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Alone, Albeit Together

April 29, 2021
The collective and isolating emotions of living through a global pandemic.

I had been staring at a blank screen for far too long. I’m rarely at a loss for things to say—occupational hazard, I suppose—but this was different.

To be clear, I fully acknowledge my blessings. I haven’t caught COVID-19, nor have I lost someone to this disease. I have health insurance, food in the pantry and am not past due on rent. Still, I have suffered in personal ways as a result of the pandemic.

And on that day when I had a story due, it was as if I had nothing left to give. The well had run dry, and there were no more words to write.

I turned to social media for distraction and ended up finding solace with strangers. Thanks to the rabbit hole that is Twitter, I came across a series of tweets from journalist Tanzina Vega, host of the talk show “The Takeaway” on WNYC:

“Lots of people - including me - are hitting what I’m calling the pandemic wall this week. The burnout from working non stop, no break from news, childcare and isolation is hard.

“It’s ok not to be ok right now. I think we need to accept that.

“Can’t think straight? Can’t sleep? Brain fog? Depression? Even random physical symptoms? I think it’s all pandemic burnout. (Not the same as pandemic fatigue)

“Fatigue is being tired of wearing a mask etc. Burnout means not seeing the end of it and not being able to function at optimal capacity.

“I don’t want to be a downer but I want to acknowledge that people are really feeling worn out. Hopefully you see you’re not alone.”

For the first time in weeks, possibly months, I was able to put what I was experiencing into words. I googled more about pandemic wall, pandemic fatigue and pandemic burnout—the latest unfortunate additions to our lexicon, courtesy of COVID-19.

I found articles in The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post and so many others. The interviews with mental health experts and others like me resonated.

Like millions of others, I have spent most of the last year sequestered from friends, family and co-workers. I also estimate that I have never spent more time reading news or checking social media in an attempt to feel less lonely, more connected and purposely distracted from my surroundings.

And yet, despite all my screen time, I assumed that I was alone in my experiences.

I fundamentally know that our digital selves aren’t the whole picture. All that curated content is how we want to present ourselves to the world. It’s easier to hide true selves during the pandemic; it’s incredibly brave to be honest.

It’s like being able to answer the question “How are you doing?” with “fine” but being able to hide the fact that you’ve been wearing the same threadbare sweatpants with food remnants for days, put your hair in a very messy ponytail and not bothered to disguise your puffy eyes that are likely the result from another night of revenge bedtime procrastination.

In the absence of being surrounded by others, it’s easy to forget that others might be experiencing similar emotions during a global pandemic. Many days, it seems like others are coping with the pandemic far better than me; that I alone have not jumped on the home renovation, breadmaking or weight loss bandwagon. Maybe you feel something similar and didn’t even realized it.

I’ve followed some of the advice given in those articles I pored over. They’ve given me something to think of, something to do, some way to shake up this rut, er, routine I’ve slowly adopted the past year. But honestly, one of the most helpful things has been participating in or watching Zoom interviews, which remind me that we’re all alone, albeit together.

We’re separately trying to adapt the best we can. And until we can safely gather again, I think it’s past time we be courageous enough to share how we’re really feeling and give ourselves the grace to feel or process this chronic stress in whatever way we need.

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