The Various Stages of Disbelief: Surviving Lockdown as an Introvert Without (Completely) Losing Your Mind by Liana Cusmano

For those of us who are introverts, the prohibition of large social gatherings will not have affected us as much as it does our more extraverted counterparts. However, those of us who live alone quickly found ourselves trapped in the feedback loop of our own thoughts, stir crazy and cabin fevered, with ample time to rethink, redraw, reconsider and rework various thoughts, feelings, memories, and recollections. For many of us who are artists, writers or poets, our relationship to our work became one of catharsis that, if not managed carefully, became a self-sustaining whirlpool of insulated monologuing. The introvert’s lockdown experience can be split up into the following stages.

  1. Denial

 

Tell yourself that, as an introvert, the countless recess periods spent scribbling down childish poems alone in a corner have primed you for this absence of human contact. The poor social skills that kept you from making very many friends in high school are the same ones that will help you enjoy a forced embargo on interpersonal interactions. This won’t be so bad. The government is overreacting. Your family is overreacting. You’re a little worried that caught between the four walls of your apartment (where you live alone, obviously) is the perfect breeding ground for memories and ruminations of past professional failures, unrealistic creative projects and recently-ended love affairs. But you can handle this. It would be an introvert’s failure on your part if you failed to handle this. You are going to thrive in this lockdown. For an indeterminate period of time you will not have to scrounge up excuses for why you don’t want to jump up and down to noise in a crowded room, or pay for drinks too weak and too expensive to drown out conversation that is searing your prefrontal cortex. You are not going to spiral into self-pity or self-loathing either. Relating to a solipsistic character straight out of Dostoyevsky’s muddled brain is an indulgence you quit half a lifetime ago when you were fifteen years old, still young enough to know your own arrogance and to tell yourself you would outgrow it. You commit to warding off any psychological spiral with all that self-care bullshit your psychologist keeps pushing on you – long walks on the mountain, eating well, following a routine, annoying your downstairs neighbour with regular indoor workouts. You immediately reject the possibility of baking bread.

 

  1. Anger

 

At yourself. Why can’t you hold it together? As a teenager you would have given up your top marks for an entire year, maybe two, if it had meant a fraction of this much alone time. The distractions and obligations of the outside world that you tell yourself prevent you from writing poems or reading novels or playing music are gone. You do write poems, you do read novels, you do play music (your downstairs neighbour is aware of this). But gone too are the shields those distractions and obligations were against your own highlight reel of most embarrassing moments, your own litany of all the tasks you still haven’t accomplished, your own internal running commentary about how you are not doing enough, not working enough, not being enough. You are in an echo chamber of your own thoughts, the dam that keeps your memories, doubts and fears at bay is broken. Your mood plummets, and you are furious and devastated when you make simple mistakes – you bought the wrong kind of tomatoes after waiting an hour in line at the grocery store and now your botched bruschetta single-handedly makes you unworthy of your Italian heritage. Going to the grocery store is now voluntary exposure both to deadly disease and to that horrible I-lost-my-mom-in-the-grocery-store feeling of terror. The distress is a high, brittle scream in your entire body as you scan the shelves for canned artichokes; as you do your dishes alone in your apartment; as you trip and stumble on the mountain nature paths. Your psychologist reminds you of ‘best friend voice;’ talking to yourself the way you would a best friend who was in your shoes, and you are angry that you are stuck with yourself as your own best friend. Your mom is on the other end of the line, you talk often. But that lost feeling is still there. Your poems don’t make any sense.

 

  1. Bargaining

 

Maybe if you had said I love you when you knew it was true, you wouldn’t have been as frightened of how powerful the words could be. Maybe if you’d apologized sooner, waited longer, been less impatient, things would be different. Maybe if you hadn’t made that mean comment in the snowy parking lot three months ago that drained all the laughter from her eyes, trying and failing to fall asleep wouldn’t be a solo venture right now. That’s what this is about. You are alone and it is your fault. Isolation has manifested this truth into a never-ending replay of the same conversations, the same facial expressions, the same words that were said and unsaid and never said. Dreams, memory and reality are all blurred together. Maybe if you had been more understanding, more honest, more courageous, maybe if you had realized not everyone is cerebral enough to hope that other people can read their minds. Maybe if you had realized that people can’t read other people’s minds. It takes two people to make decisions that may not always have been good ones but that made sense at the time. Did you go for a walk on the mountain today or did you dream that? Maybe if you rub your hands raw with hand sanitizer, you’ll forget how it felt to have her skin on yours. If you work on it, it will be better. You know it feels like it will be like this forever but it won’t. You know you have your family, your friends, your goals, your downstairs neighbour. If you stick to your routine, you’ll feel better. If you constantly clean your apartment, you’ll feel in control. If you’re patient, someday some things will no longer hurt, and others you will have learned to ignore. You try to playdough a poem out of your feelings and the result makes you cry yourself to sleep. If you work on it, it will be better. But right now it is a sad piece, and not even very good.

 

        1.2 Denial

 

Cycle back to denial because nothing is meant to be linear in this life. You’ve stopped your Zoom therapy sessions because both you and your psychologist are tired of your bullshit, and because lots of other people need her help way more than you do right now. You don’t really need anything right now. Other people have it much worse. You are an arrogant and pathetic caricature of melodrama. You scrounge for the gratitude that you can not go to a bar as a pantomime of dysfunction and look for someone or something that will banish every feeling from your body. You prop up your structures with a brittle and empty willpower, you colour-code your to-do lists and stick to a schedule of Discord group chats and co-watching movies. Your poems are dead and empty but you write them anyway, you tell yourself this is a new style of just abstractedly writing down random words. You haven’t been to the mountain in weeks and tell yourself that it’s because you don’t need it anymore. You knowingly but inadvertently whittle your body down to bits and bones, barely there. Why eat if you’ll just get hungry again later? Why not make yourself a smaller target for the knives you wish you could put in your own back? Why not just tell people you’re fine when they ask you how you are? Everyone knows that nobody is fine. Everyone knows that everyone is lying.

 

  1. Depression

 

You are overwhelmed by the sick, abandoned feeling of being alone in a sweltering apartment, knowing that your entire lifestyle has become a form of self-harm, a dizzying, destructive coping mechanism for all your hopes and failures and regrets, all the relationships and interactions that still burn in dreams and memories, unstoppable and uncontrollable. You lie on the floor of your apartment in a puddle of pain and rage. Try to fall asleep face down on damp sheets with ice packs on the back of your neck and shoulder blades. It’s summer now. This has been going on for months. Have six Zoom meetings in a row. Go for a walk. Have a pre-coffee Zoom meeting at 5 am because your most recent collaborator lives eight time zones away. Go for a walk. Don’t bother buttering your toast. The squirrel in the tree by your window is your only lunchtime companion. Take the fifteen minutes between meetings to cry. Go for a walk. Check your email. Go for a bike ride. Zoom meeting with the editor.  Fold your laundry. Don’t wear a helmet. Zoom meeting with a friend. Go for a walk. Zoom meeting with the volunteer coordinator. Zoom meeting with yourself – you’ve mixed up the dates and see only your own name on the screen. Lie in bed awake at night, stare out the window until the sun comes up over the mountain.

 

  1. Acceptance

 

5 am dirty dishwater honesty.

In this gentle quiet,

memory is a self-inflicted blow to the back of the head.

Old wounds have been reopening by mistake, 

gashes gaping and clamping 

like broken Venus flytraps, wounds that are 

sewn up and torn apart, 

sewn up and torn apart, 

sewn up and torn apart.

A staccato rush that has exhausted itself.

Stillness now, 

Summer heat on my mangled skin, 

my tired bones. 

No desire for 

self-harm, 

self-destruction, 

self-immolation. 

Just the self. Whole and unvarnished. 

Childlike. 

Sacred.

 

 


Liana Cusmano, also known as Luca or BiCurious George, is a writer, poet, filmmaker and spoken word artist. They are the 2018 and 2019 Montreal Slam Champion and runner up in the 2019 Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championship. A participant in the 2019 Spoken Word Residency Program at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Liana has presented their work in English, French and Italian across North America, Europe and Asia. They wrote the short film “La Femme Finale,” screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and wrote and directed the award-winning “Matters of Great Unimportance,” screened at the 2019 Blue Metropolis Literary Festival. They also took part in spoken word poetry tour “I See You,” alongside poet laureate of Edmonton Nisha Patel in the fall of 2019. With work that touches on heritage, queerness, relationships and mental health, their aim is to help others feel both seen and safe. Liana is currently the President of the Green Party of Canada. Their first novel, Catch & Release, will be published by Guernica Editions.