I think many of us are suffering from a kind of low-grade depression, as though we had a fever of 99.6 Fahrenheit. We don’t feel sick, exactly, but we don’t feel well. We feel tired, but it’s hard to sleep. We get headaches, are easily irritable. We forget what day it is, or what we were doing, or what we meant when we started that sentence. Sometimes we wonder why in the world we’re doing this, whatever this is.
It’s partly the pandemic. I don’t know about you, but for me, not much has changed since March. I’m still teaching classes, mostly online although this fall my university went to a hybrid format, so I taught some classes on campus. Every day I had mandatory symptom monitoring, and once a week I had mandatory Covid testing. I’m still going to the drug store and grocery store, still waiting in line outside when I need to. One important change is that the book store is open now — that is a kind of blessing.
It’s partly our politics, which seems to consist mostly of wealthy people in power, comfortable in their stupidity, who do nothing to help us — along with some brave souls, many of them scientists, doing what they can in a government that has grown toxic. The fact that so many politicians are catching the virus seems like a metaphor — although Covid may be less harmful than their selfishness, greed, and desire for power, which have made this pandemic so much worse.
Last Monday I taught on campus, which is always harder than teaching from home. I had to pack my lunch, course material, laptop. I had to put on winter clothes, because it’s winter now, and walk to campus — about twenty minutes, since I won’t want to take public transportation, now that cases are rising in Boston. There were only a few students in class, since most of them went home for Thanksgiving, and not that many were coming to physical classes even before the holiday–it’s so much easier to Zoom in from your dorm room. So it was a harder day than usual, but as I walked home from campus, I felt a sense of exhilaration, simply from being outside in the cold air, seeing the trees without their leaves, their branches exposed and architectural. I felt alive.
The way we live now is not healthy, for any of us. I’m enormously lucky, and I feel it–able to work from home most of the time, although all that time on Zoom and online is causing terrible problems for my back (which was injured long ago — even under ordinary circumstances I have to make sure I’m stretching and exercising). I have food and a roof over my head, and books and Netflix. But it’s winter now, and the darkness comes earlier. There are days when I wake up, get ready to teach, teach my classes online, and then it’s already dark — too dark to do anything outside. I realized recently that there were entire days when I did not leave my apartment, even though it’s the first floor of a house on a very pretty street, with parks and shops within walking distance. This summer was easier, because I had a garden that always gave me a reason to go out, whether to water the plants or just check and make sure their new leaves had not been eaten by rabbits.
And of course I used to travel, to conferences and conventions. I used to see friends. I think we are all missing motion, purpose, the sense that we are going somewhere, rather than suspended, waiting. We are missing real people, rather than faces on a screen. Yes, there are online events, but after teaching so much online, I can’t bear the thought of spending another moment in that unreality. If there is a lesson of this year, it’s that the virtual can’t replace the physical. We crave the real.
Sometimes I ask my daughter how she’s feeling, and she says, “Oh, you know, blah.” I think that’s how many of us are feeling right now — somewhat empty, like a summer house during winter, waiting for our lives to begin again. (I mean those of us who are not ill — the people who have caught Covid are feeling much more, have been through much more. May we keep them, and the healthcare workers who are working so hard right now, in our hearts and thoughts . . .)
But I wanted to write because I felt this blahness in myself, and I thought, what is this? What does it remind me of? It reminds me of how I felt when I was truly and seriously depressed, the last year of my PhD — only milder. I can feel the fog around me, but I can see out of it, and I know it will pass. (Back then, I could not and did not.) My brain still knows that things are getting better — soon, there will be vaccines available. Soon, I hope, the political situation will get better, although many selfish, corrupt politicians will remain in power. I am not a good enough person to wish them well — they are too harmful, to us and to life on this beautiful planet. Spring will come, and the garden will bloom again. We will see our friends again.
I wish I had more wisdom than that, but the only wisdom I have right now is hope — no, rather the certainty that things will get better, which is more than hope. It’s faith.
In the meantime, take care of yourself. Get some rest, drink some water, wear a mask when you go out. Find a source of joy, whether it’s knitting or cooking or cat photos on the internet. Human history tells us that this too will pass.
(This little plant and I had a talk this morning. “Look,” I said. “It’s only December. You need to go back to sleep for another three months.” But I was glad to see it, because I planted a lot of bulbs, but the squirrels dug and dug in my garden this fall, and I don’t know how many bulbs they dug up for squirrel feasts. I hope some of them are left . . .)