I find it incredibly hard to find joy now. A numbness that’s dogged me off and on for years at this point. I didn’t realize it until I was standing at the back of an outdoor concert with a friend listening to Mac Ayres. His tour made a stop in Austin to perform his new album, “Comfortable Enough,” and for the first time in so long, I felt like myself again. It was a great evening that turned into a great night, and I carried that joy into the next day during a meet up with another friend.
While melodies and the perfect spring breeze carried me from the evening into the warm sun of the following day, I felt inside my body in a way I couldn’t remember being in recent years. I allowed myself to be unburdened.
I have anxiety. I’ve had it for a couple of decades now. I see a therapist and have learned how to manage it, but as society continues its downward spiral, my anxiety has gotten worse. Between the daily mass shootings, reproductive health roll backs, state legislatures going full fascist, Nazi moms and their book bans, the federal government tweeting as if they don’t have the power to do anything about anything, and Black people constantly being in danger or murdered. It never stops.
Every day feels like waking up in hell and trying to grapple with all the horrors anew. There’s also the physical reminder of still wearing a mask most places. Yes, I am still—mostly—wearing a mask everywhere. Everyone else seems to have moved on, but I am still aware of the virus that has great potential at making me, or people I care about, disabled at the very least.
My two days of relative normalcy led me to realize a few things.
I finally understand why people are so desperate to pretend the things that are happening aren’t happening. A mask reminds you there is danger afoot, that things aren’t “right.” It’s easier to pretend it’s not so bad when you can walk around without that symbol, regardless of your political leanings.
Going out to have lunch with friends or seeing a show has real benefit to our mental health. We are social creatures and a lot can be said for being able to move about and do the things you enjoy. However, the constant threat of having to survive a person with a gun is exhausting. It’s become so much a part of American life that most of us are pretending it can’t happen to us. Until it does.
The other thing is that art created and centered on life early in the pandemic was often woefully inadequate. Ayres’ album, “Comfortable Enough,” is one of the best attempts at exploring life within the backdrop of a hellscape. Anxiety, sadness, frustration, grief, uncertainty, betrayal, despair, exhaustion, numbness, and what it feels like to live at the end of the world as we know it, gives listeners the opportunity to really ask themselves, “How am I doing, for real?” Life was hard pre-pandemic; it’s even harder trying to deal with its challenges and heartaches as the world crumbles and flails around you.
Finding joy during a time when things look this bleak was a God send.
That night I was able to press pause on my anxiety. I didn’t worry about the many people around me, the virus, wearing a mask, or scanning dark spaces where trouble might tumble from. I got to be. I stood in a crowd with my friend and let happiness wash over me, as I listened to amazing musicians play songs about grief and anxiety with a smile and a nod.
It felt amazing to not feel so damn alone.
To have space to experience joy. A moment to be unencumbered.
I got three days of peace before more terrible national and world news made its way to me. Once again, I was forced to acknowledge the un-welcome companions of anxiousness and uneasy existential dread. I’ve done all the things: avoiding the news, limiting time on social media, bowing out of casual conversations about societal doom. Yet, it’s not always enough.
Hope is a commodity that feels increasingly unaffordable. Things are f**ked and I can’t simply think positive, pray, or gratitude journal my way out of the reality before me.
I keep going back to “Comfortable Enough.” Listening and reading the lyrics, wondering.
How does one find, let alone cultivate, joy in a world like this?
Perdita Patrice is a Texas-based writer and documentary filmmaker. She enjoys live music, reading, and watching TV. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @perditapatrice