Tread Water

Or the alternative title to this post: Strange Things Happening Every Day.  As 2020 continues to punch us in the face daily, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve all stumbled into this horrible parallel universe, and the real 2020 is on the other side of some cosmic wall.  The real 2020 still has its ups and downs of course, but not this relentless abuse.  If 2020 was our partner, we would have left them by now. 

It’s becoming harder and harder for people to keep watching the news because it is so relentlessly depressing. As someone who has always kept on top of current affairs and enjoyed thinking and talking about issues, I am struggling.  Yet the addictive nature of smartphones and social media means that I am unable to prevent myself scrolling for new outrages on Twitter, until all the anger and hate makes me log off in disgust.  By then it’s too late to prevent the rot in my brain and the sinking of hope that no amount of cute animal videos can counteract.  The only safe thing is to stay off it. 

So that’s one solution: limit the amount of Twitter time.  But even the ‘regular media’ is the same.  Yes, we might adhere to the maxim ‘look for the people doing good things because they are always there’, which is true.  But right now, the people doing good things seem to be buried on page 22 under an advert for full head respirator masks, so you might miss them.  And trying to find them can feel like an exhausting prospect some days. 

As the current Tory government continues to gaslight us every day, we’ve moved from a position of disbelief at their greed, nepotism and incompetence to a shrugged, ‘well, what else we can expect from this lot?’  Because if you start thinking about it, the anger comes, the stress levels rise and you end up feeling heart sore and helpless.  That is, presuming you have a social conscience and you’re not one of the cunts that support them.  If you are, then fuck you and your lack of common decency.

At this stage of 2020, the combined force of western politics, Brexit, racism, the pandemic (and our clusterfuck of a response to it) is overwhelming.  And that’s me just looking within my own immediate social bubble, never mind all the war, poverty and human rights abuses happening all over the world, while the richest sit with obscene amounts of wealth they can never spend.  We can be forgiven for wondering when it will ever end?   What is the fucking point?

I’ve been reflecting recently about this growing feeling of despondency. The change of season doesn’t help; it’s dark now at tea time, and damp and dreich outside, but that’s not it. All my life, I’ve been roughly in the middle of the glass half full/half empty spectrum. I think any pragmatist would be. So while I’ve always had a cynical side, it’s always been balanced by hope. The scariest thing about this year is seeing that hope slowly slipping away.

Perhaps that sounds depressing.  But it doesn’t feel like depression feels.  It’s more like a low thrumming I’m not always conscious of, while I go about my life, one day at a time, still feeling happiness and joy at times.  It’s the bit beyond that which is frightening.  If I look too far ahead, I panic, because I can no longer see what the future looks like.  Or at least, the future as I imagined it to be. 

Is 2020 turning me into a nihilist?  Is that how other people feel all the time?  Reading around and looking for something that made sense, I enjoyed this piece about the distinction between nihilism, cynicism, pessimism and apathy.   Nihilists don’t believe in anything or see the sense of moral codes, and that’s not me.  Instead, my cynicism and pessimism have increased (for the above-mentioned reasons), thus tipping the scale into the negative and putting my mental health on a downer. 

Apathy?  I don’t suffer from that, no matter how hard I try.  Aside from having a nature that gets me passionate about things, there’s a stubborn refusal to give up.  Because that’s exactly what they want from us.  The government has begun a war of attrition on our expectations and hope.  The more powerless we feel, the less we care or expect and the more they can get away with.  We have people in power getting away with behaviour that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago.  And nothing will change until the next election.

So I won’t claim apathy but I will own up to a bit of lethargy. And the pandemic is making me fatalistic.  There’s a strange mix of feelings: if I think about how the future might be for my son, I get angry and upset.  If I think about my own, I shrug.  I just can’t see how many elements of the ‘normal life’ that we had can return. 

The problem with this is how it manifests itself in some of my behaviour.  Nothing terrible, just that I’m comfort eating and drinking, staying up late watching TV and doing nothing creative.  Feeling vaguely unhealthy but not doing anything serious about it, because why bother?  I might read an article about people who have lost weight and become really successful during lockdown and then feel 100 times worse. I keep making plans with myself e.g. do 100 kettlebell swings a day or take an online yoga class, but then I end up cancelling them.  

What I do know is that this a phase.  Deep down, I still hope that a vaccine will be found, and we will be able to live again.  That we will stop being governed by greedy bastards who don’t care about us and ideally that somehow, Brexit will not happen.  I retain a sliver of hope that things will change.  Whatever happens, it’s about living the truth of the phrase ‘it’s okay not to be okay’.   Sometimes you need to accept that the best you can do is tread water for a while.  You might not live up to the ideals that you set for yourself, but when the world is so challenging, that’s fine. 

In the meantime, what am I doing to help myself? Firstly, gratitude: I am one of the lucky ones, with a job that lets me work at home without losing income. I’m not living alone all the time and I have my family and friends who I need more than ever. I’m still swimming my magic three per week outside, getting ready for my winter challenge and feeling the joy and agony of being in the water. I’m still taking walks around my neighbourhood, marvelling at last of the autumn colours and feeling happy just from looking at trees. I’m being proactive at work, trying to motivate others and do things that might make a difference and help with change. I still laugh every day. For now, I must accept that this is enough. More than enough.

Whatever happens in the future, remember that we can’t give up. We need to keep fighting. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Until next time,


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