For the past week, I’ve been struck by a fairly hellacious fatigue, understanding that “hellacious” is defined differently for different people. For instance, to use an example I’ve seen used, it’s not like I can’t even pick up a glass of water beside my bed (or even get out of bed). Rather, it’s like in addition to just generally having substantially fewer spoons available, I can literally feel each quantum of energy being used up even in very minor amounts of effort, like returning a two-thirds empty pint of ice cream to the freezer.
At first, when it descended upon me last Sunday, I realized that it isn’t unusual for me to feel pretty drained after going to visit a certain local herd of nonprofit goats, and I newly wondered if it didn’t have something to do with the developmental coordination disorder, since the occupational therapist who’d evaluated me talked about how I’m simply doing a lot more processing when I move around than is true for more typical people, and the goat field is more undulating than even-keeled.
Whatever the case, I’d mentally marked it down as another bout of autistic fatigue and went about my business. It’s continued now ever since. It’s varied from day to day but I don’t think I’ve had anything close to a full spoons replenishment since it began.
Then I read Kelsey McKinney’s dissection on Defector of how, after two years of this damned pandemic, simply a return to normal simply is not enough, and how the hell did the brief opportunity early on to maybe learn some valuable lessons about how fucked up is the way in which we’ve constructed our own society get so wasted so quickly.
And we got the CARES Act, and we got the miraculous vaccine. Scientists were stunned that, less than a year after the global outbreak of the virus, vaccines were being put into people’s arms. It had never been done before! But that initial burst of optimism has long since left behind a country bitter, and scared, and broken. Today, 10 months after my first dose and two months after my booster, I realize that my hope and my optimism was unfounded. The points of weakness are now points of leverage—you can still lose everything just from getting sick, the state says, so get vaccinated. And good luck. We have been rewarded for all of our suffering and all of our patience and all of our frustration with not just the same broken country we’ve always had, but a concerted effort to make sure that Returning To Normal does not mean improving upon the pre-COVID status quo in any meaningful way.
The people in charge, it seems clear, never wanted things to get better. Since the earliest days of the pandemic they have given us vague instructions, asked us to sacrifice our lives and our happiness for the faint promise of Getting Back To Normal. If we suffered gamely enough, for long enough, we might win back… the same country we had before.
Being off social media, I’ve had instead to psyche myself up to sending emails to people. After reading McKinney, I sent an email that started simply, “All of this.” I related how I used to ask people to imagine we all spent just two weeks remembering to offer up all the “little helps”, the day to day things like (from her piece) holding the door for someone with a stoller or calling someone’s attention to their having dropped a glove, and whether or not it would give us all that much more energy for the big, more difficult stuff.
“Here we all are,” I said, “still gamely trying to also handle the big stuff but without any of the help that the big stuff actually requires.”
Maybe, after all, it isn’t just a run-of-the-mill autistic fatigue. Maybe part of it, as I said to my therapist when I sent her the link to McKinney, is, you know, all of this.
“We have normality. I repeat, we have normality. Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem.”
—Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy