Is it normal to feel depressed after having the vaccine? I feel exactly as I did after doing my university exams. After I had finished months of revision, late nights and living off coffee and adrenaline, as soon as they were over I became a bit of a Debbie Downer. I felt tired, depressed and deflated for weeks afterwards, and I feel like that now. Is it me? Do I have PTSD?
Eleanor says: In my family lore we talk of a thing called deadline fever. It’s the invoice your body hands you after somehow finding the energy to hurl you across a finish line – the fatigue in your joints and muscles the nanosecond you complete what you needed to do.
For a while I thought the widespread malaise around right now might be a form of deadline fever. Though the pandemic is a long way from over, many of us are crossing things that feel like emotional finish lines – the vaccine, returning to work or school, booking a flight to go home. Those moments uncork our reserves of exhaustion.
But in truth I think things are more complicated. It’s not just that we’re collapsing in exhausted heaps before returning to regular life. It’s that what we’re returning to no longer feels regular.
Most of us spend most of life looking away from three certainties: that we will die, that we will suffer, and that life is uncertain. Really inhabiting those thoughts can make the rest of life feel like an anaesthetised dream. How could we go to a restaurant, date, make or spend money, when it could all be gone again tomorrow – when the one thing we know is that it will one day be gone?
I think the pandemic forced us to really inhabit those thoughts. 现在, some of us feel like travellers from the river Styx, staring dazedly around at the restaurants and offices that expect us to be pleased to see them.
For obvious reasons I’m not going to speculate whether you have PTSD or depression, except to say that if you think those are genuine possibilities, a professional’s care will help.
What I can say is what’s helped me with this feeling since I realised what it was.
Silliness helps. It’s madness, what’s been going on – it’s a hellish carnival ride with a laughing skull on top. Laughing back seems to help. We could talk circles around ourselves trying to walk back from the brink of nihilism, or we could get drunk and make a sock puppet sing Whitney Houston. The sense that there’s no reason or plotline can trigger despondency – or it can be a liberation to do the things that the previous plotline didn’t permit.
Working with hands helps. I don’t know why. But finding a solution to this jigsaw or scale or origami seems to give a momentary sense of pride and order.
Rest helps. Not the slack-jawed half-shame of letting the day drip away, but the conscious decision to sleep, stretch, eat slowly, acknowledge to yourself and your body this has been an ordeal.
Using energy when you’ve got it helps. Now and then there will be cracks in the day where the light gets in. Seize them to throw the sheets in the laundry, get some vegetables in the house, do a kindness for a friend – things that seem incomprehensibly draining when you’re down. It’s an old adage but a good one that feelings follow behaviour.
I don’t know the way out of the existential tunnel this pandemic opened up, but I think Montaigne was right that big problems can be met in the small everyday: “I want death to find me planting my cabbages, neither worrying about it nor the unfinished gardening.”
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