Covid-19, A Rural Diary - A Sense of Ennui
I don’t know about you, but I have really been struggling of late. I am fed up with everything. I have no energy and no motivation. It is almost as if I have given up.
This last year of dealing with the pandemic has been tough for us all - in many different ways depending on our age, our work, or our situation.
This latest Lockdown though has been particularly testing. In the first it was all new and we were prepared to do anything we could for the greater good - and it was Spring with Summer ahead and the most amazing weather and (I hardly dare say it), it felt like a bit of a holiday, a relief to have no social obligations, an empty diary, an excuse to stay at home. In the second Lockdown in the autumn, there was still some energy left from the brief summer of greater freedoms which got us through - but the post-Christmas third Lockdown has proved quite another story.
The dark nights meant we could crack on with long-overdue tasks, or learning or DIY. Maybe you even managed to read War & Peace with all that spare time?! But now, here we are in May with the weather still cold and crappy, a hideous limbo-land between May 17th partial de-regulation and June 21st full (we hope) de-regulation. We have carrots dangling in front of us, but we are still dragging chains. And, frankly, I have lost the will. I am tired. I am listless. I do not want to plan anything escapist or joyous as so much is still up in the air. And I’m not sure I can be bothered anyway.
I lay in bed the other morning, having no particular reason to get up, attempting to evaluate whether I have tipped into another depression or not, and felt obliged to come to the conclusion that I am in fact far more likely suffering from that state of Ennui which has so often been written about in French and English literature. It is not a clinical depression. It is not even just a low mood. It is something much more simple, and yet much more complex, embodying feelings of malaise, world-weariness, boredom, lassitude, melancholy and alienation.
The state of Ennui has been much studied in Western literature throughout the ages. From the ancients to medieval French poets and troubadours, through to the ‘mal du siecle’ of the late 19th century which described it thus:-
‘Mal du Siecle is a mood of melancholy and pessimism associated with the poets of the Romantic era that arose from their refusal or inability to adjust to those realities of the world that they saw as destructive of their right to subjectivity and personal freedom.’
Is this not where we’re at? We have been denied so many personal freedoms, so many personal choices and bullied into being afraid to offer up a contrary opinion. It may be for the greater Covid good, in theory, but in practice, what is the collateral damage?
In 20th century literature, the same sense of Ennui took on an added meaning of alienation, or existential angst, a theme explored in the iconic book ‘L’Etranger’ (The Outsider) by Alfred Camus. Our incarceration has deprived us of so much social interaction which is key to the essence of Mankind that we have had our emotions muted, just like Camus’ protagonist - watching life from the sidelines, rarely truly engaging anymore.
So as I lay in my bed considering what my life has come to with children having fled the nest, a husband now retired (and who can’t currently do anything due to a triple hernia op and now a cracked rib!) and nowhere to go beyond the supermarket and the four walls of my house, I felt Ennui aptly described my state of being. And the longer the restrictions have gone on, the less I have filled my days with. Everything is taking ten times longer or, rather, I have no deadlines so time has become elastic and meaningless. I am desperate to have something to look forward to, and yet with so much uncertainty still around the basics of our ‘old’ ways of life, I do not want to waste mental and physical time on planning nice things, only to have my hopes dashed at the last minute. The opening up once more of outside eating was a small blessing - but one that came with so many displeasures due to masks, distancing, booking and bad weather that it was quickly dismissed again as ‘not worth the hassle’. And even when we can eat inside once more, we will still be dealing with masks, hand-sanitisers, queues and social distancing. Who needs it?
And so we languish, as has been much discussed recently in the British press. We are languishing in our personal prison cells, reluctant now that freedom is beckoning, actually to poke our heads out of our caves - like the bear pit at the zoo you watched for hours as a kid, hoping one might actually appear. It never did.
After a year of incarceration, even I, so full of energy at the beginning, have given up. Have I become institutionalised? Am I suicidal? No, I am not. But too many are, I fear. It is going to be a long, hard road to pull people back from this emotional and mental brink. It is the collateral damage of Covid. A whole new battle has only just begun.