A Collective Fatigue and a Global Pandemic

by Patricia Salgado, Ph.D. June 17, 2021

asleep at desk

Photo Courtesy of The Nation, April 12, 2021, Ludovic Marin/AFP photo

Are we moving to the end of the Pandemic? Perhaps. With Memorial Day in the past and July 4th on the horizon and yet another confusing CDC memoranda, it would seem so. Perhaps. However, the first of April—yes April Fool’s day felled me with another virus which  author, Byung-Chul Han identifies as ‘the tiredness virus’.

An epidemiological pandemic brings on its distinct and frightening symptoms, too often resulting in death particularly if you have a weakened immune system. Some years ago, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome before it was given an official name by the American Medical system. The good news? My chronic fatigue is mild and can be managed by diet and rest. Woe be to my constant overachievement foolishness which often consumes me. This is far more difficult to manage than diet and rest.

The ‘Neoliberal Achievement Society’, as author Byung-Chul Hun labels it, attracted some years ago the brilliant mind of Michel Foucault and more recently of Slavoj Zizek. Both warn of self-exploitation, often resulting in a form of fundamental tiredness.  We work ourselves to death. Even healthy people are tired. Why the constant work? Who are we attempting to please? Zizek points to the villain. Ourselves—our ego.

Our ego drive has been encouraged by the pandemic—given free rein. Work is in the kitchen, the dining room table—every room in our house is our virtual office. Our working hours available 24/7 in our home office. Yes, my house would attest to that look: paper everywhere and while not compulsive, I am usually neat. No longer.

My life has been compounded by caring for an ill sister. Two finances, two houses and herding poorly-paid Carers put me into overload. Initially all goes well, 18 months later, not so much so. An old sports injury flares up—pain management enters my world. As 2021 rolls into spring, I no longer fully charge. My mobile (cellphone) warns all too often: Battery charge too low. Who would have imagined—this battery state is fundamental to humans as well.

Zoom Fatigue and Ego Meet

Caring for oneself emotionally is important and often difficult to maintain. Without maintenance, side effects—often leading to health issue—are real and these effects come in many forms.

The world of online video has led to some interesting ones—I experience the egotistic dismay (perhaps despair) of my appearance through the camera lens. My wild curly unmanageable hair, newly discovered blemishes—a sudden wrinkle.  All my colleagues moan over appearances with the initial video call. Yet, for months these calls are our saving grace—appearance be damned! Friends from undergraduate years gather through Zoom each week. Clients eager to diversify their staff continue their calls most often without a hitch. Longing for contact, graduate school friends eagerly engage in ‘FaceTime’ guided tours around the harbor’s edge of my quaint village. In the first months of the pandemic, I do not experience loneliness. But with ongoing months, loneliness or some feeling I cannot fully identify creeps in with each Zoom call. Han contends that constantly confronted by our own face is tiring, fatiguing. We become Zoom zombies—a never ending selfie of a narcissistic society. One interesting note: Zoom narcissism had led to a boom in cosmetic surgery—Google searches have soared as have enquiries for cosmetic surgeons.

Entering our pandemic jargon is Zoom dysmorphia. Han spells out a description of this virus frenzy in his article The Tiredness Virus (The Nation. April 12, 2021)

The ‘tiredness’ virus is not in my vocabulary—yet.

2020 and 2021 may be remembered as the long months of solitude for those of us who live alone and who are at high risk.  Zizek refers these months as the time of self-exploitation in the home office and the solitude involved. We work more and in every room. Fundamental tiredness brought on, he writes, by the ‘absence of rhythm’, life’s normal rhythms—of family rituals: movies, weddings, funerals, graduations and of the simple morning-greeting rituals. We exploit ourselves filling the gap in our rhythms. Zizek: ‘It makes us even lonelier than we already were in this age of social media that reduce the social and isolate us.’

By May, my son must hear my dismay in our short chats. With the CDC ‘all clear’ signal if you have been vaxx’ed, contact is okay. He and his wife charm and cajole me into a family trip to the Florida Gulf—the Panhandle in June.

Flying brings me back to our reality pre-2020. An airport—familiarity even though masked and less crowded. Life feels amazingly normal again—as though this pandemic did not occur. (See Netflix: Death to 2020.) Yet, a 10-day respite, four flights and two Loft trips are insufficient, not enough. Yes, a long holiday with noisy kids in a gorgeous beachside cottage is more than one should ask. Still, not enough. Still, more alone and not enough. Will we ever recover?

To fill the gap, I work on my Great American novel. Self-exploitation?

Next week, from Sarah Lawson: Eavesdropping Through A Pandemic. But this Saturday, our small island will celebrate Juneteenth and participating will be our homegrown Metropolitan Opera tenor,

Foucault Michel. 1975. Discipline and Punish

Han, Byung-Chul. 2010. The Burnout Society

Slavoj, Zizek, 2020, Pandemic! Covid-19 Shakes the World

Netflix: 2021, Death to 2020

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