“I’m so exhausted, how is it only Monday?” says the message I just sent to a co-worker.
It’s ten past five in the afternoon and I’m in the same room that I’ve been in pretty much all day, from the moment I woke up. I’ve transitioned from my bed, to the adjoining ensuite, briefly to the kitchen, back to this same room, logged on to the computer, worked 8 hours and now I’m lying back in bed in a half-hearted attempt to unwind. It is not going well. If I can muster up the energy, perhaps I’ll do an exercise class via zoom, in, you guessed it, this same room. I know moving to some music will momentarily make me feel better but knowing that the feeling of joy will be so fleeting doesn’t make me enthused to get changed into work out gear. Knowing that all there is to do after is wander to the shower, then eventually back to bed isn’t much of a driver either.
I’m lucky to have work, but nothing about the slog of getting through the day when my desk is only a meter from my bed makes me feel all that lucky. But I shouldn’t complain. I have so many friends who haven’t worked for months now. If I allow myself to feel anything other than fortunate for the regular wage, I’ll be racked with guilt. Be thankful, that’s what I have to tell myself.
It’s a cycle of psychological self-harm. Remind yourself, some people have it far worse, many of them close friends, hate yourself for feeling so negative when in contrast you’re ‘so lucky’, feel sad that your friends are having such a bad time, hate yourself for feeling sad instead of being able to help them. Try to help them, try to find an end in sight. Feel like a failure. Repeat.
It’s been weeks since I started to emotionally shut down. At first it was a gradual decline, but I have felt it become steeper in the past week or so. I can’t exactly put it into words, but now I really know what people mean when they use the phrase ‘shell of a person’. I feel like I’ve developed a kind of harsh exoskeleton that acts to protect me, not letting much of the bad in, but at the same time completely blocking out the good, the nice, the warmth. I really feel nothing. And feeling nothing weirdly hurts, it aches, a whole-body pain but numb at the same time. It’s survival mode, I know. I’m doing it to sustain myself, subconsciously and to enable myself to still try desperately, somehow to support those around me. To be the good friend that I would like to pride myself on being. I don’t feel like I can.
I’ve known my best friend since we were five. Even back when we first started kissing boys, I always imagined her as a mum. I never imagined that when she had a child it would be at least six months, possibly longer before I met him. I’d always thought I’d be one of the first bad influences in my best mates’ kids’ life.
Last year I watched a wedding via live stream and cried buckets full of tears of happiness for my friend as she married the love of her life – as well as a few tears of sadness that I couldn’t be there to share the joy. There was a small part of me that enjoyed the novelty of not wearing heels and drinking without having to organise a lift home. This year I tuned into my grandmother’s funeral on live stream. I certainly cried, but for the most part I just felt numb. There was no novelty in the surreal feeling of watching my family grieve through a screen as if they were actors on a low budget show, knowing that they were having that experience at the exact same time as I was, many miles away.
Every day I walk past signs that remind me how long it’s been going on – the once creepily adorable spoonvilles are run down and tattered, rainbows in windows made to distract children in 2020 are faded and my favourite local pub has a depressing statement in the window.
Last year, when it came to cases, 700 was a figure that terrified me. This year, 1,800 is oddly just a number. Interstate friends have questioned, how do you feel about the numbers? I can’t. I can’t because I don’t really feel. I ache.
On social media my interstate friends share semi conspiratorial posts; ‘do you really know anyone who’s had COVID’? They don’t. We do. Last year I knew those who had it. This year, I know of the unavoidable cases who made it to ICU, they were waiting for vaccination that hadn’t been made available to them – it should have.
How will we emerge? Broken each in our own way. Last year we all spoke with pride in the resilience we showed. This year, there will be many of us who carry this pain for a long time to come. I know I will.