Pandemic Fatigue: One writer finds herself lost in a fog
Dear C and Dr. B;
When the pandemic began and we were all in lockdown, I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish – cleaning out the front porch, reading, learning Spanish … everything I couldn’t deal with because of general lack of time. But as the pandemic wears on, I find myself less and less motivated. Now I’m just down on myself because I have all this time to do something, and instead, I’m walking around in a semi-coma, unmotivated to do anything at all. I realize I am going to have to re-think how to make a living, but with the sense of constant uncertainty, I’m not even sure what to do. It makes me feel ungrounded, lost and somewhat worthless. I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way, but I don’t know what to do about it.
Dr. B says: What you are describing are the stages of grief. Grief can happen with any change, good or bad. The first stage is denial – you go on as if nothing has happened, or even become more productive. Next is anger or frustration, the refusal to do anything that might mean that this is something you really have to deal with. Then, bargaining – OK, I will do this, but I won’t do that. Next comes depression, when the fatigue and hopelessness sets in: “This will be forever, I cant…” Lastly, acceptance – “This is the new norm.” You make a new schedule, your expectations now take into account the catastrophe rather than avoiding it. You begin to realize things like, “At least I have my health, it could be worse, I accomplished something despite the odds stacked against me.“
The treatment for all grief is the same – not medication, but establishing a consistent daily routine. Volunteering or helping someone else really helps with perspective and meaning. Grief shouldn’t be done alone – support groups work better than 1:1 as it helps normalize the experience. Seeing that everyone is experiencing something similar prevents the feeling of isolation, and the need to smile and put on a happy act for others. There are lots of groups online these days.
C says: I gotta say that I’ve heard this answer before, Dr. B – you trotted it out during the initial lockdown. At this point, it seems like you are just trying fit our national reaction to the pandemic into a familiar form, so you can recite a standard recommendation. I don’t think this is helpful. Why? Because this isn’t a matter of typical grief — this is an unprecedented event that has not happened in 100 years, and we will all be trying to figure it out well into the future. Right now, it’s another unknown.
Here’s what I’ve seen and heard from people in regard to the question posed by the reader: Everyone is at loose ends and wandering in a daze because they have been accustomed to a certain routine, and now it’s gone. It is not grief that they are dealing with – it’s disorientation and an inability to form goals due to an uncertain future. As a freelancer who has faced insecurity and uncertainty for most of my adult life, I can honestly say that it’s a feeling one never gets used to. Our modern device-centered society seems thrown by it to a far greater extent than my own generation. I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, when we all had to use our imagination and figure things out for ourselves. Now every app and every device has a set of specific directions by which it functions, and there is no other way to use it other than the way the programmer intended, unless one is a tech genius. We can only follow directions and follow routines and check our social media apps to get an idea of our own self-worth from what others are posting.
This pandemic has revealed many weaknesses in the way this whole country is run. We couldn’t get our shit together to quell the spread of the virus because we asserted our “individual rights” instead of working together. We fought each other instead of uniting to fight a common threat. We divided into teams and all wanted to be “right,” and we slammed or attacked everyone who wasn’t on our team. The result? The virus is still out of control and we are still wandering around like damned zombies because we can’t trust a word the government says.
This isn’t grief. This is what happens when baby birds are thrown out of the nest before they know how to fly. My suggestion? Don’t waste too much time whining about how lost you feel – I’d start beating those wings, FAST.
You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com