DI Voices | Notes from a convalescent


Photo Courtesy of jean louis mazieres/Flickr

A painting of a sleeping man called “Le Convalescent ou le Blessé” by artist Carolus Duran is shown above. Columnist Eddie Ryan supplies readers with notes from a convalescent.

By Eddie Ryan, Columnist

I’ll admit that I’m at risk of violating a rule of mine here, or at least a lukewarm conviction. That is, to avoid calling attention to oneself over trivial matters. To conscientiously object to this generation’s alluring invitation to its tenants to broadcast their individual “journeys” ad nauseam. 

While the initial crime committed by those who so indulge is solipsism, the graver offense is being boring. I thus begin this account of self haunted by the twin demons of self-importance and banality who, despite my efforts, will likely seep through. Nothing a little irony and self-deprecation can’t fix.

My aim is to recount the pandemic’s impact on me, a fortunate white kid. The notable effects in my case were ridiculous idiosyncrasies and neuroses which might prove psychologically interesting or — even better — funny.

I’d better get on with it. Had you been omniscient over the last 18 months, you might’ve seen me, alone in a dorm room, flouting the conventions of orderly civilized society. 

For a while, I was nocturnal. Without a schedule, my days were totally amorphous. Neurosis accompanied this irregularity, as I sought with demoniac zeal to control my material surroundings. “Homeostasis,” I repeated as I ordered my room, agonized over unwanted notifications on my phone and scrutinized my body for snowflakes of paper or strands of hair. 

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This sort of play-pretend schizophrenia took myriad forms and occupied huge chunks of my languid days, to the point where I could hardly switch tasks without a 15-minute ordeal. 

The mental perseveration was probably worse. Looking increasingly, in the bolstering phrase of a loved one, as though I lacked cash for a razor or a barber, I gratified my need for comprehensiveness by rehashing every detail of my day. These ranged from social exchanges I’d bungled to spasms of my perpetual fear of having dropped something somewhere. 

The material and mental realms combined to give me the benign version of a drug addict’s psychology. The bigger the mess I made in that cramped room, the more mental tabs left unresolved, the greater the rush I’d feel after a painstaking hour of wrapping everything up and jolting myself into the present. 

Though getting vaccinated helped, these bizarre habits still guide my day, sometimes asserting a tyrannical hold on me. 

I do appreciate the humorous contradictions of this behavior. In the least predictable time of my life, I tried to control every inconsequential thing while leaving important matters to chance. My surroundings had to be perfectly clean for me to work, yet my hygiene was terrible. 

What seems revealing is the way this pandemic exacerbated certain aspects of my personality – the thoroughness, the perfectionism – such that I became futile. It changed my psyche, and I wonder how these individual oddities – if they’ve germinated in others – might now mingle to annoying or hilarious ends. 

Still, the disfigured psyche need not bow its head in shame. One lesson from all this is that there’s narcissism in self-loathing just as in self-adulation. When mangled into unflattering contortions by some global calamity, we don’t have to despise ourselves.

For even from siloed corners, solidarity can emerge. I found comfort in Herzog, Saul Bellow’s grand character who scrawls unsent letters as his life unravels. His reminder that thought doesn’t help much when it’s “a second realm of confusion” should have taught me thought can’t always vanquish the mess. It’s got to be adapted to rather than fixated upon if one is to stay sane.

And if that’s too trite, embrace insanity. It seems we’re enjoined to do so by the pandemic, anyway, and perhaps therein lies some unexpected wisdom.

Eddie is a junior in LAS.

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