Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

21-8. Pandemic Ennui

I hesitate to write about something that has itself become a big bore. Far too much has been written of it already and no-one wants to read more. We are all suffering pandemic ennui in some form or other and no-one wants to read about someone else’s misery.

But since this, Travels With Myself, is my blog, what else should I write about but what I am thinking or doing, or in this case, not doing, during this perpetual cycle of waiting. 

None of my readers have to deal with that dread question our fathers (and mothers no doubt) faced: ‘what did you do during the war Daddy?’ In the years ahead it will be, ‘what did you do during the pandemic Mom/Dad?’ and the answer for many of us will be, ‘nothing!’ Even if we wanted to do ‘our bit’, for the most part we haven’t been allowed to sign up. Unless you were already a front-line worker it was too late to volunteer. ‘Our bit’ mostly meant staying home, waiting it out. At least we didn’t have to black out the windows.

I’m not suggesting that I’ve been doing nothing. Nor you. Nor am I even suggesting that I am bored, exactly. But a feeling of inertia, stuckness, seems to dominate my days.

‘What did you do during the pandemic Grampa?’ ‘Not much, Son, but I remember having to pull myself together and drive myself to the pharmacy for some shampoo once. Oh, and I had a devil of a time cutting my own hair in the mirror.’ 

I’m not suggesting that everyone is feeling the same way I am. Some people, I think, are quite content with their current lifestyle and living under the current social constraints and protocols. And some people are very busy dealing with consequences of covid rules, whether they are front-line healthcare workers, so-called essential services workers, or merely busy people whose day jobs have become more complicated under covid conditions, their lives even busier than before. These people are not bored, but they may be exhausted with the seemingly never-ending stress and demands on their days, and their nights. 

A certain pall has settled over everything, ennui of an insidious persistent type. 

Ennui is not quite the same as boredom. This wonderful French word somehow goes beyond mere boredom, connoting more lethargy than apathy. Boredom is short-term, that empty afternoon feeling we have of children, or ourselves, seemingly having nothing to do, and discontented, but no ideas as to stimulate and entertain themselves. Ennui is more than that, a general feeling of lassitude and listlessness that dulls the mind and torpefies the spirit, and persists. Dull depression with a touch of anxiety. It is this feeling of ongoing sameness that enervates; even people exhausted by their heightened workload and demands of the pandemic and its consequences are suffering mental fatigue. It’s a hamster wheel with no joy.

I think everyone is tired of the constant constraints on our freedom. I’m not saying we have sacrificed all our freedoms, or that some of our suspended fundamental freedoms won’t return (though there is a risk of complacency), what I mean is we have lost the freedom of spontaneity. The constant reminders of the need for compliance, whether you think legitimate or not, takes away from our sense of empowerment. The withdrawal of so many services and diversions – all in the name of limiting social contact – takes away from our sense of choice. This creates a feeling of powerlessness, and impotence, so that even though we hate the mental state we are in we stay stuck. The psychologists call this learned helplessness.

Helplessness increases with loneliness. It takes a lot more discipline to encourage oneself to action than if you have a partner or group to perk you up and sweep you along. It’s like exercise, or any activity, where to have a companion who has expectations of you gets you going. It’s easier to go to the gym because you don’t want to let down somebody else than it is to get yourself to the gym for fear of letting yourself down. In fact, this is my best argument for getting down to my boxing gym in the basement two or three times a week – ‘you’re going to be disappointed in yourself later if you don’t’. I rationalize this failure by way of my daily default – walking the dog.

And it’s not as if I am completely without a companion. Even though I video-confer with Carmen 3-4 times a day via Skype or Messenger, it’s not quite enough. I am reminded, and then resentful, of that old advertising slogan, ‘reach out and touch someone’. Ha! And it’s not spontaneous – a major part of the ennui of powerlessness – it’s scheduled: we have to accommodate the 12-hour time difference between Ontario and The Philippines. But conversation, especially with the limitations of language, is not enough to overcome ennui, it needs activity. Oh, I could play solitaire or do a jigsaw puzzle, online or otherwise – but I would prefer cribbage or black jack, with the loser losing a garment. 

I also have my faithful and devoted companion, Bonnie, but she has very little sense of my needs, only her own. She doesn’t remind me it’s time we went boxing, or to bed. She sleeps all the time, except for our three walks per day. And at 14 years, and encroaching health issues, even that routine is becoming constrained.

I sometimes wonder about people in ‘retirement communities’ – at least that sounds better than ‘rest homes’ – and their increasing thrall, more and more confined to their small worlds. I think of my mother, a hugely proactive and productive woman in her active years even though living alone, but whose world shrank more and more with each passing year; and this well before the horrors of covid in ‘homes for the aged’. Like inmates in another sort of prison their ennui must be debilitating. Not for me a ‘retirement home’, though living in my daughter’s basement has no appeal either.

In an earlier blog I waxed on about purpose in life and the formula for happiness, pandemic or no pandemic. I said knowing and deploying one’s best talents to find moments of ‘flow’, is the way, and this is often best done though ‘projects’, especially if the project involves and benefits others. 

I have tried to take my own advice. And for that reason I have worked diligently on completing my novel (The Treasure of Stella Bay) and getting it out there. I have no paid consulting work but I have put many hours into facilitating the Canadian Authors Association with producing its 2021- 26 Strategic Plan. It has been demanding and very satisfying work – and reminds me that I am making a difference through my skills and experience, insight and energy, and still have value. I refuse to be retired.

So why do I still feel pandemic ennui?

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing

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