OWhen Angie attended a funeral last week, she wore a mask. “I was very much in the minority,” she says. As a close family member of the deceased, the musician from Victoria struggled with disrespect to wear it, so she did not put the mask on the grave or the wake. Now she is waiting to see if she, or anyone else at the funeral, has Covid. This is just the latest in a long line of incidents that have worn her down.
She’s ‘tired days after a gig where I’m in a state of hyper-vigilance, wondering if I caught Covid doing my job…tired of trying to protect my mum and therefore missing the moments golden from his old age… tired of reading how the numbers are increasing,” she says. “I can’t take this much anxiety for so long…”
More than two and a half years after first hearing the word “coronavirus” (Oh, remember those beer jokes we made?), after going through border closures, lockdowns, mandates, periods of isolation, vaccinations, virus mutations, releases and reopenings and running the gamut of fear, anxiety, confusion, denial and resignation, many people are now, like Angie, completely exhausted. Against this backdrop, public health experts have issued dire warnings about a third Omicron wave.
We have reached the “is it Covid fatigue or just the lingering symptoms of having actually contracted the virus?” stage of the pandemic. No wonder we’re tired. Check the box that tires you the most: playing whether the pub is worth the risk, paying hundreds of dollars for unused childcare, persuading children to wear masks while explaining the government’s message that they don’t actually have to. but that instead it is “strongly encouraged” and “highly recommended”, or design a plan B, C and D for each life scenario.
How do we make sense of “meh”? The main difference with this phase of the pandemic is that many of us have contracted Covid, explains psychologist Chris Cheers. Last year, many of his patients “were stressed by the pressures of lockdown, or impending lockdown…Now there’s anxiety about actually having Covid and having to live with the fact that it’s It’s all around us, just as we’re expected to return to normal.”
Over, tired and weary
For some, fatigue manifests itself by completely disengaging them from the news. It is better to be bored by the pandemic than terrified. Others have never stopped paying attention to it and therefore feel a very real exhaustion.
Cheers says there are three different ways to feel tired. “To be above that, to be tired and then to be tired.” There is the emotional experience of being “done” with thinking about Covid, he continues. “Then there is fatigue, which is a physical feeling, but also emotional fatigue.”
“The difference between tired and tired is that when we rest, fatigue gets better, but with fatigue, it’s still there.” Now is the time, says Cheers, to think about seeking additional medical or psychological help.
For those who haven’t logged out, there’s a special kind of weariness. Masks have become a totem of Covid fatigue, whether you’re tired of being told to wear them or tired of wearing them around people who won’t.
Nik, who has cancer, works in the IT department of a college. He wears a mask to work and asks his colleagues to do so when they approach his desk. “I was called ‘bubble boy’ by email to the whole office,” he says.
“Every day I fight the urge to lay down and cry. Or give up. Every day I wear a mask hoping that maybe someone on the fence about it will be encouraged by my example.
For immunocompromised people and their families, the pandemic has never subsided and they don’t have the luxury of being bored.
Amy’s husband underwent a double lung transplant over a decade ago, but the couple were able to lead relatively normal lives afterwards until the pandemic hit. “Covid has completely changed our lives. We sit now and watch everyone’s life return to normal, but we’re kind of left behind. I’m sick of explaining to friends, gently and without alarming them, why you can’t just hope for the best,” she says. “And I’m tired of feeling like the government isn’t supporting us.”
Ask a frontline worker if they are tired. “Patients ask us to take off our masks because they can’t hear us,” says community nurse Gwendolyne. “If one of us is quarantined, the rest of us just have more patients to see. We are all tired but [have to remain] still vigilant. None of us want that.
Many frontline workers are still recovering from Covid but returning to work knowing they are needed. Kath is a midwife in a large tertiary hospital. “During my first two weeks without iso, I found myself feeling unwell after exercise if I got angry or excited enough that my heart rate increased.” But Kath’s employer was supportive. “The manager recognized how difficult it was… It was so empowering, but it also made my heart beat faster, so I had to sit down.”
For those not on the front line, fatigue comes from pushing back employee expectations of returning to the office. For still others, whose livelihoods depend on people not being locked down, locked behind state lines or too anxious to get to the scene, continued financial insecurity and the need for a return to normal bring with them their own flavor of fatigue..
And others are simply tired of being sick. Martin is a civil servant residing in the ACT. He completed his fourth course of antibiotics last week. ‘I had a bad cold flu in March… then I had Covid from April to May, then I had a really bad lung infection from May to June’ He’s ‘constantly exhausted now’.
Along with widespread fatigue, public messaging is constantly changing. Leaders who once gave clear direction now struggle to emphasize the difference between a mandate and a plea for people to do the right thing.
The lack of consistent messaging is also difficult for parents to manage, as they constantly have to manage expectations versus risk.
“I’m tired of the mental challenge I have to run every time my child has a runny nose – should he go to daycare or school? Should I test them? Should we cancel the date with friends? says Anne, a mother of two from Victoria. Anne is tired of making sure her kids don’t get too excited about throwing birthday parties.
“Just because the message changes doesn’t mean our thinking catches up that way. And now, on an individual level, we all have to step back and make our own decisions about these things,” Cheers says.
And sure, we’re sick of being told what to do, but we’re also sick of politicians telling us we’re sick of it.
“The narrative of pandemic fatigue appears to be self-fulfilling,” says clinical psychologist Bo Weaver. He observed the resilience of his patients, “even in the most dire and trying circumstances”, but the narrative of fatigue seems to have “contributed to the polarization of the discourse surrounding everything from masks, the value of older lives and panic surrounding children’s mental health”.
It’s almost as if society is throwing “a tantrum in hopes that it will bring us back to pre-pandemic life,” Weaver says.
Getting through the Covid malaise
Since the Covid is not going away for a while, how do we get through this discomfort?
Information empowers people, says Cheers. “We know more now. And public messaging should be focused on that. You can’t just give strong encouragement, you have to give the person the motivation to take those actions. »
Individually, it’s all about pacing yourself, says Cheers. “Think about your priorities and only do what you can. Doing the things we all know are good for our health: eating well, getting back to exercise gradually, resting.
Cheers knows that being told to go for a run makes your eyes roll, which is why it’s also important to recognize how difficult life is right now. “We need to validate that it’s often difficult to do these things because of productivity pressures and all this ‘back to normal’ thing.”
Cheers says he’s even seen a desire for lockdown in some people. ”They say, ‘I have to stop. I need to rest. I need to take a break, but there are these expectations that I can’t act against.
“We have to find a way to push back,” says Cheers. “To say, ‘no – things are not back to normal.’ At the time of a global pandemic, perhaps now is the time to challenge some of these expectations of how we should live.