I met with a colleague last week who obviously was not her usual ebullient self. She’s usually quite talkative, energetic, and always ready to accept life’s challenges. At the conclusion of our meeting, I inquired (with genuine concern) if she was OK.
“You seem a bit more reserved and tired today,” I told her.
Her response made me think.
“You know — I’m just tired,” she said. “I’m really tired. That’s exactly it.”
When she left, I reflected on that feeling, and I had to admit I felt it as well.
I’m tired — physically and mentally — from the stress of the past year. The year 2020 was, well, tiring. Being quarantined, being masked, being isolated was exhausting. I found myself unable to exercise like I usually did, and it was impossible to “get out and do things” as I did in 2019.
I found no escape from the rigors of working hard. On top of life’s regular hardships, I was working to avoid the virus; working at home; working to pay attention and stay involved on “Zoom”; and just plain working harder to do the same things I’d always done. (Does working to find toilet paper count as a stressor?) Going to the supermarket was more of a chore than ever, and the
rigors of going to a restaurant were intense.
Yes, I had to admit it to myself; 2020 had worn me out.
I spoke further with my colleague about how we both felt, and we agreed on several things.
First, we were suffering from face-mask fatigue. We have to remember to take a mask, to wear a mask, to clean the mask (or dispose of it, if it’s disposable), and to break the habit of touching our faces.” (Think about it seriously: We DID touch our faces, often!) It is exhausting.
Second, we’re tired of sanitizing our hands. Over and over, with the right sanitizer. And worse — and don’t tell me you haven’t done this — is when you use hand sanitizer and then eat or touch your lips and you get that lovely taste of rubbing alcohol — yeecchh.
Third, staying socially distant is incredibly fatiguing. We’ve spent nearly all our lives forming friendships, building close relationships, and enjoying companionship. Now we have to avoid all those.
We have signs on the floors directing us to “stand here” and “sit there” and “please maintain social distancing.” It’s so, so draining to look down instead of look up, to be distant instead of near, to be alone when, by nature, you want to be together.
All of these COVID-avoidance efforts simply wear us out.
How do we get beyond tired?
What do we want or need? Rest from our weary labors? A respite from the orders of dispersion? We came to the conclusion that there’s a basic human need for closeness, for proximity to others, for serious conversation even.
I spoke to another good friend who is hard of hearing (yes, he wears a hearing aid) and his humorous look at it made those simple needs seem even more relevant.
“Ever try to read lips on someone who’s wearing a mask?” he asked me.
Indeed, it’s a struggle now to comprehend the inflection of a discussion when you cannot see facial expression. Certainly, the art of emotive speech is becoming more and more of a chore as we strive to understand the subtleties of talk without being able to view a smile or frown or scowl.
Who knows what lurks behind that face-protecting veneer? (Yet, again, I know you’ve done it too — when someone wants to take a photo, they still say “smile” — and you do, behind your mask!) Again, the whole effort of attempting to give non-verbal cues evaporates with face coverings and also in online meetings (distance and a face on a small screen are no substitutes for
It all leaves us drained and spent, or as my grandfather would say, “just flat worn out.”
No platitudes here
So what’s the cure? The coming vaccinations, the immunity factor (herd or otherwise), the dissolution of the guilty virus that has so drastically affected our lives?
Partially, of course — and all this would be welcome news to us — but even further, we will have to re-establish the intimacy of face-to-face conversing. We will need to rebuild confidence in closeness, in approaching those around us and in meeting strangers.
This is a tiredness that will not dissipate with rest. It will only dissolve when we are able, once more, to revel in the ability to meet together, to socialize, and to discuss. We look forward to disagreeing (without being disagreeable), to casually chatting (without shouting through a face covering), and to returning to our social gregariousness.
Then, I believe and only then, will we cease being “tired of it all.” And until that glorious day arrives, my friends, all I can offer is this: Hang in there. There will be better days ahead, and we will once again be able to relax, rest and be recharged by the joys of social discourse.
Please know you’re not the only one who’s tired of it all, but rejoice in the knowledge that there will be rest from “COVID contortions” soon. Here’s to that day!
Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.
Originally published at the IncubatorBlogger on February 23, 2021.