, we had a low-grade anxiety because we knew we were never making the optimal food choices. We were always having a little too much, a little something wrong, sacrificing perfect health for the qualities of taste. And that constant push-and-pull of “Should I eat what I want, or what’s good?” was a continual tension –

A tension we didn’t even realize we had until it was removed. Soylent wasn’t great, but it was impossible to eat poorly when you were on Soylent. It wasn’t fatty, it wasn’t sugary, you couldn’t possibly want too much of it.

Soylent was just… there.

It was safe.

You could not hurt your diet with Soylent. It was the padded room of foodstuffs, where maybe you didn’t want to be there but it was all bland choices that couldn’t destroy you.

Obviously, we left the Soylent behind after a week. Food tastes good. It’s hard to give up.

Like socializing.

If you’re an extrovert, you’ve probably spent this entire time itching to socialize. And if you’re an introvert who’s been penned in not able to see anyone at all, you’re probably desperate for a hug. But for a lot of us, locked in with our partners and roommates….

The pandemic is Soylent. We don’t like the blandness it’s enforced, but it’s been safe for us – we couldn’t overcommit ourselves, we couldn’t drain our socialization batteries, we didn’t have to worry about whether we should go to that party or whether we should find more friends.

We had no choice. Every day. We choked down the same options given to us to be safe, which was none.

And now the pandemic is lifting, slowly, as we get our vaccines – keep wearing masks, people, normalize that stuff – and a number of us are looking at the future ahead with a weird mixture of anticipation and trepidation.

Like actual food, we miss the taste.

Like actual food, we realize there are bad choices to be made ahead.

And it’s like, yes, we absolutely want to get out and see people, but at the same time the silence let us tune in on this weird tension in our lives where we realized that we liked people, but choosing when and how and which people to socialize with held a certain strain that we never paid attention to before because we never had the option to tune out.

That volume is rising in the background. Things are starting to return to – well, I don’t know about normal, but whatever the new normal will be. And there will be gatherings, and there will be trips to see sweeties, and there will be new socializations again. And all of them will be good on some level…

But how do we reacclimate ourselves?

What do we do with this realization that we hated most of the pandemic, hated most of the lockdown refusals, but there was some tiny part of us that vibrated in resonance with the relaxation of not being expected to see anyone again?

Again. It’s not such a resonance that we’re tuning out altogether – this is sludge. The people are a delicious salad, or a steak, or whatever food rumbles your tummy. We’re not not going to choose seeing the folks we love.

Yet there is a part of ourselves that feels worth protecting. Is there a way to encapsulate this tiny hermit inside us and still keep our friends?

Terrible as this has been, is there a way to extract the still, nourishing parts of the pandemic?

1 Comment

  1. lyttlebyrd
    Apr 3, 2021

    I’m really struggling with the reality of this as my friend group gets vaccinated and starts planning summer gatherings and travels and… life.

    I’m barely social on my best days, and while it has sucked to not be able to go anywhere, it’s been sort of comforting to not have to turn down invitations, too. Plus, I’ve lost a few friends along this last year, either through relationship atrophy, or life changes (like the friend who moved to the Yukon… we are still friends but I’m unlikely to see them again).

    I’ve been on high alert for more than a year, and any loosening of alert level has me panicking because I simply don’t know what to do with myself. I have to make friends, rebuild relationships, learn how to be in public again? I don’t even know where to start. And I don’t feel terrifically interesting… I sell books at a tourist trap and I make pretty things while I watch terrible TV when I’m not working. It’s like I have to learn how to be a person again, and not just an organism that’s surviving.

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