If I look back, the past few months have been nothing short of a roller coaster ride—not the fun kind where the only worry is whether you’ll barf on the guy next to you, but the real life version of it.
I, like everyone, began lockdown season assuming that in three weeks, I would be back outside, exploring the city I love so much, and hanging out with every friend I had. So I, like everyone, optimistically killed time by making frothy Dalgona coffees and doing Instagram bingo challenges. But somewhere between then and now, I blinked. And then when I opened my eyes, I was three months into the pandemic, tired yet restless, just from existing, and with barely any clue how time had passed.
The world outside looks better now since most places have opened up. And while this means more things to do outside, the sparse traffic means the city is still quiet and you can still hear the city birds, probably for the first time in all our lives. It seems pretty tempting to step out, even with the added effort of remembering to put on a mask and carry a sanitiser. But, despite it being everything I could ask for in the current situation and especially after months of staying indoors, I don’t think I’m going to be stepping out any time soon.
If you asked my friends, they would tell you that I hate staying home—that I just need an excuse to go out. They wouldn't even be wrong about it, since that was practically 70 percent of my pre-pandemic personality. But now, I don't even know anymore. Most days, this is how my routine goes: wake up, eat, work, read, eat, sleep. Luckily, I don’t have pets that need to be walked, nor do I have to go out for work. I am also privileged enough to get groceries delivered to my door. Apart from my parents’ occasional nagging, I don’t really have a reason to step out.
So maybe it is the monotony, but now the pandemic has made me pretty fatigued and numb. And while I’m aware that my relative privilege allows me to be fatigued and numb (instead of having to worry about putting food on the table or socially distance with 10 other people living in a tiny house), I’m also too fatigued and numb to think much about why I’m fatigued and numb.
But I do know for a fact that this isn't just me. Thankfully, a quick Google search confirms this fatigue in quarantine is a real thing.
“It isn't quite exhaustion I feel, but more like general apathy," says Rashi, a postgraduate student. “I couldn't wait for things to open up back in March, and now I'm so comfortable in this cocoon that I don't know how I'd go about things.” Rishabh, a graphic designer, adds, "I think I have lost the ability to feel these days; I'm so tired. So, on some days, I watch sad movies or anime just to make myself feel something." Many other friends echo this sentiment—not stepping out even if they can, and not out of fear of the virus but just because what’s-even-the-point.
“This is a case of burnout; it is your brain saying that it's done,” says Ruchita Chandrashekar, a behavioural health researcher and psychologist when I go to her with our collective condition. “This numbness that you feel, this desensitisation to news and whatever’s happening around you is a raging sign of burnout. Life has derailed, and we hardly have any control over our actions. Exhaustion and anxiety is a normal reaction to it. You might be feeling slightly apathetic to whatever is happening in the world, and that is because your brain is fired up with so much information it really can't process anything else.” It also feels like a case of compassion fatigue, where, as many experts explain, we can fathom the suffering of a few, but a million just ends up becoming a statistic that numbs us. A constant stream of grim news reports just makes each coming day seem worse than the one before, to the point we are so saturated with emotions that we stop feeling at all.
So just like that, I’ve realised how good news and bad news all sound the same to me these days; and I can’t really be bothered to spend my emotional energy trying to decode them either. Earlier this month, my university finally confirmed it was cancelling our exams. Now that is something that would’ve overjoyed me normally (because come on, who doesn’t love the sweet, sweet joy of cancelled exams). But this time, it felt like just another addition to the list of things that happened in 2020.
But if you are eager to step out of your numb cocoon, Chandrashekar has some ideas. “The first step to feeling better is identifying the numbness and the burnout, identifying why you are feeling the way you are,” she advises. “Maintaining human connection is also essential. We are social animals after all.” Sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and mood swings are all signs of a burnout, she says. Ironically, though, while she is explaining it to me, I realise that even though I recognise most of the symptoms in my own body, I kind of don’t care.
It is like we’re on a boat in an ocean that is pandemic, searching for a shore that is our regular life. Except now, I feel like I might be better off in the boat, instead of looking and hoping for a way for things to be what they were. Chandrashekar continues, “Just try to make it through another day—just another 9 p.m.”
And then she says a line that all copywriters around the world have decided to use like their jobs depend on it: “We are all in this together.” But weirdly enough, this tiny reminder helps just a tiny bit. A day will come when I hopefully would finally want to take all my walks and meet everyone I know, but until then, I am off to survive yet another day.
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