Something has happened to us. Whether we have been exposed to COVID-19 or not, we’ve been exposed to its psychological fallout. Our minds have been irrevocably altered by a combination of fear, denial, bravado, and stunned disbelief.
During the early days of the pandemic, we experienced the most intense phase of the fight or flight response; but the nature of the threat was such that fighting was not an option, so we fled in ways we’d never done before. We stayed indoors. When required to venture out, we avoided people. We washed our vegetables and wiped down groceries. Some of us put on gloves to pick up mail from mailboxes. And we avoided our friends and families. We eschewed travel, even avoiding trips downtown or to doctors’ offices.
We felt caged. We wondered whether this monstrous pandemic marked the end of civilization; the moment at which humanity’s failings had finally come back to begin our erasure us in an event too horrible to imagine. These were not passing thoughts, either. They consumed us with sensations of gloom so deep and dark we dared not share them with others who might crack under the pressure of psychological torture.
All of these experiences, whether measurable or imaginary, changed us. They molded us into people who now are only half-alive. Oh, we attempt to proclaim our humanity and personhood and interest in “the old ways” by engaging in adventures like we did before. But the enthusiasm is muted and false. It is rote engagement, not the real thing.
Our reading habits have changed. We no longer watch the news the way we once did. We turn off the television when discussions turn to COVID-19 “recovery” or its ugly cousin, mass tragedy.
We are not sure what to do about this change in us. We could attempt to overcome it, but to what end? We could let it consume what’s left of us…but without a fight? I do not know. We try to escape it with road trips or changing our environments, but we know it’s inescapable. So we vacillate between surrender and impotent fury. “This will be with us for the rest of our lives,” the experts have finally begun to say. Now, we ask without even a trace of humor in the question, “how long is that?”