This is all still really hard

I had coffee with a friend this morning. Though he’s years younger than me, we’re both feeling old and tired. The bounce has definitely gone out of our respective bungies. (You have to say that in Wallace’s voice – from Wallace and Gromit – to make it work properly.)

I am tired and low. Though there are happy moments, they don’t lift me the way they should. I feel like I’m bumping along the bottom of my life, lacking the strength to climb to the top, where once I would have soared. Not every day. No-one can soar every day. But I used to at least soar sometimes.

Some days I wrestle with that. I feel guilty and bewildered that I don’t feel better. After all, I can see people now. I can have people over to my house. There are hugs, and cafes, and restaurants. I’ve even been lucky enough to travel to see some of my loved ones. Yet this isn’t over. It’s all still really hard. Many people seem to feel life is back to normal, but I still can’t see normal with a telescope.

My friend and I talked this morning about the uncertainty – not knowing if or when another lockdown would hit. And this afternoon, lo and behold, it turns out there’s a new case in Melbourne. We’re not in lockdown yet, but who knows what will happen over the next few days?

It’s also the constant heightened risk. Have we checked in? Are we too close to the people at the next table? Is the ventilation good enough in this building? Should we sit outside even though it’s cold? Have we used enough hand sanitiser? Will the skin on my hands survive this much hand sanitiser? What is the list of exposure sites? Have I been there? Has anyone I love been there? Why is that guy wearing his mask under his nose? (I have never wanted to use the term “dicknose” so often in my life…) Why are all those high school kids not wearing masks on the train? Have I become the mask police? Can I go into the office? Is it safe to be on the train? Is this a cold, or could it be covid? I should get a test. Who might I have infected if it is covid? Will I be the “New case detected in Melbourne” in all of the papers? Should I not have hugged the dear friend I saw yesterday who I hadn’t seen in over a year? If it is covid, have I given it to my family? Have I been careful enough? What if I have spread covid to all of my friends? Will they hate me forever? Oh thank god, it’s not covid! But I still feel awful. What if the test returned a false negative? Is this new sniffle the old cold, or allergies, or do I need a new covid test?

It’s exhausting. In fact, it redefines exhausting entirely. I thought I knew what it was to be exhausted in the beforetimes, but it was nothing on how exhausted I feel now. This is a bone deep, grinding, hopeless psychological exhaustion that has eaten my hope, my joy, and my optimism, and left me gutted on the floor. It’s physical, too. I get puffed just walking up stairs. Is that covid? Or is it the shameful deconditioning of barely leaving my house for a year? Why have I put on all of this weight? Why can’t I take it off? Why can’t I move on? Why can’t I fix it all? Why can’t I feel better?

The last two paragraphs accidentally poured my internal monologue onto the page, I suspect, but perhaps that constant, frightened gibbering that passes for my train of thought these days explains the exhaustion somewhat. This isn’t over. There’s a long way to go. We’re trapped in endless stress cycles, raised cortisol levels, risk calculations, and pining for our way of life, our far flung loved ones, our joy.

We’ll get through this. Things are getting better. But we’re a long way from where we used to be. This is all still really hard. It’s ok to be struggling. Be kind to yourself.