“Tiredness kills” is a motorway sign warning drivers to take regular breaks in order to avoid accidents.
It also describes our cultural moment, as Covid-19 continues to sap our energy, and we approach a state of societal enervation.
For example, I noticed, among my colleagues, as we returned from our summer breaks, a feeling of tiredness, despite our holidays in August. It was more than the usual experience of returning to the grind-stone, familiar to everybody going back to work after a vacation.
This was a sensation of ennui, the realisation that this pandemic will be with us until next year, at least.
Unrealistic hopes of a vaccine by Christmas, have evaporated, as research scientists continue their important safety trials, and prepare the population for a long wait.
Only in countries ruled by autocratic populists (Russia, China, and the USA) are governments pressing to rush procedures, and get vaccines out early, for political reasons.
Consequently, we are sinking into a collective psychological state, known as ‘loss of affect’.
It took me a long time to learn the difference between the words ‘affect’ and ‘effect’, spelt so very similarly.
‘Effect’ is the direct causal result of some action. ‘Affect’ is a vaguer verb for when something has an influence; and also a noun, meaning ‘emotion’. It’s in the latter sense that psychologists, therapists and counsellors address the problems arising from situations where clients cannot ‘feel their feelings’, still less express them.
Part of the aim of therapy is to help patients become aware of their emotions, and to communicate them, whether verbally or non-verbally.
Somehow, affects need an outlet. This is why, as the lockdown was eased, young people began socialising, partying, just meeting up; but in such a way as to break all social distancing rules.
Cooped up for several months, all that youthful, libidinal, energy had to go somewhere, had to overflow, explode, somehow, into some kind of loud, raucous, outburst.
Even the prospect of going back to their offices got some folks all worked-up. Despite the comfort of working from home, and the apparent increases in productivity, people still need people.
It’s not just the ‘water cooler moments’, but seeing others. Someone I know goes to the café to work on his laptop, rather than sit in his flat, just to be surrounded by the hustle and bustle.
But, as we began to meet again, and some kind of ‘normal’ resumed, the infection rates have also risen.
So, from encouraging us to return to offices, supporting restaurants, and encouraging social gatherings, the government has this week imposed fresh restrictions on social meetings.
Just when optimism seemed to emerge from the wreck, it has been dashed again. We are therefore settling, perhaps, into a dogged resignation.
A permanent, at least for now, reduction in our levels of life-satisfaction, equating to a collective condition of dysthemia.
Dysthemia is a chronic low-level depression, normally a sign of mental illness. Now it’s a realistic response to a very real congenital, existential, threat.