The Healing Power of Imagination
March 22nd, 2020
New Orleans, LA
As I type, it is 79 degrees in sunny New Orleans. I’m lying on the porch of my childhood home, left leg in pigeon pose, surgical mask and nitrile gloves shielding my skin, in case I carry the great “scourge” of our moment (who, you will come to realize, I do not view as a scourge). Amanda Palmer in my ears and iced coffee on tongue, I can’t help but think, what a beautiful time.
In the 21 years that I’ve lived in this house, never once have I spent a full day on my porch. Never once have I paused to admire the peeling grey paint or stopped to ponder just how many life experiences this porch has witnessed. Never once have I turned on music, rolled out a beach towel, and transformed my porch into a personal spa.
Thank you, Virus.
At this point, I’m keeping my distance from people. All local coffee shops have closed their seating areas. Public gatherings have been banned. So whether healthy or not, we’re all keeping to ourselves. And for who knows how long?
Eating disorders – and most human afflictions – are diseases of control. We like the known! We are comfortable with the known. COVID-19 is the opposite of known. Experts are calling it “novel” for a reason. We have no idea where this is going, which for many is terrifying.
But think about it. Do we ever? Do we ever truly know where anything is going? We might think we do. We might think we have the super-human ability to predict outcomes, but we don’t. This outbreak is merely proving that.
Unstructured time can invite dangerous behavior. So can isolation. They can invite the food addict to binge and the anorectic to restrict. They can invite the average human being to simply panic.
But there’s hope.
Consider the word “novel.”
Consider its definitions:
New and not resembling something formerly known or used; not previously identified
A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism
As a storyteller, I’m drawn to the second definition.
I’m interpreting the pandemic as a chance to write a novel. This outbreak is a story just waiting to be written. Our plans have all been cancelled and our slates have been wiped clean. We get to choose what happens next. We get to choose our attitudes. We get to choose the flavor of our experience.
Recovering from an eating disorder, in many ways, is like starting a novel. The eating disorder is just the preface. Once you get through it, you’re on an adventure. There’s a whole book ahead of you, with blank pages all unwritten. Recovery is a novel.
I say this blog is about recovery from disordered eating, but disordered eating is a metaphor. You can substitute it for anything challenging, debilitating, or “bad” – whatever the moment calls for. Today, I am focusing my recovery on the impacts of the coronavirus.
FEAR stands for Face Everything and Recover. I faced my eating disorder, and now I am facing this virus. I’m doing that by personifying it – by writing to it, befriending it, and having an open dialogue with it, just as I once did with my eating disorder.
Now, without further ado, please feel free to enjoy – or despise – the main event of this post, my open letter to Corona.
March 15th, 2020
New Orleans, LA
Dear COVID-19, otherwise known as Corona Virus, or, more familiarly, Corona:
First of all, great name. I mean, come on – Corona? Crown?
I googled the name “Corona.” Did you know it also means Kind?
Not only are you royalty, but you’re a yogi.
The first principle of yoga is Ahimsa, which translates to non-violence, which might as well mean Kind.
Qualities: Creative, Light-Hearted
Ruling planet: Jupiter
Colors: Purple, Lilac, Mauve
Growth Number: 3
(Expressive, Imaginative, Sociable, Jovial, Positive, Optimistic, Artistic)
Damn, Girl – your name slays!
Yes, in my mind, you’re a girl. More than a girl: you’re a friend.
You are my new girl-friend.
Interpret that as you will.
We have so much in common. Until 3 months ago, I wore amethyst every day! And, my favorite color is purple. (I once had purple hair. You will love the pictures.) That’s why, today, you’ve joined the likes of Strawberry, Monica, Bluebell, Baby Gigi, and Carly among the ranks of my imaginary friends.
Carly is new, too. I invented her this morning as I walked from my house to Fair Grinds Coffee House, where – get this – they are still accepting personal cups! Dick me dead and bury me pregnant, I’m in environmental heaven!
*Note: the tasteful phrase in italics comes from Fighting With My Family – a stellar film.
*Double Note: mere hours after writing this letter, personal cups were banned.
That’s right, Carly’s new. While walking to Fair Grinds, I kept talking to this imaginary figure on my left side, and eventually she told me her name is Carly.
I’m not a lunatic. I’m just refusing to get lonely. Just because we have to distance ourselves socially doesn’t mean we have to distance ourselves creatively! No wonder creativity is your core quality!
Do you know how long it has been since I invented an imaginary friend, Corona? Too long. I had a plethora of imaginary of imaginary friends as a child – Liza, Kirsten, infant baby Gigi who I cradled on the school yard – but I haven’t played with them in years. I’m too “plugged in,” too “socially connected,” too much of an “adult.”
Thanks to you, I’m right back at it. My inner child, curiosity, and imagination are keyed up and ready to go. Thank you, Corona. Thank you for invigorating us.
You have given me a chance to pause. You have given me a chance to play by myself, to play with the voices in my head. You have given me a chance to navigate my psyche, to create a whole new cast of characters. You’ve restored my imaginative nature. Just think how this will serve me as an artist. Just think how this will serve me as a playwright!
Oh, Corona – Ba Ba Ba BA BA, I’m loving you.
You know what this is? This, this “social distancing” we’ve been told to practice, is none other than an opportunity for growth and healing. I even wrote a song about it.
Dis-tan-cing…is not the same as se-clud-ing…or isolating…it just is…an opportunity…to focus on boundaries (and personal space).
*It sounds better sung. Stay tuned for an audio recording.
Carly and I are having a blast. We are just two peas.
[Speaking of peas, being home in New Orleans means I get to eat my mom’s split pea soup – huge win.]
I got us a sweet table in the window. It’s painted blue. There are men outside, but we don’t care. We are not self-conscious, even though we have done three rounds of advanced integrative therapy (an energy healing technique that involves placing your hands on each chakra) and the manager asked if we’re okay.
We’re more than okay, we told him. We’re shameless! I am, anyway. Carly – she’s a bit shy. That’s why only I can see her. But one day, my boldness will rub off on her, and she will manifest before the whole wold!
Corona – seeing you, and seeing Carly, is one of my superpowers.
You heard me.
I have superpowers.
I have the power to change my attitude.
I have the power of imagination.
And thus, I cannot be hurt.
Let me tell you what my superpowers have to say.
My superpowers say that you’re not here to hinder us. And you aren’t here to divide us. You are here to unite us.
Epi-demics unite a community; pan-demics unite the whole world. Everyone on the planet is sharing an experience right now. It’s like Amanda Palmer sings in The Ride: “Isn’t it nice when we’re all afraid at the same time?“
Corona, I think you are gift from the heavens above. I think you are a gift from God. If that word offends you, I don’t care! I think you are a gift from God.
I think God saw all the people down here fighting, yelling, and murdering each other over stupid things like gender, sexuality, and the stupidest, most offensive of all, race.
I think God saw us bullying one another over politics; giving all of our energy to money and jobs, as if those matter in the long run, instead of to creativity and love.
I think God saw us destroying the planet, and God said, Whoa. How the heaven do I get these idiots to stop?
How do I get them to shut up and slow down? How do I get them to quit the contests, to quit the rat race, to quit the foul play? How do I get them to abandon their egos? To remember they’re human beings, rather than human doings?
How do I get them to say, “HOLY SHIT! I forgot! I have everything I need already!” How do I get them to wrap their arms around each other and around themselves and around the trees and to celebrate the miracle of life?
How do I get them to forgo their ridiculous notions of linear time and realize they are infinite? That there are no deadlines, no milestones? No race, no rush? How do I get them to realize that business and capitalism are simply toys? Fine toys, perfectly okay toys, but toys? Toys that they have taken too seriously and turned into higher powers?
How do I get these people to reconsider their values? How do I get them to quit overworking themselves, to focus on their immunity and health? To remember that life is not about achievement and success and promotion and advancement, but about love?
Enter you, Corona.
God said, “Let there be a queen! And let her wear a crown, from which she will take her name!”
Let her come in as a natural response to all the human chaos, and let her be misunderstood. Let her be interpreted as the cause of anxiety, rather than the effect of the anxiety that we created.
Let her receive hate, resentment, anger, and blame, if only she might make us hit the pause button. If only she might make us rest. If only she might make us shut down our machines, silence our cell phones, and quit the dance of achievement. If only she might bring us back to our nature.
And by golly, Corona, you’ve done it. At least, you’ve done it with me.
You deserve your title.
You deserve your crown.
*To the tune of Karma Chamelion:
CORO-CORO-CORO-CORO-CORO-CORONA VIRUS….I love you SOOOOO! I LOOOOVE you SOOOOO-OH-OH-OH!
You are the teacher we need right now. You are challenging our relationships with attachment and control. You are teaching us the danger of attachment to routine and thus giving us an opportunity to practice flexibility and radical trust.
You’re also helping Mother Earth. The usually-murky canals in Venice, Italy are now practically clear, and we are witnessing a decrease in harmful emissions all over the globe. You just might be the intervention we need to combat the climate crisis.
I have no fear of “contracting” you. We’ve already become friends! I’m fully immune your “venom.” I’m immune to your “bad side.” I support your presence on this earth. I’m on your good side, and you’re on mine.
If in the event I do contract you, I know you will slide right on through my body and make me healthier, fiercer, and stronger.
Everybody has a capacity for cruelty in them. We all have the ability to attack people, to infect them with our negativity and violence. Human beings aren’t so innocent. We are each like you in that way.
We have no more reason to fear you than we do to fear each other. No more reason to fear you than we do to fear our “enemies.” So I don’t fear you at all. I just love you. And I hope that others can love you, too, for the sake of their own immunity.
Those who annoy us most are our greatest teachers. The same is true for viruses. So I challenge everybody who reads this to look at the opportunity for growth, to ask themselves, what is this virus triggering in me?
Is my entire identity wrapped up in my life at work or school? Do I depend on my group of friends for security? Am I a work-a-holic? Am I afraid of being trapped in my home? Do I neglect my family members? Where is my opportunity to grow and heal?
Corona, please hold. Carly and I are going to take a quick bathroom break.
I could leave her out here at the table, but as you know, it is painted blue, and Carly is very sensitive. I’m afraid too much exposure to the color, without my presence as a buffer, will make her sad.
She’s far better off with me in the bathroom, where the walls are half sunset orange, half chalkboard.
I’m going to show her my private parts.
Oh, Carly…I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.
What do you think, Corona?
Will I get lucky? Stay tuned.
Carly and I have returned from the bathroom. Alas, it is not *that kind* of relationship. But we did see three sights worth sharing. The first was a “Kill List” written on the chalkboard wall just above the toilet paper dispenser. It went like this:
Oh, Corona, how my heart aches for you! To see you getting so much hate! I promise, you’re not on my kill list. You’re on my “dissolve in due time” list.
I don’t have a kill list. I used to have a “Not Invited to my Funeral List.” It included one boy from my class. He made fun of me in middle school and high school. He hurt my self-esteem so badly that he might be the reason I “don’t like guys,” may be the reason I tell myself that “guys don’t find me attractive.”
Look at that, Corona! Already, I’m taking personal inventory.
Anyway – that was years ago. It’s time to forgive him. It’s time to abolish that list entirely. Anyone who wants to celebrate my death is more than welcome to. And when it comes time for your death, I shall celebrate you! But I won’t set out to kill you. I want you to fulfill your purpose.
Then, we saw hand washing instructions with the lyrics to “Jolene” and we sang them. Each line of the song corresponded to a hand/soap configuration.
Then we saw message a written on a brown paper towel and taped to the wall. It said, “Dear Fair Grinds Fam: Please do NOT steal our hand soap. Please help us tend to this potty room as if it were a temple.”
IT IS a temple. Just like my body is a temple. And we got to participate in the ritual of tending to it. Thank you, Corona!
Speaking of stealing, I could have very easily stolen my breakfast at La Guardia Airport on Friday, but I didn’t, out of respect for my karma.
Why in the world does this somewhat raunchy tangent belong on Destination Recovery? Because, it proves that my rather than hiding away in obsession, as I used to in the days of my eating disorder(s), I am joyfully engaging with my environment – and having a damn blast. That’s recovery.
Now, back to what I was saying Pre-Bathroom.
Corona, all we have to do to successfully coexist with you is surrender. We must be willing to take an impromptu vacation from our routines. We must be willing to take this time to reflect, to go within, to take personal inventory, to pause. We must practice radical acceptance and become beacons of light and peace.
So many I love are so upset. So many I love expect me to be upset. And for a moment there – before my friendship with you – before you came to me in the night, whispered sweet nothings in my ear, and declared, “let us be friends” – they almost had me fooled. I almost chose to be upset, too.
But I’m not. So the arts festival I was due to perform in got cancelled.
It’s not like my creativity has been cancelled.
My ability to create and my ability to perform come from within.
I’m not going to cling to an opportunity that wasn’t in the cards or give all my power to an external force, to a festival in a particular time and space. I won’t adopt a scarcity mindset. That was not my only chance to perform. Whether or not I perform will not be dictated by an external force. I’m performing, right now, right here. You bet your corona ass, I am.
Corona, we’re performing together. You’ve already inspired me, opened new doors. You know what your presence on Earth has given me?
The chance to take a trip home. The chance to start moving out of my apartment for the summer. To bring 38 pounds of journals home. To walk my dog Ollie on Bayou Saint John.
To meet my neighbor Olivia and her dog Moonie. To go to two recovery meetings in my home town. To hug my sister and brother. To buy 2 new books. To go on a walking tour with my dad. To see my therapist in person. To take a bath. All things I would not be doing if I were still in New York.
Let what needs to be cancelled be cancelled.
Let what needs to be postponed be postponed.
Let what needs to be rescheduled be rescheduled.
Let us all renew our vows to our health & personal wellbeing.
Let us all renew our commitments to peace, kindness, and gratitude.
Let us pray that everyone who does contract your symptoms comes out on the other side with strengthened immunity.
And let us pray that all who you deliver to the spirit realm be delivered peacefully and with contentment, having fulfilled their purpose in this life.
Let us trust that we all have soul contracts and we all leave Earth in divine right time. Let us trust that those who leave with you are ready. Let us remember that the fate of the world is out of the ego’s control, and that you are here to teach us a lesson. Your presence is the universe’s will.
You are like an angel. You are a modern-day Abraham. And we would all do well to treat you like a messenger of God and to pay attention to what you teach us.
You happen to have the same initials as two people I adore: my therapist of 4 years and my “little sister” at my treatment center. How could I not adore you?
I am where I am meant to be – where I need to be – in this moment.
If I needed to be somewhere else, I would be somewhere else.
I am doing what I need to be doing in this moment.
If I needed to be doing something else, I’d be doing something else.
I am deeply fulfilled by all that I do.
I am deeply fulfilled by this moment.
I’ll admit, Corona: the past six months have challenged my psyche. I went through my first big romance and my first big breakup, and I lost my high spirits. My enthusiasm for yoga, recovery, and creative writing all but disappeared. I stopped blogging. I stopped participating in my usual recovery meetings. I‘ve been feeling deflated. I’ve been feeling defeated.
But now I’m back. Thanks to you, I’m back. Corona, you have awakened my confidence, my joy, my playfulness, my drive, my ambition, my creativity, my passion, and my zest for life. I’m not leaving this planet any time soon, but you might be. So till then, let’s have fun.
In closing, Corona, I want to affirm that you are neither an inconvenience nor a menace to society. You are none other than a wakeup call. And I love you for it.
As the Golden Girls say…
All our love,
Bella and Carly
Thank you for reading. To support my healing, I no longer use social media. That said, I ask you to help me grow my audience by subscribing via email and sharing what you like on your own social media pages.
Thank you in advance for your service.