Feeling blah? Many of us are

By Caitlin Kelly

This recent New York Times piece summed it up well:

the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

Maybe like some of you, I’ve been a bit shocked — before reading this story — at how little I have felt the normal drive to work and work and work.

It isn’t just about income, as Grant says:

The pandemic was a big loss. To transcend languishing, try starting with small wins, like the tiny triumph of figuring out a whodunit or the rush of playing a seven-letter word. One of the clearest paths to flow is a just-manageable difficulty: a challenge that stretches your skills and heightens your resolve. That means carving out daily time to focus on a challenge that matters to you — an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation. Sometimes it’s a small step toward rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm that you’ve missed during all these months.

We are privileged to not have the burdens of massive debt or kids or grand-kids or parents to support. We have savings. A recent lucrative and easy assignment out of the blue paid enough, (rare but lovely!) I could coast for even a few months.

And so I have been.

I’ve been focused instead on some work in our apartment, with managing a sudden and unexpected arrival of my late mother’s belongings and art from British Columbia, with trying to sell a book proposal seven agents have already rejected, (and managing my battered ego as I try to decide whether to just give up or not), and with slowly healing a sprained wrist and knee from a bad fall March 12.

Plus a lot of medical tests and for now, I’m fine.

My small win?

I’ve become addicted to the NYT Spelling Bee, an online daily challenge making words using some or all of that day’s seven letters. Some days are a lot easier than others — a recent one had 66 words! Whew.

Jose and I recently joined a new gym and it’s huge and spotless and welcoming and I am re-starting my routines, with a set of quite challenging weight exercises set for me by a trainer.

BUT….Here’s a really interesting different POV from artist and author Austin Kleon, arguing we’re dormant instead:

I feel very lucky to be married to a gardener, because gardening gives us rich metaphors for creative work that we don’t get from our business-focused productivity-obsessed culture. (I dedicated the last chapter of Keep Going, “Plant Your Garden,” to seasons and cyclical time.)

Over at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova posted a lovely meditation on a passage from Olivia Laing’s essay about Derek Jarman from her book, Funny Weather:

Gardening situates you in a different kind of time, the antithesis of the agitating present of social media. Time becomes circular, not chronological; minutes stretch into hours; some actions don’t bear fruit for decades.

Gardeners not only develop a different sense of time, they develop the ancient wisdom of knowing when to do things:

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…

a collection of Google Image Search results for dormant plants

It seems to me that the reason that so many of us feel like we’re languishing is that we are trying to flourish in terrible conditions. It is spring outside — or the “unlocking” season — but it is still “Winter in America,” and, as any gardener knows, if you try to wake a plant out of dormancy too soon, it will wither, and maybe die.

Are you languishing?



13 thoughts on “Feeling blah? Many of us are

  1. I’m thriving at the moment. I’ve got a good job and pay, a home that’s all my own, and a car. I’m healthy and working on being healthier. I’ve got plenty of entertainment and I’m writing a ton. Only thing missing is some acceptances, but you can’t get anywhere without submitting in the first place, and I’m doing that.
    Here’s hoping it stays that way for a while. Or improves. I like improvement.

  2. I think languish is the word for my situation in NZ, reflective I suppose of the state of the place generally. The political hot potato – of which I am very tired – is the way borders are managed. The economy is in new territory: economists haven’t yet re-thought their ‘models’ for the new environment – and don’t yet have the data to do so anyway. I have writing work for now – a major project with useful income – but the problem is what happens when that ends? All’s good, in that I can eat and pay the rates for now, but everything has a sense of mediocrity to it.

    1. For sure….This is the first time I’ve begun to feel more optimistic — fully vaccinated (as are many in sensible N Y state) — and I have work and we are even going to visit and stay with vaccinated friends.

      It’s been 14 months of dread and fear with no diversions beyond screens.

  3. i definitely have covid fatigue, but i’ve been teaching safely in person all year, am fully vaxxed, , seeing family and a few friends outside, and plan to travel safely somewhere this summer if possible. i have many things to be grateful for

    1. Jan Jasper

      I got both jabs weeks ago, but am still being careful. I’m concerned about the Covid variants, the large number of people who refuse to get vaccinated , and those who got their first jab but not the second. I was excited about being invited to a party later this month – until I learned that the hostess has chosen not to get vaccinated. I tried to get a discussion going about the vaccine status of the other guests, and only one woman was interested in even discussing it with me. So reluctantly I will have to skip this party. It would have been my first outing in over a year, so it is a shame.

  4. Jan Jasper

    Our hostess is an intelligent, pro- science woman and I would be astounded if she was an anti-vaxxer. She’s probably in her late 30s and may be concerned that the jab would interfere with her fertility? While I’m trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, and I don’t know her well enough to ask her, I will have to miss her party

      1. Jan Jasper

        I wish everyone was trying to stay safe, but this experience has been a rude awakening. Me and a friend of mine, we’d both planned on attending, just made some polite inquiries on this event’s Meetup page. The woman having the party made a snippy response and said others’ vaccine status is not our business. I am speechless.

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