Yesterday I bumped into a friend from Millbrook who I hadn’t seen since the pandemic began last March. We did our motherly duties and caught up on how our respective children are doing, and then I asked her how she and her husband are making out. She replied, “Oh, you know. We’ve really had enough. We were doing okay until now, but this latest lockdown is kicking the shit out of us.” Tell me about it!
I am finding it difficult to find joy in anything right now. Take writing for example – a pursuit I generally absolutely love. I adore effectively communicating experiences, images, and feelings, perfecting a turn of phrase, and I particularly delight in finding exactly the right word for what I’m trying to express. English, of all the languages in the world, is unusually rich. It incorporates such a wide range of influences that for almost every term we use there are a multitude of related words which convey a similar, yet slightly different, meaning. Take the word bereft, for example. At its most basic level it refers to the experience of losing a loved one – orphans and widows are bereft. However, one could use words like grieving, melancholy, or upset in its place, and each of these would give a slightly altered feel to the sentence – grieving often indicates a public show of sorrow and loss, melancholy suggests a more private state, while upset connotes a broader range of perturbed emotions.
I still love that I have all these options at my disposal, but I just don’t feel like using them. This latest lockdown has left me feeling bereft – bereft of interest and impetus, but happily not bereft of hope. I’ve had my first shot, as have most of the people I know in my generation. There are massive amounts of vaccine rolling in over the next month, it is getting more warm and sunny by the day, and Trudeau is confident that we will be able to travel within the country by the end of the summer, allowing me to visit my daughter in Victoria. These things all give me hope for the near future, but somehow they don’t ease the deep ennui I am experiencing at the moment, nor how enervated I feel as a consequence.
I watched a documentary earlier this week about the evolution of vaccines, and I took notes because it seemed like a good thing to write about. I realized as the week progressed, however, that I didn’t want to write about vaccines. For the first time since I began blogging last February, writing suddenly feels like a chore. Almost everything in my life right now feels onerous. I don’t want to clean my house, or weed my garden, or even brush my teeth. All of these things currently feel like poor substitutes for what I really want – my old life back.
This crisis is global, and I recognize that many people around the world are in a much more dire and precarious situation than I. I am retired and thus have a steady income which is not jeopardized by my staying home. I also reside in Canada, a country where the overwhelming majority of people are willing to temporarily sacrifice some personal liberties for the sake of the greater good. I have ample space to socially distance, as well as readily available clean water and soap with which to disinfect my hands. It would be ungrateful of me not to acknowledge these many advantages, but that doesn’t mean that I am not suffering in my own way.
I am feeling anxiety around the question of how long this is going to last. I worry about whether we will be able to reach herd immunity in light of the number of people who seem unwilling to get vaccinated. I am hopeful that many vaccine hesitant Canadians will come on board as more of us receive shots without serious side effects, but I am very concerned about the huge block of anti-vaxers in the U.S. Many of these people really believe that Covid-19 is a hoax, some even after they or someone they know has almost died from it. This is just the latest in a long line of instances throughout history when the betterment of society at large is hampered by the unproven yet deeply held beliefs of a relative minority. We remain at heart a credulous and easily frightened species despite our advanced evolution and technological achievements.
There is also the pressing concern of how things are going to play out in the medical professions at the end of the pandemic. Health care workers have had to endure and overcome crippling trauma and exhaustion over the last 14 months. Surely a lot of them will need to take extended sabbaticals when this crisis is over, and no doubt many will simply leave altogether. The excessive strain on the health care system will not let up as Covid-19 dies down, it will simply morph into hospitals desperately trying to catch up on delayed operations, and doctors’ offices having to deal with a flood of patients presenting with physical problems that they simply dealt with at home or ignored through the lockdowns. There will also be myriad mental health issues to address, as well as societal problems. The ongoing tragedy of widespread opioid addiction continues to rage out of control, not to mention the recent substantial upticks in both domestic violence and homelessness.
Business and financial difficulties will arise concurrent with these other problems. A huge number of small companies went under because of Covid-19, and masses of people simply lost their livelihoods. Where does the venture capital necessary to start new businesses come from when, for over a year now, the federal government has paid out massive amounts of money to unemployed citizens from an ever shrinking tax reserve? How do you kick-start the global economy when so many countries are effectively broke? I really know very little about economics, and readily acknowledge that the answer to these questions are well out of my wheelhouse. We all just have to trust that governments will hire and listen to smart people who know how to pull us out of this mess, just as they did after the world wars.
The spread of an ever expanding number of variants has also got me on edge, and the situation in India is particularly dreadful. A Facebook friend recently put up a post concerning a woman’s experience when she called for technical support for her computer. As usual the man helping her was Indian, and at one point during the exchange she asked him exactly where he was in the country. He responded that he lived in Delhi, so she asked him how it was going there. He was quiet for a while and was clearly overcome with emotion when he replied that perhaps she would be better served by one of his colleagues. She said no, she was really interested in him and didn’t mind that he was upset. He then said, “I have lost ten people in the last ten days,” and then broke down. He gasped out through his sobs that he would transfer her to someone else, but she insisted that she wanted to stay on the line to offer whatever support she could. They silently kept the line open until he had collected himself, and then he helped her solve her technical problem.
This story effected me deeply. I felt extremely buoyed by the unquestioning patience and compassion of that woman. How wonderful that she offered to virtually stand by that poor grieving man thousands of miles away, and how touching and beautifully human that he accepted her offer. I was also very moved by the plight of that unfortunate man. Imagine having to brave the densely crowded streets of Delhi day after day with a highly effective yet invisible killer on the loose, and then having to contain both that fear and the extraordinary sorrow of losing so many people as you perform your job. Now expand the horror of that experience to millions, or possibly even tens of millions of people, and you’ll have a taste of the absolute hell this poor benighted country is going through right now. My heart just bleeds for them.
The unfolding tragedy in India and so many other third world nations, the isolation of my current situation, and the existential and future concerns related to the pandemic more generally are manifesting in my emotional, psychological, and physical self. I constantly feel like a raw nerve and cry at the drop of a hat – happy moments, sad moments, it matters not. Hell, I recently cried at a TV commercial! Psychologically, I am suffering bouts of anxiety which make it hard to relax and focus. This personal stress and the general feeling of unease floating in the ether are in turn manifesting in my body. My knees and elbows are unaccountably achey, and I’m experiencing intermittent, inexplicable pain and fatigue in various muscles. I regularly walk and do yoga to keep myself healthy and flexible, but the constant weight of the pandemic is still taking its toll.
I am grieving generally for my previous life, and more specifically for unfettered contact with family and friends. I have not seen my Toronto family, including two of my siblings, since the Thanksgiving before last, and I miss them all terribly. There is a comfort in being with people you have known all your life which cannot be replicated or replaced. A few of my local friends and I have managed to regularly meet over the past year, but I have not had the pleasure of socializing with people in my extended circle for what seems like an eternity. I miss previously mundane things like meeting someone for coffee or lunch, and the joy of gathering at a celebratory party. Generally crowds make me nervous, but right now I’d pay a million bucks just to stroll confidently maskless through a throng at the mall.
The loss of being in a choir has cut me deeply as well. I looked forward to our Wednesday night rehearsals, not only because they punctuated my week, but also because they provided me with a welcome social gathering. I’ve made many friends in my seven years in the choir, and I miss their company. Studies have shown that singing with others produces an almost instantaneous camaraderie, and I acutely feel the lack of that fellowship. I also miss the joy of singing, and the satisfaction that comes from mastering a difficult piece. The choir board managed to cobble together some small group singing last fall, and our social committee has hosted three very fun Zoom trivia nights, but as welcome as these events were, I think its fair to say that we are all just pining to reconstitute into the 100 strong voices of The Peterborough Singers.
I don’t just miss making art, I also miss consuming it. I have patronized The Stratford Festival almost every summer for decades, generally taking in one musical and one Shakespearean play per visit, and I usually attend a National Ballet performance at least once a year. I buy tickets to every local arts event that interests me, and regularly go to concerts in Toronto, my two most recent being Depeche Mode and Justin Timberlake. The arts feed me in a way that nothing else can, and I feel saddened and diminished as a person because of their lack. I watch Great Performances on PBS, record musical specials and award shows, and regularly get Facebook posts from various arts organizations as well as the BBC, but these all pale in comparison to being present at a live production. Live performances are ethereal and fleeting by nature, and it is always a distinct and singular privilege to share in them, both as a performer and as an audience member.
One thing that has helped enormously at this difficult time is technology. I have weekly video chats with my children, and more infrequent ones with members of my extended family. It is just wonderful to talk with them while looking at their familiar, much loved faces. I have also recently become more active on Facebook, hooking up with many new friends and posting more material. Anyone familiar with my writing knows that I have railed more than once about the many negatives of social media, but I have discovered that Facebook can be very beneficial if used properly. I do not click on any links provided by the platform, I do not believe anything posted from sources I don’t already know and trust, and I generally only share or repost things with a positive message. Facebook’s algorithms are programmed to provide users with more of whatever they show an interest in, so I figure if I keep putting up videos of adorable kittens and hilarious cartoons then that’s what I’ll get from FB in return. So far, this strategy has served me very well, and I regularly receive posts that are entertaining, uplifting, and/or funny. Nice!
Mankind has survived worse times than these. My own parents endured a decade long depression followed immediately by a protracted world war, and they both went on to live productive, relatively happy lives. I know I will get through this, I just hate this feeling of impotence while I wait. I also recognize the irony of writing about how I don’t feel like writing, but as I said, I also don’t feel like brushing my teeth and I’m still doing that. Some things are too important for one’s health – physical, emotional, or psychological – to be skipped. Writing, for me, is one of those things. Stay strong, my friends. This too shall pass.