Overdrawn at the Psychic Bank Account

This year has been emotionally costly; can we reinvest?

Credit: PM Images/Getty Images

To begin with, let me say I have been lucky, lucky, lucky during the pandemic. I’ve been able to work with almost no disruption. I’ve been healthy, and my family has been healthy. Now we’re vaccinated. Most of the people we know have made it through this year in pretty good shape, which is, of course, a miracle not enjoyed by lots of other people. So relatively speaking, we are very fortunate.

That said, this year has sucked. I’m only beginning to realize some of the ways it has sucked, now that things are loosening ever so slightly. Last week, for the first time in a year, I had friends over for dinner twice. Twice!! In olden days, I had friends over all the time; a week with two social engagements was completely usual. This year, not so much. I did see friends, occasionally, outside, masked, anxiously, gingerly, but never too many in too short a time, never bare-faced, never without a light pall of anxiety hanging over us. After the two dinners last week, shared with other vaccinated friends, I felt… exhilarated. We talked! We laughed! We traded funny stories! I ended those evenings feeling fuller than when they started.

That’s when it hit me. This year has been a constant state of withdrawal. We have withdrawn from all the things that we usually do. We have withdrawn from friends. The things that normally stimulate and entertain and engage us have been withdrawn from us. We have had to propel ourselves by sheer will, which takes every bit of energy you can muster. Getting by, day by day, has been a matter of deliberate, exhausting expenditure. It’s been depleting, a constant dribbling away of momentum and optimism.

That’s because there’s been no inflow. Life always requires effort, always takes a chunk out of you, but in ordinary times, it also returns on the investment. You venture forth. You see things, talk to people, have experiences, hear stories, discover someone, eat something delicious, wander into a new place. Each one of these things gives you something — new information to process and sort through, mull over, share with your friends. The balance, one hopes, is heavily tilted toward the new data being added rather than the bleed out of attention and energy. But this year…

Take travel, for instance. Planning and preparing for a trip can be kind of exhausting. But the payoff is the trip, and all the stimulation of being somewhere else is a million times more energizing than the planning is depleting. This year has been like planning dozens of trips but never going on them: All the anxiety, all the cost, and none of the reward, none of the richness of a new experience that you savor for ages after you come home and unpack.

We will rebound; this won’t last forever. In the meantime, though, I think I’ve solved the puzzle of why I feel like I’m doing so little and yet feeling more drained than I can ever remember. Good riddance to that.

Staff writer, The New Yorker. Author of The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and more…Head of my very own Literati.com book club (join me!)

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