…let’s start with a definition because I admit I had to double check it first. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines vicissitudes as one of the many changes and problems in a situation or in your life, that you have to deal with. Merriam-Webster gives a more detailed definition which feels particularly apposite for current times: a difficulty or hardship attendant on a way of life, a career, or a course of action and usually beyond one's control.
Boiling this down to a simpler level, vicissitudes are just the ups and downs of life, but with the lens turned towards the downs. In normal circumstances these certainly occur on a day to day basis, but often pass unnoticed.
From a personal standpoint it feels as if the pandemic has heightened these normal rhythms of life, and there is more darkness to the “downs.” But is this because the balance is out of kilter? In normal times we would have a range of options to offset life’s downs. Things to look forward to; plans to make; choices to ponder; places to go – all giving us ways of regaining control in our lives.
The pandemic and the restrictions imposed on our daily lives have hollowed out our options. In the past few weeks I’ve been picking up a sense of weariness from friends and family, and the initial bizarre novelty of lockdown and the realisation that we were living in “unprecedented times” have been replaced by feelings of frustration and exhaustion.
Less is More and More is Less
For some of us life has slowed down considerably, and our normal “busy-ness” has been abruptly curtailed. But instead of making us feel refreshed, the irony is that this has engendered a sense of listlessness, exhaustion and demotivation. Is this because normally the activity attached to our “busy-ness” occupies our attention, energises us and gives us a sense of satisfaction?
The pandemic has robbed us of that too, but maybe it helps explain the early lockdown frenzy for bread-making, baking and other creative endeavours.
A cursory Google search will throw up lots of examples of Covid-19 and the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
This is never a linear process, and obviously, the sooner we can attain the acceptance level the better, and we can help not just ourselves, but our friends, family, colleagues and clients. But even this “grieving” process is further muddied by being set in the context of the moveable feast that is the pandemic – so we are back to the vicissitudes again – and the fact that the virus and its impact are so volatile.
In just the past week, we have seen both the UK and Scottish Governments taking decisions and implementing actions at very short notice. At some future date there will be endless debate on the wisdom of these decisions, but that aside, their enforcement further erodes any sense of stability or normality in our day to day lives. This leads to increased anxiety and worry which can become a vicious circle.
So, what can we do? I’ve written in the past about resilience and pragmatism, and both of these can act as buffers. The Resilience Well might need a bigger bucket and a deeper dip, but we just need to make sure it doesn’t dry up.
As for pragmatism – defined by dictionary.com as character or conduct that emphasises practicality, it offers us a choice. Even if our character does not default to pragmatism, we can try to adapt our behaviour or adopt conduct that is as practical and positive as possible. Choosing this mind-set can go a long way to helping us regain if not control, at least some equilibrium.
In the small avenue where I live, we have welcomed two new babies in the past month. Safely delivered and creating siblings in their respective families, they are a perfect reminder that we can still experience hope and joy. Life goes on!
“Childhood is the world of miracle and wonder: as if creation rose, bathed in light, out of the darkness, utterly new and fresh and astonishing.”
Eugene Ionesco from Fragments of a Journal.
Stay safe, take care