The novel coronavirus has lost its novelty amongst us humans. It’s not shiny or exciting, heck, It’s barely even news anymore. But it is still here, and people are suffering from burnout at an unprecedented rate.
I would like to talk about COVID Burnout. I was going to name this article COVID Fatigue, but that has its own clinical definition now that Long COVID is a new diagnosis.
This article is about all of us, the lay-people. I want to acknowledge that healthcare workers, front-line workers, and essential workers have been feeling COVID Burnout since about May of 2020. The trauma they face daily, the tragic outcomes of their priceless efforts, are likened to that of war-time. Because I do not work in that environment, I cannot speak to their experiences. Please continue to be mindful of those who work to keep us safe, and the sacrifices they make daily.
I am the first one to say that I have been blessed during this pandemic, in that very few of my family and friends have been affected. My adult son contracted Covid last June, and he has some residual effects, but he did not become seriously ill, and he’s functioning at about 90%. The rest of my immediate family have not been seriously impacted. I am incredibly grateful for this, as I spoke with someone last week who lost 9 family members to COVID-19, ages ranging from 21 to 99. NINE! The grief and chaos that family must be experiencing is beyond what I can fathom. And there are countless such stories around the globe.
This is a BIG part of the collective experience – loss and subsequent GRIEF! We’ve lost so much as a country, as a society, as the human race. We’ve lost intimate connections with others. While things are opening back up, greeting hugs are few and far between these days. We’ve lost what trust we had left in the media and government scientists because the message keeps changing. We’ve lost a huge chunk of the workforce that keeps the whole world moving at the pace to which we’d become accustomed. We’ve lost the freedom of choice, to an extent. If we’ve chosen not become vaccinated, then we may lose our jobs. That doesn’t FEEL like a choice.
We’ve lost people. SO many people. 4,550,000 people globally. ~714,000 in the United States. This doesn’t include the increased suicide rates of those with mental illness and front-line jobs, who couldn’t cope with the severe isolation or overwhelming stress.
We’ve gained anonymity, but lost familiarity. It’s like every time we go out of the house, we’re visiting another town, where we don’t know anyone and don’t care to. When we walk into the grocery store wearing a mask and see only others who are wearing masks, we seldom need to make eye contact. We gage how close they are to us, whether we need to back up or walk around them, whether there’s too many people in that isle, but we don’t have to interact with anyone, so we don’t. Some of us have gotten very good at the self-checkout stations. There are no more obligatory, polite smiles at people we pass by, and so by that same token, the neighbors don’t bother to wave when we drive by anymore.
The long-term impacts of the tremendous collective losses and the impending grief that follows haven’t even begun to surface yet. The fall-out of these losses will impact our country for decades. Look at 9-11 and it’s impact. That single event was 20 years ago, and still the whole world has changed because of it.
The divisiveness in our country was already at a colossal level when COVID-19 hit us. Rather than coming together, we’re now fighting over who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s being “controlled by fear” and who’s belittling those who refuse to comply. We’ve lost our sense of togetherness. At least 9-11 brought us together.
Many of us have resolved that we may contract the virus, even if it means our ultimate demise. And we know that the Delta variant is just the beginning of potential mutations. (Delta is only D in the Greek alphabet.) I’ve heard people say “I’m not as worried about getting the virus, as I’m tired of feeling vulnerable”. “I just want to start living my life again.”
But each of us must decide for ourselves how we are going to ride this out. Do we remain afraid of other people or do we start getting back to life in the spirit of the “new normal”? Do we keep asking everyone we visit with about their V-Status, or do we just assume we could contract the virus any time we leave the safety of our homes, and we’ll deal with it when it comes? Do we get our information from Facebook memes or the W. H. O.?
When I find myself in a place of fear or anger, in a spiral where I can’t get a foothold, I find the only way to get out of it is gratitude. Fear and Faith can’t coexist. Being grateful squashes anger like a grape. So, let’s look at what we’ve gained.
We’ve gained awareness and knowledge about viruses and how to manage their impacts. Viruses have been around longer than most living organisms and they’re VERY good at surviving (that’s all they do). Because of this, more children of the pandemic era will go into bioscience studies and we’ll gain some great minds and leaders in the next few decades.
We’ve also gained some things like appreciation for our health and that of our loved ones. “Health” has a whole new definition now. Before “Health” was about trying to stay at our optimum operating levels, now inquiring about someone’s health automatically leads them to discuss whether they or their loved ones have contracted Covid. I’ve said out loud before that I’m grateful for my family’s health, but I’ve never meant it like this!
We’ve gained a new sense of family time, new hobbies, new habits, new recipes, and new skills. For those whose marriages survived the initial confinement, renewed relationships with our spouses, and for those who didn’t, we’ve gained whole new lives.
We’ve gained a new perspective. Many of us have learned to set boundaries, and honor our own needs over the needs of others. We’ve become more introspective. We’ve become students of philosophy, and learned to see ourselves and others in a different light. We’ve learned to let go of unimportant things, and recognize the truly important parts of our lives.
Are we burned out? Yes. Are we doomed? No. We will find new ways to cope, we will educate ourselves. Perhaps the planet’s collective trauma will open up entirely new avenues for healing. We’ll keep getting up every day, keep breathing in and out, make changes in our lives where we see fit, and hopefully seek out help when we need it. We will get through this, most of us will.
October 11, 2021