One of the defining experiences of the pandemic has been the constant anxiety grating at our conscience, not letting us recharge completely – the burnout. The overwhelmed medical fraternity experienced it. So did the migrant workers orphaned from the mai-baap sarkaar. The anxious and overworked security guard felt it. So did the digital worker straining his will along the extended hours of zoom calls. The overworked workers felt it who were saddled with extra workload of all the others who had been fired (sometimes opportunistically to improve short-term margins). So did the unemployed who were truly ‘full time’ occupied with the efforts, concerns, fears and preparations of getting a job/ making a living. Kids felt it who couldn’t go out to play nor could afford quality digital education. So did the women who lost their jobs, were saddled with double the household responsibilities than normal and had to run their uniquely dysfunctional homes even as the regular support systems evaporated.
2021 is truly the year of burn out.
A role to play
We must make sense of our lives. Without the anchor of ‘meaning’, we suffer an existential seasickness as we float uncertainly in the ocean of possibilities. The pandemic tsunami tore at the foundations of our indentity. Who are we if we are not working/ pubbing/ travelling/ minting money…?
Without someone else to tell me/ buy from me/ look at me/ yell at me, do I even matter?
stock market is up, billionaires are in space, acquaintances have been promoted… I MUST be doing something terribly wrong!?
Routines and habits
For many of us, as we retreated into our shells, we lost our rhythm. We realise that the rhythm is not set by us. It is set by the sun, by the weather, by the people around us, by our roles, by our surrounding. As we retreat from them all, we lose our rhythm. Day segues in night. Minutes into hours into weeks. The weight of all the things not-done weighs heavily on our conscience and makes it even harder to return to that rhythm of the previous principled life. Without rhythm, there’s no recuperation, no action, no meaningful progress. There’s just stasis, a hibernation without rest.
The blurred boundary
Public and private; as video calls seeped into our homes and soaked up all its grimy details.
Night and day; as we retreated from the natural world.
Digital and real; as we doomscrolled and revenge-shopped and daydreamed with an existential urgency.
Appropriate and inappropriate; as social mores had to be invented for a new reality of video calls.
Reality and unreality; as we lost our bearings about our place in the world, about our thesis of the world, about trust in our leaders.
Things we mistake/ conflate with freedom
Capitalism taught us HOW to desire, how to socialise, how to express one’s freedom.
Outdoors, SUVs, Drinking without abandon, Eating-out, parties, travelling obsessively, Drinking unhealthy colas, eating shitty burgers, Buying new clothes…. Are we free if we are not doing these things?
People tried to answer that question by buying things, experiences online. Only to discover that buying is a cheap, unsatisfying substitute to what those things actually were only a means to. We misunderstood symbols for the real things. We discovered that there are two kinds of people – one for whom the symbols are enough and that they live in that metaverse. And the other who realised the distinction.
Cascading uncertainties. Climate change. inequality. fast pace of change with technology and pandemic fuelled new orientation of markets.
There is no certainty in the meta-narratives with these big changes happening around us.
There is no certainty in the micro-narratives of our own little bubbles. the changes are very visibly altering our lives.
The uncertainty, that until now lurked at the edge of our conscience, has taken a solid and heavy presence in our psyche. It is here to stay.
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