The pandemic has given us new kinds of exhaustion, all of them equally draining. Yet there’s hope in perseverance
During the past two years, each stage of the pandemic has brought with it a new species of tired. The first was a heady sort of tiredness, all jittery over-vigilance when the first lockdown happened. The memory of that time has an almost lunar quality: it felt like being marooned in a pod on a hostile deserted landscape but with your lights and radars still blinking, still whirring, powered by adrenaline and restlessness. It was a short, sharp fear, in anticipation of a crisis that would be intense but soon over.
And it was soon over. Sort of. And then it wasn’t. Then it was over again, then around Christmas last year, it wasn’t. And now, after a brief late-summer of almost normal, the emergence of the Omicron variant means that Covid is threatening the holiday season for the second year in a row, as restrictions tighten around Europe and scientists advising the UK government turn up the volume on their demands for more curbs before the new year.
The British experience is distinguished from much of the world by the in-plain-sight element of our government’s incompetence and corruption. But the uncertainty, the stop-starts, that marooned feeling of waiting to be rescued, the anticipation of life changing overnight, has been a global experience that is still ongoing. Once again, borders are sealed and airports shut down. Once again, infections are rising and as many start planning to travel home for holidays, a ripple of rumours has started. I have heard them from Nairobi to Norwich, predicting another lockdown, another domestic travel ban, another last-minute intervention by authorities who wait too long and act too late.
With the dashing of each raised hope and resurrected plan, a new tiredness sets in: a turbulent kind of tired, hot with anger towards politicians whose reckless behaviour claimed your loved one; a confused, self-berating tired, when you don’t seem to be able to complete the most simple of tasks. It’s a glass-eyed tiredness, endlessly scrolling but not absorbing, trying to become animated by force-feeding yourself the news and images of a world you can’t experience.
Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist