Hand holding flower illustration by Jennifer Martinez

It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Humanity by Jamie L. Rotante

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism and Other Fun Stuff

Writing this in the depths of July makes it hard to believe that, for a very long time in my life, July was my favorite month of the year. Now, as I’m sliding off my kitchen seat from an at-home slip ‘n’ slide I’ve created purely out of ass sweat, chugging water like I’m in the middle of a desert and contemplating if I should give in and turn on A/C now or wait until later so I may have some chance of sleeping comfortably without being woken up by my skin sticking to itself, I curse this month and the sun’s oppressive wrath. In the past, August was a month I’d fear when it loomed nearby, as it always felt like the touch of the grim reaper, kissing away any last chances of fun in the sun. Now I welcome the death of summer with open arms and pray for fall—though, as it seems, time is meaningless and days, months, and seasons are blending into each other like a COVID-unfriendly orgy that the CDC would write pamphlets to warn against.

Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to let a pandemic last through the summer?

Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to let a pandemic last through the summer?

Wait, don’t answer that. I know. I don’t need to reiterate the events that have taken place over these last few months—we all know. Many of us were locked away, afraid of what might come next, biting our nails, hoping that if we were lucky enough to stay safe from the virus, we’d be able to not only live but survive. Many spent hours, days, and weeks on the phone with unemployment offices. Others suited up and went into work despite everything, either on the front lines or behind-the-scenes. And others stayed home and kept pressing on, even if their mental health had to do a lot of work to play catch up. We stayed glued to our TVs and phones and watched as the world burned.

It’s funny to think back that in April I was writing about the pandemic and hoping that when the article went live in May we’d be on the other side of it. I knew it was only wishful thinking, but at that time my biggest fear was the unknown—how many people could be impacted by this? Will our government ever care enough to help? How much worse could things get? As it turns out, a lot worse. And we still can’t quite fathom the depths of how much worse things still could get. But while it seemed at the time as though the “enemy” was the virus itself, over the months the antagonists seemed to multiply as rapidly as the case numbers. Suddenly, it wasn’t just us versus them in a clear-cut way; it felt like every person for themselves.

If it wasn’t anger towards leaders for not only dropping balls but outright smashing plates in their pandemic response repeatedly, billionaires getting richer and doing nothing to help anyone but themselves, or the class divide rapidly growing, it was police officers deciding that they can be judges, juries, and executioners with impunity, elected officials turning a blind eye if not entirely working against people exercising their first amendment rights, and a government hell-bent on being our biggest enemy and ultimate controller. It’s easy to feel like there are clear-cut evil villains and good people, but sometimes those lines get blurred when it goes from being talking heads on TV to those you know in the real world.

And, on top of this shit pile that keeps growing, people just seem to be getting worse. It’s hard to not feel that way when you turn on the news, or log into social media, or even talk to people you’ve considered friends, family, or important to you in any capacity—from cousins you have fond memories with from childhood who are spending every waking hour posting on Facebook how “libtards” are ruining this country and Black Lives Matter is a Marxist attack on our freedom (they say it like it’s a bad thing!), old neighbors who believe wearing masks is a form of mind control and the entire pandemic is a scheme, to well-regarded authors and cultural minds declaring themselves the victims of “cancel culture” when people dare to challenge their narrow-minded views of the world and human rights.

Maybe it’s the chaos it’s thrown us into, maybe it’s from being cooped inside and poorly choosing the news media you consume, but lately everyone seems to just be flying towards destruction, be it of self or of others. The majority of people who just do not care at all about anyone but themselves are turning out to be far larger than I ever could’ve realized (and I generally assume the worst in most people, even if I still hold out hope for the best). Whether it be actively supporting a near-fascist regime or completely disregarding the health, safety, and personal choices and needs of others during a fucking pandemic, everyone seems to be showing themselves the door. And those wounds especially sting when it’s on a personal level.

Normal was always a lie

Spending time alone gives you the unique opportunity to overthink and overanalyze every single thing in your life (something I certainly did not need more time to do), but when you’re not interacting with others and obsessing over your daily mistakes and the minutiae of life that eat at your consciousness regularly, you’re left with assessing the bigger picture stuff. I constantly take stock of who’s in my life and who I’ve wasted energy on out of niceties and “keeping the peace,” just for those same people to not offer that same amount of care. And, at the worst, I’m finding myself being utterly disappointed in those who I thought better about—that stings the hardest. When you’ve begun thinking about who you want to expand your bubble to just to have them pop it—no, completely fucking decimate it with a knife—it throws you for a loop. On an average day, my brain goes from feeling good about my growth and the changes I’m making in one minute to feeling hopeless and alone the next. Early on in this, I couldn’t wait for it to all be done and return to normal. Now I know that normal was always a lie and I’m fearing having to see and interact with people beyond the very few I’ve been in contact with this entire time.

And it being 100 degrees just makes it truly feel like we’re in hell.

It can just get overwhelming when it seems like there are a million battles that need to be waged all at once, but it’s not worth losing hope over.

I know I’m using a lot of extremes here—it’s my writerly way. Not everyone is awful—in fact I’d counter that the majority are good. There are thousands of people spending every single day to put their bodies on the line to protect their brothers and sisters against the human rights violations being waged upon them. There are people bringing food to drop-off locations to make sure others can eat and have nourishment and hydration, especially when so many are facing losing shelter amid all of this. There are people educating themselves and passing that knowledge on to others. I try my best to keep learning from and talking to those who do care. Because they exist, and even when they’re hurting, they’re still fighting. We all have to. It can just get overwhelming when it seems like there are a million battles that need to be waged all at once, but it’s not worth losing hope over. If anything, it’s a reason to find new hope and new goalposts to work towards.

We can improve ourselves if we just take a minute to stop, think, listen, and respect others. If we just care.

We can improve ourselves if we just take a minute to stop, think, listen, and respect others. If we just care. And for every person who pisses us off, turn that rage into something useful—find something to get passionate about that helps others and put all that energy towards it. Just try to be a decent fucking human being, please.

And, of course, wear sunscreen.