I caught Covid last December. Around the same time I sank into a profound depression. The depression was easier to source; it was dark in London every day before four, I hadn’t seen a friend in person in months, and the thrill had long gone out of changing your Zoom background to the most salacious “Tiger King” still. The Covid remains a mystery. In London we were in the twelfth or so of our infinity lockdowns, and I can only guess that I was aerosoled by one of the maskless mouth-breathers perusing the sandwich aisle at my local Tesco. I certainly didn’t come within a six-foot radius of anyone else in that time (see “depression,” above).
It’s worn on me, not knowing how I got Covid. My case was mild, but it’s one thing to have a cold and it’s another thing to have a cold that might turn out to kill you and no one knows why.
A year on I’m mostly fine. For a while I had to sit quietly on the couch for a while after every social engagement, but I’m not sure if that was long Covid or what happens when when you sit inside for fifteen months and forget what it’s like to make small talk or run up two flights of stairs to make the 7 at Court Square. Anyway, I called it long Covid. It made me feel a little more righteous in my anger toward those people who insist on baring their noses in public. (How obscene does a nose seem these days? Is this what fundamentalists feel like when they see ankles?)
I read with interest a recent New Yorker article about long Covid (as an aside: I know AP says “COVID-19” or “coronavirus,” but don’t both of those have a bit of the “How do you do, fellow kids” about them?). The article drew a spate of outraged letters to the editor from people who objected to the implication that long Covid is psychosomatic.
I, conversely, found myself wondering if I’d lapsed into a habit that I’ve so far avoided interrogating too deeply. It’s something of a cultural tendency, I think, at least among my demographic, women who are a little too ironic to actually buy an “In This House” lawn sign and enjoy the effect of mentioning that they’ve taken antidepressants or Plan B in polite conversation. Like, selectively well-read, chip on the shoulder, took an abnormal psych class twelve years ago and have been raised on a steady diet of repudiating perfectionism ever since. If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best, our MySpace profiles said, and we are certain that our exes have Borderline Personality Disorder. Us too, you know?
I like to be diagnosed, and to accuse. As the diaries I’ve kept since I was old enough to write can attest, I’ve been a teeth-grinding, skin-picking freak since I developed fine motor skills. Still, when a doctor told me the summer after my unimpressive freshman year of college that I had anxiety, I felt like I was putting on glasses for the first time.
Never mind that the antidepressants he prescribed me mostly just made me tired and I gave them up after a few months; it was enough to know that my myriad shortcomings were because of chemicals. In my brain. And now I can decline social invitations high-handedly.
Several years later, nursing a breakup that I swear was Taylor Swift’s real source material for “All Too Well,” I paid actual money for a self-help book called “Surviving the Narcissist.” It was helpful inasmuch as blaming my need for couch marathons on my local Tesco is helpful, i.e., there’s no therapy like demonization, and nothing is my fault. I’m not lazy; I have long Covid. I’m not flaky; I have social anxiety. I’m not frigid, childish, selfish; he’s a narcissist.
Call it a unified theory of the millennial tendency to settle scores. Taylor Swift is the apotheosis, or at least she was until we all got old enough to realize that it’s classier to be Alanis, still refusing to name Dave Coulier after all these years. Is it more nourishing to embarrass Jake Gyllenhaal or to give Jake Gyllenhaal the side-eye at every party you both attend so he knows that you could embarrass him if you so chose? I like to imagine Dave Coulier ducking out the back door at every gathering of Canadian ’90s icons (I like to imagine… gatherings of Canadian ’90s icons) for fear that tonight is the night Alanis is going to throw back one too many and out him as wanting to be gone down on in a theater.
What does it matter, ultimately, if my ex-boyfriend was a narcissist? I can’t call the bad boyfriend police on him. I’ll never know who gave me Covid. (Sarah Schulman convinced me that a world in which you can cast this kind of blame might well be a dystopia.) I’ll either beat the record I set on my Peloton before I got sick or I won’t, and that’s because I got Covid, or maybe it’s because I finally left the house again, found things to do that aren’t hamster wheels of recriminating someone beyond my reach. I like to be right, but rightness is satisfying in much the same way that scrolling through Instagram is satisfying. Cause is ephemeral; effect lingers. Secrets and mysteries keep life interesting.