We’ve all heard of the “pandemic wall.” There are memes. Articles. Venting to our therapists and BFFs. The concept is pretty simple: we’ve hit that point when we can’t go any more. Forward momentum stops. We break down.
“The pandemic wall pops up at different times for different people, but for a vast group of people, the wall has smacked them in the face within the past three weeks,” wrote Maura Judkis in the Washington Post. “The year 2020 was cursed; this is widely acknowledged. But New Year’s Day brought little relief. The first month of this year felt a lot like the 13th month of last year.”
The thing is, I’ve already hit the “pandemic wall” at least a dozen times in the past year. At some point, it stops becoming a wall and becomes… something else. I don’t know about you, but the pandemic wall has crushed me into a full-blown pandemic existential crisis.
“Once 2021 hit, it was like, ‘Oh, we’re still in this,’” Grey Gordon, a 27-year-old creative director for a record label told the Washington Post. “I was like, how much longer can I do this? These are my lost years.”
Yes, the lost years. At some point, this becomes less of a “grind it out” kind of thing and more of a “who am I and what I am I doing with my life” kind of thing. Unlike “hitting a wall” in a marathon or a challenging long-term work project, we don’t know when the end will come. We’ve been told that there’s “a light at the end of the tunnel” so many times, it’s beginning to feel like that light they’re all talking about is just a mirage of flicker. If you blink, you’ll miss it. Or was it ever there to begin with?
The thing is, most days I feel…I don’t know… fine? I make it through my work day, clean up after dinner (my husband usually cooks), do the laundry, text a friend, and nag my kids to finish their homework. I am a generally happy and optimistic person. But sometimes the fucked-up-ness of this reality kind of takes my breath away and before I know it I’m doing something wild like reorganizing the pantry at 10pm on a Friday night or researching moving to Portugal or crying in the car on a Tuesday afternoon (okay, so the crying in the car isn’t all that out of the ordinary).
“Some of the people who are approaching their pandemic wall might turn to the same advice given to runners,” wrote Judkis in the Washington Post. “Distract yourself. Try ‘positive self-talk.’ Ask for help. Eat some more carbs. When all else fails, just put one foot in front of the other.”
But that “one foot in front of the other” advice only works if you’re still walking. At some point, the landscape has shifted so much that we’re no longer running. Hell, we’re not even walking anymore, we’re crawling or staring at the edge of a mountain. At some point, the best option isn’t to put one foot in front of each other to move forward, but to stop, backtrack, and change direction.
That’s where I’m at. Do I keep on keeping on? Or change course entirely?
Is this really what life is like now, indefinitely? Masks and Zoom calls and night after night, week after week at home? What is even happening? We are living that “everything’s fine” dumpster fire meme every day – enduring and telling ourselves we’re building resilience, all with the implication that things will go “back to normal” (or some semblance of normal) relatively soon – but this isn’t sustainable. At all.
Some days, I don’t even know who I am, where I am, or what I want anymore.
I don’t feel like I’ve just hit a wall; I feel like I’m being spun around in a tornado of shit while some kind of giant whack-a-mole hammer keeps smashing down on me at random times. I don’t know where to turn or what to do or how to take a goddamn breath. There are days when I actually miss annoying small talk with strangers. And then there are days when I want to take a vow of silence and hibernate on my couch forever. There are days when I want to go balls to the wall with my career. And other days I want to pack my bags and live the nomad life.
Here is the reality a year into the pandemic: There’s a “Hunger Games”-like fight for the limited vaccines that we have available. Huge swaths of Americans refuse to wear a mask. And new variants threaten to destroy any positive progress made in the last couple months.
This is some fucked up shit we’re dealing with, y’all. There is nothing normal about it, yet for some reason we’re all pretending that everything is… I don’t know… fine. Meanwhile we’re screaming inside THIS IS NOT FINE. NOT FINE AT ALL.
So, yeah, I’m struggling. And I’m guessing that if you’re honest with yourself, you are too. It’s okay to admit this. It doesn’t mean I’m not keenly aware of the profound privilege I have to even complain about these things, let alone miss things like traveling and eating out a restaurant and hanging out with friends on a Friday night. I am fortunate to have a job, to have my health, to have a comfortable and safe home. I am privileged.
But I’m also confused AF, and tired as hell, and suffering from a damn pandemic existential crisis. I have no advice. None at all. Except maybe to say you aren’t alone. There is no right or wrong way to feel right now. And in case you hadn’t noticed, swearing can be pretty effing decent coping mechanism until we get our footing again.