Using It: Pain, Purpose, and a Year in a Pandemic

I knew it would be hard.

But I had no idea it would be this hard.

Exactly one year ago today, I sat down at my dining room table to work from home because COVID-19 was spreading into my part of New York State.

I thought it would be for a couple of weeks. Once we flatten the curve, it’ll all go back to normal, I told myself.

Then two weeks went by. Once summer comes, it’ll start to get better, I told myself.

Then summer came and went.

I stopped telling myself anything.

This pandemic has taken so much from so many. And I’m luckier than most—a year later, I still have my job, my health, and my family.

But no one escaped this year without losing something. A graduation. A wedding. A vacation. A concert. A movie’s opening night surrounded by friends and fellow fans. The sound of laughter in a classroom before a teacher says to quiet down. The feeling of hugging your best friend. The sight of a stranger smiling when you compliment their shoes while you wait in a long line for coffee.

The version of you that you used to be. The version of you that you were becoming.

Exactly one year ago, I knew who I was. It had taken me 31 years to get there, but I felt confident and content in a way that I’m not sure I’ve felt since I was a kid. I knew what made me happy—what made me feel the most like me.

Planning trips. Flying to new places by myself. Saturday afternoons in a darkened movie theater. Sitting with my team at work and helping them through problems and giving them advice. People-watching at the mall. Making little kids laugh. Walking into a crowded restaurant or hotel lobby or airport in my high heels, finding the friend I’m supposed to meet, and hugging them like my life depends on it.

I thought I’d just be giving up those things for a few weeks.

Then, I thought I’d just be giving up those things for a season.

Now, one year later, I’m still trying to figure out who I am—what makes me happy and what makes me feel the most like me—without those things.

It’s like the last year slowly, painfully dug these deep holes in my sense of self, and there’s a whole lot of nothing where my plans, dreams, and extroverted energy used to be.

I know I’m not the only one with those holes. I know we all have them to some degree. But I also know so many resilient people who’ve worked to fill those holes with something new—who forged new fandom connections, picked up new hobbies, and learned new things.

I admire these people so much.

I envy these people so much.

I don’t want to feel like I wasted a year of my life.

I don’t want to look back on this year and realize I came out of it a worse person than I was before.

I don’t want these holes in me to turn into scars.

But maybe they already have.

And maybe that has to be okay.

Maybe I have to learn to live with them.

Maybe I have to learn to use them.

“Use it.”

Those two tiny words from Moira Rose on Schitt’s Creek have been the one mantra that feels true to me this year. I can’t always tell myself I’m strong because I don’t always feel strong. I can’t always tell myself it’s going to get better because I honestly don’t know when it will (but thank God for vaccines because it finally does feel like a matter of when and not if). I can’t always tell myself to choose joy because sometimes that feels like a task so exhausting I just want to stay in bed.

But “use it”? That I can do.

Those two words are the ones I turn to when I’m afraid I’m not doing enough—not reading enough or exercising enough or cooking and baking enough or trying hard enough to find a new hobby. They’re the ones I turn to when I feel like I’m less than who I used to be—less enthusiastic, less warm, less hopeful and happy. They’re the ones I turn to when I feel small and lost and sad.

Because those two words don’t demand anything of me but my truth and a willingness to share it. They don’t demand perfection; they just ask for honesty. They don’t push me to find a happy place, they just guide me to a gentle acceptance of another of Moira Rose’s words of wisdom:

“You need to be exactly where you are.”

And where am I?

I’m still sitting at my dining room table. I’m still stuck in a world that feels too small and makes my problems seem too big. I’m still struggling. I’m still scared.

But I’m using it.

I’m writing again.

The first time I heard Moira tell Stevie to “use it,” I knew in my gut what that meant for me. I knew it meant that I needed to get back to the one thing that would let me use everything I was feeling—all the doubt and loss and the occasional bursts of happiness and hope—to connect with people in the best way I could.

So I started writing again. I came home to this little corner of the internet and ripped my own heart out and framed it in hot pink and held it out for the world in trembling hands. And then I did it again. And again. And again

And the craziest thing happened—some of those holes started to fill themselves in.

Writing hasn’t given me a magical cure for all the sadness I’ve felt this year. But it’s given me a way to use it. And using it helps me make peace with it instead of wishing it didn’t exist.

I’m not a better version of me than I was a year ago. But that doesn’t mean I have to be worse.

It’s been a harder year than I could ever have imagined on March 16, 2020. But it hasn’t been a waste.

Because I can use it.

This is me using it.

16 thoughts on “Using It: Pain, Purpose, and a Year in a Pandemic

  1. I am so proud of you for the combo of this post and your Wanda post. This is the Katie I have never stopped seeing this past year, the one capable of being your full self and reaching out that hand for connection even when you don’t feel like it’s enough or worry about no one reaching back. There may be holes and pieces of you that you’ll get to rediscover when we move out of this, but this core part of you is one that’s never going to leave and I’m so happy you’ve reconnected with a little bit of it again.

    I can feel the catharsis in these and hope writing them felt good and like the start of some healing, even if they took a lot out of you emotionally. I love you so much and can’t wait to see you continue to grow and find who the next version of yourself will be ❤

    • I already told you that this made me cry, but I would like to formally state that here—like very-fast-blinking-because-I’m-at-work-and-don’t-my-mascara-to-run crying. Thank you. Thank you for always believing in me and always seeing me—even when I really struggled to see myself. Your friendship means the world to me. You mean the world to me. I love you more than words, my beautiful tropical fish. ❤

  2. “Use it.” Oh, Sweetie, that is just SO good. (The Wanda post was lovely, too — what I read of it. I don’t have Disney + so I haven’t seen Wanda Vision and didn’t want to spoil the show.)

    Very early in the pandemic I wanted to smack folks who pointed out that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague. Kudos to folks who did things and learned things. Kudos to those who just did life under difficult circumstances. Wasted time? I think not, my friend. Did you use the time as you thought you would or thought you should? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it’s wasted. You adapted and survived. You learned what you value. You used the time to think about what is important. This is a season. Sometimes seasons last longer than we like. Sometimes we have more visible accomplishments during a season. I know from personal experience that seemingly useless periods of my life have later proved to be invaluable. And while you may feel scared, look at you being all bold and vulnerable with your posts! Look at you with all the glorious words!

    This is a hard time. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise. But I ADORE the fact that you are committing to taking this time and creating something good out of it. Some times when life give you lemons, you make lemonade, sometimes you also add vodka, sometimes you “make lemonade, and then throw it in the face of the person who gave you the lemons until they give you the oranges you originally asked for” (courtesy of Phil Hartman’s Bill McNeal in News Radio).

    Thanks for keeping up our corner of happy going — even if it’s just a space where we can all flail together.

    • First of all NEWS RADIO! It was one of my parents’ favorite shows growing up, so I feel like I got to watch it more than most kids my age would have, and I smile every time someone references it.

      And now onto the real stuff…Thank you so much for this, friend! Thanks for reminding me that the “Shakespeare wrote King Lear” thing is awful (but I’m going to guess 500 years from now someone will say “Taylor Swift wrote folklore and evermore during the pandemic” in the same way) and that just existing and learning what I value in and outside of myself is just as important as writing a masterpiece. That’s been such a process of discovery and acceptance for this little over-achiever, but I think I’m finally getting there. And I have you and everyone here to thank for a large part of it.

      I can’t tell you how much it means that you’ve stuck around all these years after OUAT ended. You’re such an important part of the NGN Family, and it never fails to make me smile every single time I see that I have a new comment from you to read. ❤

  3. Katie, I read this yesterday and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, because I feel the same. I’m hollower and angrier and much, much more scarred than I was a year ago, and I don’t feel like I’ve made up for it by making anything good. I don’t feel like I’ve used it. I just want to say, for whatever it’s worth: As sad as it makes me that I haven’t been able to be creative or learn anything or make myself “better” this year, I don’t think we have to. I think “using it” is something we can do for ourselves, to make sense of loss, but we don’t owe it to anyone else. We don’t have to make something beautiful out of this while we’re still in it. Or ever! I’m sure I’ve learned things from this experience, but mostly it’s just been bone-deep awful. I think someday when I’m better, it’ll be in spite of this year and not because of it. We deserve something better than what this year has given us, point blank, no strings attached. I’m so glad you’re writing again and that it’s giving you a route out of the darkness, and I know I’m saying all of this for myself as much as anyone. I just mean it’s really good that it sounds like your focus is on “using it” for yourself, to fill those holes, and not to prove your value to anyone else. You don’t have to turn your pain into art because art doesn’t have to come from pain. All of that being said, I’m really grateful you shared this, because it’s nice to feel less alone in all of this.

    • “I think someday when I’m better, it’ll be in spite of this year and not because of it.” — I have said this SO MANY TIMES this year! And I think I’m finally accepting that’s ok! This year isn’t a learning experience or a chance to focus on the little things or whatever other BS so many people were spouting at the beginning (and some still are). It’s just been bad. And there’s so much power in saying that. In shouting from the rooftops that this year has been awful and has left us hollowed out and exhausted and lonely and just…feeling bad almost all the time.

      Honesty matters more to me than anything else, and that’s what you’ve given me this last year. Someone who I can honestly talk with about how hard things are and how not ok I am. And that’s what using it is for me. It’s not about using my writing to make something that other people like or think is good (although let’s be real I’m always going to want that because I’m me). It’s about using everything I’m feeling—the good, the bad, the sunshine, and the screams—to make even one other person feel less alone. To make someone else feel seen. That’s all I ever want. So thanks for making me feel like I’m doing that—and thanks for doing that for me. You may think you didn’t create anything during this time, but you wrote a whole lot of texts and messages that made me feel better—and that’s not nothing. ❤

  4. I don’t even remember this line. I had to go back and find it and then SHIT. Shit, Katie you did that! And that’s what’s always been so amazing your writing is that you’ve taken the words that mattered so deeply to you and you’ve written such heartfelt pieces that’ve helped heal others. (Me, I am part of others!) This was so beautiful. Using our pain and confusion to create something to let it all out has truly been the highlight of this year. To continue getting email notifications of another Nerdy Girl Notes post has been taking me back to old days where I’d have content lined up to read. This is how things start to feel normal and better and I’m just SO HAPPY that Moira Rose brought this out of you. And she was right, when one of us shines, we all shine. This community you’ve founded, it’s one of the most beautiful corners on the internet and I can’t wait to see it grow. (Like I already know whatever you write about S2 Derry Girls is going to make me weep!) Love you and so proud of you, sweet friend!

    • This made me so happy and emotional and ALL THE THINGS. That whole scene was one that I loved initially but didn’t really realize how much I loved and needed it until I kept coming back to it and it kept making me cry. I think I just really needed that reminder that it’s ok to feel whatever you’re feeling and that those feelings can be used in ways that other people will connect with. To me, that line is permission to be vulnerable, and that means so much to someone like me who sometimes worries (as we know from my last post) that her feelings are too much. It’s permission to create from a place of deep feelings—even if they’re not always happy ones—and to do it for me. And I knew you’d get that. Your openness with your feelings always inspires me, so thanks for always making me feel like I have a partner in crime (aka crying) when it comes to sharing from the heart.

  5. This is a great post, Katie. I’m so glad to be here at NGN and to hopefully contribute to you filling in those holes in any way that helps.

    I’ve found that while we’ve been making our way through this pandemic, sometimes I feel it when a lot of people are hitting a wall and sometimes I just don’t, and occasionally I feel weird about it. Like I’m not experiencing trauma “correctly,” even though I know logically there’s not really a right or a wrong way. I’ve been so lucky to still have my friends and family around and healthy, and to not have financial worries to deal with, but I also feel like this has been a little easier on me than others outside of those factors and I’ve yet to figure out exactly why that is. It’s very possible that it’s a combination of things, but I can’t quite figure out if I’m just repressing my emotions or if this is easier for me because I’m an introvert and so my usual routine has changed less, or what it is. I’m tentatively preparing for the possibility of having a mini breakdown in the future when it all hits me, so I guess we’ll see if I have my own version of a WDW breakdown moment like you mentioned in your last Wanda post, probably in the middle of a Sounders game knowing me lol.

    What I am sure of, though, is that I’m more grateful than ever for all of my friends. So thanks for being here, thanks for “using it” and sharing even when it’s hard, and I’m looking forward to seeing you continue to grow and find yourself ❤

    • Thank you so much, Leah! Not just for this but for being such a great friend and part of my support system.

      And I totally get what you’re saying about worrying that you’re not processing this “correctly.” I think the internet (and the world beyond it in this case) tends to give us these echo chambers where we all think everyone is experiencing things the same way, but I know so many people who have had such wildly different experiences through this whole thing—and there’s never going to be one right way to exist during something like this. My extreme extroversion is probably the main reason I’ve struggled so much (lol that I ever thought I was an ambivert before this), so I’d naturally think introversion would help you cope with this. And that’s good! Honestly, it thrills me any time I see or hear about someone who still has found a way to feel like themselves through all of this, and you’ve given me that probably more often than you know. It gives me hope.

  6. I am so glad you were able to connect with writing again and it’s been an outlet for you lately. I find it interesting that you mention envying those that picked up new hobbies and skills. I am one of those people having picked up roller skating. Prior to skating I became an obsessive runner. And while these things brought me joy and saved my sanity, I think more than anything they were/are just a distraction. They don’t feel like accomplishments. They haven’t helped me grow into a better person. I am honestly terrified for things to go back to normal. I’ve been ignoring my feelings, retreated from the world, and picked up a bunch of horrible habits. It’s going to be much harder to convince myself that I have a reason to not make big life decisions or be productive or figure out a work life balance once we are mask free. I am absolutely a worse version of myself than I was going into the pandemic, and I feel like I have gotten too good at forgiving myself.

    Part of the reason why I have not been around here much is I have been self isolating in an attempt to shield others from my negativity. I am cynical about most things these days, and nobody needs more of that in their life right now. I apologize if that has come off as indifference, because that is far from the truth. I am honestly fighting the urge to delete all of this every 5 minutes, which I know you have also struggled with, so I am going to power through. Because while I might not have it in me to be positive right now, the least I can be is honest.

    All I can say is my thoughts are with everyone struggling right now in a million different ways. It’s also with those that are going to have a hard time readjusting, because I know for sure I am going to be one of them. And thank you Katie for always being honest and brave with your words and encouraging others to be too.

    • This means the world to me, Shauna. You mean the world to me. (I hope you know that!) Being honest is all I ever want the people around me (and the people at NGN) to be. Because there are going to be seasons in our lives where we feel negative and cynical and we worry that we’re bringing other people down. Lord knows I have felt that SO OFTEN this year. That’s why, despite the free time, it really took until late fall for me to start writing again. I felt like no one would want to hear my thoughts because they were all about struggle and stress and not knowing who I am anymore. But little by little, sharing has felt good. And I hope this could help you feel a little better too.

      I’m so glad you didn’t delete this, because I’m sure you’re not the only person feeling this way. We’ve all developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms and weird work/life issues (I worked all through this weekend, so I am not a beacon of balance in any way), and I think it’s ok to forgive ourselves as long as that forgiveness gives us the peace we need to try to move forward in a healthier way. And I know this sounds cliche, but I genuinely believe you will. The transition is going to be hard (I’m terrified too!), but if you ever need anyone to talk to, the NGN Fam has your back. ❤

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