So much has been written about the loneliness and anxiety caused by Covid restrictions over the last 14 months. A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association from Boston University School of Public Health found that the rate of depression among the general population has more than tripled, to 27.8%, from the pre-pandemic rate of 8.5%. A Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that 42% of Americans were experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression today vs.11% before. (Both examples in a report by Thor Benson for NBC News, May 20, 2021.) Suddenly, the biggest health news is not about fighting Covid infection, but about living with the psychological effects of having survived the fight.
Human beings are social animals and even the most anti-social among us crave some sort of interaction with others, however deviant or negative that might be. From the very beginning of the pandemic, the biggest concerns about closing schools for in-person learning were not only about the loss of academic progress, but also about the toll that separation from friends and families would have on children’s emotional well-being. Now we see that extended periods of loneliness, isolation and fear, not to mention the everyday stress of living in a chaotic society, adversely affect everybody.
The arrival of the virus was so sudden and the shut downs across the Country so extensive that no one had time to think, much less to prepare. Unlike a hurricane bearing down on the coast or even a fire raging in the hills, there were just no established precautions and no time to implement them if they existed. Everyone was caught off-guard by no solutions, no time frame — only questions. It took months for any acceptable Covid protocols to be established, and even when the science afforded some guidance, many people refused to accept not only the protocols, but the very existence of the threat itself. The whole pandemic became politicized and people simply retreated from all the fuss. I know I did.
The new word and the dominant emotion of 2021 is “languishing.” With depression and suicide on the rise, you’re lucky if you only find yourself unmotivated, unfocused and “languishing.” It is described as the blahs, a state of ennui and disconnection that endures, even as the euphoria over available vaccines and the prospect of a “return to normal” engulfs the entire country in a frenzy of moving on. (“There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,” Adam Grant, The New York Times, April 19, 2021.) Once again, everything is sudden: vaccine rollouts gain momentum, CDC relaxes guidelines, and governors abandon (even ban, as in Texas) any mandates for masks or distancing requirements of any kind.
Yea!!!! We are back to normal!!! Let’s break out and go to those restaurants, attend those huge concerts and sporting events, gather for parties and graduations, plan those cruises and vacations once again, and embrace not only those close to us, but any and all who are vaccinated, even as as we rely on the honor system of identifying who exactly that is.
Except we aren’t quite back to normal, not yet anyway.
The irony for me is that the whole shut down and solitude of this last year has actually been beneficial and not unwelcome at all. Of course, I have the luxury of being retired and having an income and not being stressed about my kids or my job or my living expenses. Nevertheless, I came to appreciate this hiatus from my usual, busy routine of organizations and obligations and travel as a time out for reflection. I have written here before about the creative benefits, the art quilt projects I have completed and the writing I have done during this sort of “extended snow day” of exemptions from activity. Yes, the Covid vaccines have brought me some encouragement and hope, but I still am not ready to throw off the cloak of caution and resume previous routines.
Texas is only about 35% vaccinated at this point, and my husband and I long since decided that international travel, even domestic travel, for this year was out of the question. Maybe we would take a day trip or two, maybe even hazard a driving trip overnight later in the year, but we are not ready to jump right in, so to speak. We haven’t minded being cautious, after all, and so continuing our Covid lifestyle for a while longer is no real hardship. In a way, it is even a luxury.
We actually went out to eat indoors in a favorite restaurant recently for the first time since March 13 of last year. The hostess who seated us (at a remote table I chose myself) couldn’t believe that it had been that long since we had been out. Ah, the invincible optimism of the young… Anyway, I was anxious, but I got over it. Last week, after the CDC announcement of no masks for those who are vaccinated, we went to another local favorite restaurant and found, to our dismay, that while most of the customers coming in were still wearing masks, the waitstaff was not! I’m sorry, but this is not going to do for me. Message to the CDC: reliance on the honor system for vaccination freedom doesn’t work when so many of our fellow citizens have no good sense, much less any honor.
So, this is where I am now. Conflicted. I want to be hopeful, but I don’t want to be foolish and blow all my caution to the wind. I plan to keep to my Covid routine for quite a while longer, thank you, if for no other reason than my own peace of mind. Besides, a certain amount of solitude suits me.