We are possibly in the final act of Covid, though the last page is not in sight and I am wondering if it will ever be. The fallout of trauma never has an endpoint, does it ? The effects of trauma will adapt and mutate much like a virus itself.
The initial onslaught of the pandemic demanded action of us. Now, frustratingly, the aftermath demands inaction, a stillness to accept what has happened. In the first months, it was a scramble for survival. Whether you were on the frontlines or at home on your sofa, each one of us had to find a tangible defence against not only the practical realities of the new normal but also the spiritual and emotional realities: our home, the world, becoming a foreign and hostile place.
There were crazes — the ritualistic baking of banana bread; and projects — the rewatching of old TV shows. How many of us embarked on The Sopranos in its entirety again? There was comfort in the world of before times.
At one point, it seemed the pandemic could be ordered into a movie trilogy. Lockdown II was a sequel to Lockdown I, while Lockdown III appeared to be an epilogue à la The Godfather Part III. However, as 2021 drags to a close, it’s starting to feel like the pandemic may not be a tidy trilogy but is, perhaps, evolving into a franchise: think Mission Impossible or Saw. Yikes, franchises in films are never relaxing.
That I am writing this epitaph of trauma from a privileged position needs to be acknowledged. My pandemic could be summed up with “it was the best of a bad lot”. I had things to cling to: maintaining a strange routine for my family; work and The Sopranos.
Still, a sick anxiety permeated the days, obscuring my thinking and stalling the most basic decisions and conversations. My biggest focus was that this was our lives now. The future unfurled and all I could see were years of intermittent pandemics. It had happened once; now surely it would keep happening again and again? We would be locked in a forever crisis.
In the pandemic, the fact that our forever crisis has raged for aeons got starker. The dark machinations that underpin our purported freedoms — generations of systematic oppression, income inequality and general indifference on the part of the wealthy — were further exposed.
These macro traumas can teach us a lot about living in the aftermath. They show that unresolved trauma will be visited on those who come after the original disasters. There is a phrase that I come back to a lot from Richard Rohr, a somewhat progressive American priest and writer. “Pain that is not transformed gets transmitted,” he says.
In bleak moments, I think the effects of the pandemic will have to be bred out over generations, with hopefully each generation suffering incrementally less of a hangover. The children of the pandemic will have to process something we haven’t really encountered before: being parented by people undergoing a mass trauma, people blindsided by a calamity they never even thought to worry about. Even wars don’t effect the lives of every single person on earth all at once. Many pandemic children were obeying the “stay at home” mandate in homes that were already more dangerous than the threat beyond the front door. So much will emerge in this aftermath.
Even the luckiest among us are flailing in this collective aftermath. It’s a desolate word, isn’t it? In a bid to cheerfully rebrand this stage of the pandemic, I am calling it the Feelings Apocalypse. Many of us are probably undermining our own recovery by minimising our emotional responses — perhaps we didn’t see death or lose our income, perhaps we were just bored or lonely, but there is no “just” about those things and downsizing them to “irrelevant in the grand scheme of things” isn’t good for us long term.
We all lost a lot here: two years of our lives. For 20s-somethings, these could’ve been their hottest two years! There’s a lot to process but processing is a nebulous activity. How do we do it? We have to re-enter a world that’s changed. Process has its origins in the word proceed, so I guess that’s what we must do. Acknowledge and give space to our feelings and then proceed, whatever that looks like to you. I’ll be rewatching The X Files and taking baby steps.