“Languishing” they call It

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded” (Grant).

Last week, everyone read The New York Times article, everyone nodded a yes, and I too thought, this is exactly what I am feeling after this past year. Before I read the piece, I had coined the sense as ‘mopey’. Just that downcast and defeated feeling after a hard year of cynicism and despair might leave you moping around your living room. 


Our gloomy weather only added to this sense of feeling blah, with gray skies and rain forecasted for days upon days. I trudged out all the same. Headed down the hill and continued along the long road, all with the faintest of hopes of catching a glimpse of my favorite heron. But that wasn’t to be this week. From under my umbrella I could spy those silly ducks at the far end of the lake, and thankfully those guys make me smile a bit.

As I have with most things, I have also struggled with this painting for most of the winter months. Its flaws plagued me while the whole canvas felt like a dragging disaster. I was moments away from gessoing over the mess and then, with a few adventures into hope and light, something lovely happened. That’s what the last days have been. Pulling out of pessimism to find a moment of flow. “Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness” (Grant). Never an easy space for anyone to get to, but like a mountain stream I’m learning to allow gravity to pull me into something akin to acceptance. Something distant from judgement. I tread lightly here.

Painting has been a singular boon of 2020 for me. With pallet knife or brush in hand I allow my mood to dictate color choice and stroke marks: emotional painting 101. A foundation year perhaps. I have no idea what my artistic expression will be three months from now, or twelve, but I plan to keep exploring just like the sleek koi moving within and around and over and under their watery sanctuary. Moving forward is the key.

It always starts with a recognizing, an acknowledgment. “By acknowledging that so many of us are languishing, we can start giving voice to quiet despair and lighting a path out of the void“(Grant). Just before day’s end, I head up the hill one last time to catch the sunset, which never disappoints. I guess that is what we all need to do. Head up that hill as often as we can to find the pink and lavender and the soft budding of the apple tree.


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