No two people handled this year of pandemic-forced isolation exactly the same. Some learned to bake bread. Some took up carpentry. Probably there are some who, freed from office hours and commuting and social obligations, spent more time working out and got into the best shape of their lives. I did the opposite. I spent the last year lying prone on my sofa, doing nothing more active than blinking for whole days at a time, sleeping less and less, and eating every morsel of food within grabbing distance. As a result, I am a whopping 50 pounds heavier than I was at the beginning of the year, my face has become a hairy catcher’s mitt, and I smell bad. I am in the worst condition of all time.
I am here today to report that this is an extremely bad way to spend a year of your life. I feel like total hell.
This is not to say that all people who weigh 50 pounds more than I weighed at the beginning of this miserable year should have to deal with lots of shame and self-loathing. I am simply reporting that treating yourself with outright contempt for an entire year, in your 40th year of life, will leave you with many regrets. My advice is to not do it.
The effects range from annoying to alarming. At the one end, absolutely none of my clothing fits anymore. This has not been much of a problem during lockdown—I have simply worn the same pair of sweatpants and the same oversized oxford shirt for 287 of the last 295 days—but it will become a real issue the very moment I begin presenting myself regularly in public again. Somewhat more worryingly, I now snore loud enough to wake my neighbors, who live no fewer than 400 yards from here. Walking makes me sore; sitting makes me sore; sleeping makes me sore. I am sore all the time, and in unlikely places—my left hip, my right shoulder, and my, ah, pulmonary valve.
I have long thought of myself as having carried a certain handsome youthfulness into my middle years, but that is now gone. I am ashen and poofy and jowly and there is grey in my beard. My neck has vanished and my arms are getting shorter by the day. Somehow my eyes are clustering together in the center of my face, and shrinking. I forgot to shave for more than a month, which only a year ago would’ve given me a certain devil-may-care roguishness; this time I looked like Orson Welles circa F for Fake, but a full foot shorter and with absolutely none of the charisma behind the eyes. I dread someday soon going out into public without a mask with which to cover this awful scene.
But that stuff is manageable, or at least superficial. At the alarming end, a couple times a day I can hear blood rushing in my ear drums. My eyes are bloodshot all the time. I sweat unexpectedly. If I come within six feet of a single grain of salt, I swell up like a pufferfish. Simply do not tell me what all this means, because I extremely do not want to know. Better to just ambush me with a defibrillator and keep at it until they invent the full-body transplant.
I have been freaked out about this since early autumn, when it occurred to me that I seem powerless to sustain any reversal of this trend. My house required a significant renovation this year, which meant going without a functional kitchen for the entire summer. My wife and I started ordering more carryout and buying more prepared food, and it has been upsettingly difficult to get back in the swing of cooking for myself, which if nothing else at least will allow me to know what horrors I am ingesting. Just last night I ate an enormous takeout cheeseburger, then stayed up deep into the night playing video games in my darkened living room. Between the second and third paragraphs of this very blog I ate an iced sugar cookie. What is wrong with me? Why am I like this?
All hope is not lost. As of this week, I have instituted a new diet regime. I am having a protein shake for breakfast and some sort of fresh green juice for lunch, and then allowing myself to eat what we will refer to as “normally” for dinner. The sugar cookie was a violation of this program, as it is not meant to include dessert, but I have found that the shake and juice parts have been easy enough, and that I do feel noticeably better throughout the day. Also, I am now standing at a bar-height counter when I do my blogs, and have made and followed a rule that I am only allowed to play video games so long as I am standing while doing it. I have started stretching again. I could pick up jogging or bicycling or aerobics, except that I am 100 percent sure that I would immediately flop over dead from an exploded heart. That will be Phase 3 or 4 of my program, at some point.
The coronavirus vaccine is coming, which means in the not too distant future many of us will be emerging from dismal little holes for the first time in a very long time. The world will be full of options again, which will be nice. If you were thinking of spending a year turning into a toxic pulsating blob of oily goo, this is me urging you to find something better! I have tried that, and it sucks.