“I’m doing about as well as you could expect.”
“It could definitely be worse.”
“In many ways, I’m one of the lucky ones.”
These are some of the phrases I use to answer inquiries about how I’m doing lately, many months into a pandemic that seems to be easing at a snail’s pace.
The responses are all rooted in truth — but that doesn’t mean that they don’t damn well suck.
When issuing these glass-half-full self-appraisals in conversation, it often feels like I have to dig into some kind of emotional reserve just to get the words out. It feels like I am straining my eyesight to focus on a silver lining that glints faintly somewhere on the horizon.
Well, I’m sick of looking for silver linings. Even if that’s the only recourse right now, I’m sick of it.
“Sick of lookin' for silver linings” sounds like a lyric from a country song, yes, but my life kind of feels like one lately. And I bet I’m far from alone in feeling that way.
Sure, we live in a highly affluent society but that doesn’t mean that the pandemic has been merely an inconvenience. Even for those spared from infection or grief or death, it has been monumentally and broadly frustrating, and any prolonged frustration that doesn’t have a channel for release inevitably leads to anger.
So, yeah, I’m angry, and it’s a challenging anger because it feels generalized, vague and submerged. There’s no one thing or person that’s the source. Each day I might feel anger toward something or someone new and the emotion never feels fully justified or clear-cut. I’m always questioning my anger’s validity — but never with much resolution — which of course adds to the wellspring of frustration from which the anger comes.
I’m angry at the global food and transport industries that create conditions through which viruses can arise and spread so easily — but I’m also angry that the source of the virus cannot be pinpointed. I’m angry at all the politicians who minimized the threat and thereby increased the virus impact. I’m angry at how much the official safety guidelines have changed or been turned upside down, even though, again, I’m not sure that anyone’s directly to blame for that. All the doubt and the unknowns fuel the anger.
I’m angry at all the ideological bullying that has gone on from both sides of the political spectrum. All the moralizing and virtuous one-upmanship and finger-pointing and holier-than-thou grandstanding that really just chokes the air with nothing but scorn and spite and hubris and acrimony. I’m angry that I have to inhale all of that, as if my own doubts, insecurity and confusion are not suffocating enough.
I’m angry at people who make emphatic and totally confident declarations about things to do with the virus and the associated changes and the coming challenges. I know that the media wants headlines that generate clicks but I’m annoyed at intelligent people making over-the-top and unsupportable claims when I think, deep down, they all know that right now we collectively know almost nothing.
“I don’t know” is not a newsworthy response. But saying: “Oh, well, clearly this and this and this is going to happen, with absolute certainty.” That gets attention.
Well, to hell with you and your attention-seeking content-generating media machines. Forecasts right now are a dime-a-bloody-dozen and typically wildly inaccurate, all you pundits and experts.
Of course I’m really angry at the virus itself, this shape-shifting sly thing that won’t stand up and be accounted for, targeting the weak, lurking in the shadows, attacking with few patterns, making a mockery of scientific consensus.
But to hate a virus is stupid, right?
I’m also angry at my own stupidity.
Tonight a friend I was texting with called me out for being “a jerk lately,” and in fairness it was somewhat warranted. I’ve been taking the good-natured poking of fun a bit too far, especially online where the nuance of things can easily be lost.
My generalized anger at the pandemic is partly to blame for this. So is the insecurity that can arise from regular use of social media — and reliance on social media has certainly increased recently. On top of all this, nerves are frayed, people are on edge, everyone has something unpleasant going on in their lives directly from the virus fallout — and still we do our best to keep a stiff upper lip, post “ain’t life great” pics of ourselves, and see the silver linings.
Sometimes we are too polite and sunshine-y for our own good. I know I am. There’s only so much general malaise we can swallow. We should more freely allow ourselves to vent. Hiding a wince behind a smile too often can kill you.
There is no clear enemy in this war. And it is a war: society versus Mother Nature. To call it something else is to risk straining one’s eyes scanning for a light on the horizon. Of course, there’s also an internal war going on inside each of us. It pits us against our own emotions and usually it feels unwinnable.
In the end, the scariest thing about unresolved anger is that slowly, inch by inch, it will break your heart.
Tony Martins lives in Aylmer, Que.
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