Those who have run a marathon or read about it know that around the 19th or 20th mile your body uses up all its glycogen and must start using fat for energy. Which is fine except this sort of biochemical transition doesn’t politely stay under the radar; on the contrary, it is quite paralyzing for a spell. The Germans call it “der Mann mit dem Hammer” (“the man [coming at you] with the hammer”) to give you an idea of how it feels.
More news outlets are testifying to the occurrence of a COVID pandemic ‘wall’ hitting the country this month. In this case, the ‘wall’ refers to the depletion of emotional resources to handle the pandemic. We feel the ‘wall’ when the coping strategies, techniques, and practices we have used for the last 10 months don’t work anymore – their effectiveness has run out.
I think many of us had a subconscious survival timeline that ran through January 1, 2021, when some sort of magic button would depress and our former life would resume. When January 1, 2, and 3 turned out strikingly similar to December 29, 30, and 31, we balked and tried to find the re-boot switch. But when the month wore on and handed its dreary outlook to February, something inside pulled the panic cord.
I will speak for myself: I have never felt more cagy, claustrophobic, and closed in as has been the case the last few weeks. Public restrictions have remained in place but my outlook on the week has turned darker and drearier. I’m sure the snow hasn’t helped. But like the marathon runner, I think I just banked on the pandemic finishing up quicker than this; I didn’t store up enough emotional reserve for this length of quarantine.
What am I doing to get through? Nothing novel. The sort of advice that has become commonplace: Get outdoors. Find new hobbies. Stay connected. Exercise. Create rhythms in your week. Major on self-care. Serve in the community. Pray. One huge antidote is the entrance of the vaccine on the scene, giving all of us hope that, as long as this thing might be drawn out, a definitive end is actually possible.
But most of all I need to face the fallacy of my expectations: I misjudged the timing of our recovery from the pandemic and I must accept my error and deal with the fact that this will take longer than hoped. I simply underestimated COVID’s resilience: it will be at least through the summer before any significant return to public life.
Some marathon runners drop out when they hit the wall. Others make it through. There are ways to store up more carbs and make yourself physically prepared. But I suspect those who finish the race are those who are spiritually as well as physically prepared: they have accepted the fact that the wall will come, have embraced it as part of the race, and have resolved when it comes to press on.
Acceptance is the real antidote. I think I’m ready to press on.