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This is not a pandemic anniversary piece
But it's worth saying that we are still not okay
I’m halfway through a semester that is kicking my ass, stretching the limits of how bad “just getting by” can be. There are lots of possible reasons this semester is turning out to be so hard. I started the first week in a windowless lecture hall because of water damage to another building. Then I went to Florida for a week (the highlight of my year so far) and did not want to come home. But I did, to a new classroom, with an average temperature of about 85 degrees due to a malfunctioning heating system. Perhaps it’s understandable that I’m more than a little over it.
Add to that the fact that my husband is only teaching one class as part of his retirement phase out, which means I get to watch him joyfully embracing his new passion for English football while I go on grinding it out. Of course, I’m happy for him, but also, more than a little bullshit.
I’ve taken to calling my current state of mind Burnout Level 7. That seems right.
Meanwhile, lurking in the back of my mind are the memories of what the last three years were like. Last year this time, we were still teaching in masks, even though that seems like twenty years ago. Three years ago this time, I was getting ready to go to Sanibel Island, where my husband and I would joke about the coughing guy on the balcony next door to us. Ha, ha, guess we’re going to get that corona-thing now. We’d get home and have a little birthday gathering, where my friend would say, “I’m still hugging? Are you still hugging?” Then we wouldn’t have a gathering like that for another year, at least.
I’ve written before about trying to build up my emotional intelligence, finding the words to describe the emotions I’m feeling. When I think back on the pandemic, all that emotional wisdom just falls away. I don’t know what I’m feeling, but I guess I’ll give it a try.
I feel disbelief. Did all of that really happen to us? The search for toilet paper. Wondering if we should be wiping down all our groceries. Buying our first masks. The day when the college shutdown and I sat in a classroom full of seniors while they cried at the loss. Was that real? Because it sounds like the plot to a really disturbing dystopian novel.
Then I feel confusion. Disorientation. What am I supposed to do with those memories? Those feelings? How do I process that experience? It was A LOT. It was trauma on so many levels. It was horrible.
Enter the anger. Are we supposed to just turn our backs on all of that and move on? It seems like, yes, that’s what the world is telling us to do. Pick up the pieces and get on with it. Forget it and move forward. In the U.S., we pretend to be so good at that. Also, it is killing us, all the things we try to make ourselves forget. It will be the death of us. Forget about Native American genocide and slavery and eugenics and the bodies, all the bodies, here and all over the world. Forget, forget, forget. We see this not just as necessary, but as admirable. Our heroes are those who seem to have forgotten their trauma and moved on.
They haven’t forgotten, though. You can pretend to be done with your trauma, but your trauma isn’t done with you.
And this is where I end up—exhaustion. Pretending to forget is exhausting. Watching the rest of the world pretend to forget is exhausting. It makes me tired, to watch the toll it takes, this pretense of forgetting. This frantic moving forward into our lives.
I don’t know what to do with all of those emotions, except to accept them. Acknowledge them. See them as what they are, natural reactions to some hard, hard shit we all went through. That’s all I’ve got. To say it’s okay to admit that we are still not okay.