The worst part

The worst part is, or rather one of the worst parts, for there are many, this*: guilt.

Everyone I talk to is feeling so, so guilty right now.

Guilty for not being more productive in lockdown.

Guilty for not providing better support to their friends.

Guilty for not being more patient with their kids.

Guilty for not making better sourdough. Guilty for not making sourdough at all. Guilty for making other people feel bad about their sourdough.

Guilty for putting on weight. Guilty for not exercising more. Guilty for drinking too much.

Guilty for buying too many coffees. Guilty for not buying coffees and supporting local businesses.

Guilty for not getting this health issue checked. Or that health issue. Or one of the long, long list of other ones that have just been too hard to think about.

Guilty for not going to the dentist.

Guilty for going out and risking exposure.

Guilty for not going out because you’re afraid of risking exposure.

Guilty for badgering friends with too many messages. Guilty for not sending enough messages to your friends.

The guilt is everywhere. I have an overactive guilt gland at the best of times, but right now the guilt level is beyond overwhelming.

I bought some flowering tulips, still on the bulb, to cheer myself up. They made me happy for a few days, and then I felt guilty for not taking better care of them and changing the water regularly.

A collection of red and yellow tulips on a messy table

I suspect the immense uncertainty and lack of control we are dealing with in every area of our lives right now – both covid related and not – are piling up in such a way that we simply can’t live the lives we feel like we should. We can’t do a lot of the things we feel we should do. We can’t be the people we want to be. And so we’re building up a kind of guilt-debt. A failure mountain of ways we can’t measure up.

I don’t think we’ve updated our internal image of how we should behave and what our lives should be like to account for the impact of the pandemic. All along, we’ve told ourselves that things will “soon” be back to normal, without ever really defining “soon”. Sadly, “soon” keeps receding into the distance like a mirage. With every lockdown, every vaccine rollout screw up, it gets a little more out of reach. A little more demoralising.

So life yoyos between tantalising glimpses of almost normal and lockdown, and it’s never entirely clear which is more terrifying. Meanwhile we keep failing to live up to our ideals, because those ideals are out of reach until we can claw our way out the other side of this thing. Assuming we can.

In my professional life I am all about data and evidence (check out Raising Heretics: Teaching Kids to Change the World to see more), and I think it might be time to apply the data and the evidence to our own lives. To be kinder to ourselves. To recognise all the extra burdens we are carrying, and to understand that when you’re working under the weight of a pandemic, you’re going to be working slower, and that’s ok.

This thing isn’t easy. And it’s not going to be easy anytime soon. We really have to cut ourselves some slack, and try to slay the guilt monster. Everything else can wait.

* apologies to Douglas Adams