Dealing with Desolation: Some Thoughts on Managing Pandemic Fatigue

My Easter reflection this year talked about the message of the resurrection being a word of great hope and expectation for people in difficult circumstances, such as the Hebrews caught between the advancing Egyptian army and the Sea, and the people of Judah exiled in Babylon for seven decades. Despite this message of hope, however, I have to admit that this week my heart and mind have been caught far more in feelings of desolation than in the joy of the resurrection.

The pandemic is taking a toll, to say the least. There is much to be grateful for — Canada’s generally cautious approach has unquestionably saved thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lives. There is also much to be hopeful for — we have excellent vaccines that for the most part appear to be even more effective and safer than initially hoped. But, for right now, we’re in it still, again, and for a while yet. It’s going to be a long, hard Spring here. Our hospitals are full, our storefronts increasingly boarded up, and, after a year of this marathon, we’re all exhausted and just so very over it.

So then. What are we to do about this? Here are a few things that have been helping me lately. I’m sharing them in the hopes that they may help you too.

For me the biggest thing is simply to acknowledge that things are hard. As I’ve said to friends and family so many times over the past year, ‘Hard things are hard.’ We need to remember that the public health measures implemented over the past year have represented the biggest public mobilization since the Second World War. That alone is huge — to say nothing of the impacts they have had on lives, livings, and lifestyles. Entire ways of life have been uprooted. We are grieving lost lives, opportunities, and time. And that’s hard. It isn’t ungrateful or whiny to acknowledge this. I would argue that it’s actually important to do so.

But hand-in-hand with acknowledging that things are hard is perspective-taking. As difficult as things are — and they are — this is also nothing new. We, especially those of us in the global West, have been incredibly privileged to have lived through an unprecedented period of peace, wealth, and health. I often remind myself that someone who was born in 1910 would have lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Spanish Flu and polio epidemics, and the start of the Cold War by the time they turned fifty! This doesn’t make the present time less difficult. But it should be a reminder that our civilization, countries, and economies have been through difficult times before. We humans are a resilient people. We’ve been through worse. We can come through this too.

The third thing is keeping in mind that no matter how much we may be hitting the wall in this marathon, we have every reason right now to think that an end to the pandemic is coming. The next few months could be really hard — maybe some of the hardest — but the immunization program is working, and it’s working well. This isn’t a promise — anything can happen — but the most likely outcome by far right now is that we’ll be in a much better position six months from now.

These three approaches basically boil down to acknowledging our feelings and perspective-taking. They are therefore nothing new or special, and are, in fact, at the core of many of today’s major psycho-therapeutic approaches. But I do think they are among our strongest weapons against desolation and despair. If you are looking for more specifically ‘spiritual’ approaches, I’ll refer you to the post I made at the start of the pandemic outlining some helpful sacred practices for times like these.

I’ll leave it here for now, but will simply add this: be good to yourselves and be good to one another. We’re all exhausted right now and far from at our best. Let’s dig deep and extend a little extra grace where we can.

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