By Jason Heil

Everyone is Tired.

Capital T Tired.

It’s true in my house.  It’s true on my social media feed.  It’s true when I see people in real life.

It’s not necessarily a bad Tired.  It’s not necessarily an unhealthy Tired.

But the Fatigue is real.

In my last column, I spoke of the negotiations that we will all be making as we emerge from our stay-at-home cocoons.  Each one of us is navigating our own paths and boundaries and pace as we stagger out of the cave into the sunlight.  However, I am realizing more and more that this emergence is not just going to be stepping back into business as usual.  This is not the world of February 2020.  We are not the same people we were in February 2020.  I am not the same as I was in February 2020 (even if I am still thrilled about the Friends reunion and the sequel to A Quiet Place.)

The next phase is just a more interactive version of the pandemic. 

Although 50% of US adults are now vaccinated, it does not mean that everything is safe again.  The pandemic is not over.  We still have the equivalent deaths of two 9/11s per week happening in America.  Just this week, I heard a story of a relative’s former co-worker and her husband in Ohio (both vehement anti-maskers) who died of COVID-19 just three days apart.  Those of us who are vaccinated are certainly in a statistically much safer position, but the societal impact of these illnesses and deaths are ongoing.

Another thing that is ongoing is the trauma.  More and more stories are emerging about the psychological impact of the pandemic. 

Depression is up among teens (though thankfully, social anxiety is down).  Alcohol and drug abuse has increasedViolent crimes, mass shootings and hate crimes are spiking.  There is ongoing racial turbulence in our country that the conviction of Derek Chauvin did not magically heal. Not to mention the roller coaster of the end of the Trump era.  It’s hard to believe, but the insurrection and second impeachment were just a few months ago.  Even Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has announced that she is seeking counseling to deal with the trauma of this year.

For someone like me who spent most of the pandemic holed up in my house reading books, playing board games, watching Netflix and playing Fortnite, it can feel a bit disingenuous to claim trauma.  I and my loved ones were unharmed by the virus.  My wife and I had jobs that allowed us to make money and remain home during the pandemic.  My kids adapted well to online learning and were pretty good sports throughout the virtual birthdays and holidays and missed plays and games and sleepovers.  Compared to those who suffered immediate, immutable losses, my trauma feels very “first world problems.”

But (as I frequently say to my jockeying children): “it’s not a competition.”

My trauma doesn’t need to win.  It doesn’t need to be better (or worse) than yours.  It doesn’t need to justify itself.  It just needs to be there, and it’s okay for me to look at it and go, “I’ve been through something this year and I’m still dealing with it.”  That’s all.  

This brings me back to the Fatigue.  

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not all bad fatigue.  In our house, some of the outside life has returned.  We have one child who has gone back to in-person school.  The kids did an outdoor-socially-distanced play.  My wife and I have gone to restaurants and bars and friends’ houses in a return to socialization.  It has been wonderful to laugh and interact and especially, to hug and hug and hug.

But all of that does take a toll.

It feels a bit whiny to say out loud, but there is a mental and physical exhaustion that comes from moving around and socializing and even laughing more.  That hour spent taking a kid to school instead of chilling out with a book in the gazebo actually feels like a mental and physical loss.   That seven and a half hours of sleep now feel like more of an urgent necessity and not a relaxed luxury.  As wonderful as it is to see people, it’s also a little discombobulating to have to “put on” social skills again.  This isn’t just a Zoom window where I don’t even have to be wearing shoes (or pants).  I can’t just “Mute” and “Stop Video” if I want to take a moment to myself.

Or can I?

As with most people, I am still figuring out what “returning to society” means to me.  Before the pandemic, it was not uncommon for me to work 10-12 hour days and drive another 1-3 hours between jobs.  It was just what I did.  The pandemic forced me to slow down, but if I’m honest, it also allowed me to slow down.  I gave myself permission to not have to juggle twelve balls at once.  Four balls was actually kind of nice.  I know more balls will come back into rotation, but maybe it doesn’t have to be twelve. Even as I am excited to add a happy hour or outdoor concert to the Google Calendar, I am noticing a twinge at not having a night at home.  

Returning to the New Normal is conflicting.

This last weekend was a great example. I went to an outdoor performance at the Old Globe, met friends for breakfast, had an in-person poker night, grilled at another friends’ house while the kids swam in the pool and met up with friends at a local bar for Happy Hour.  It was fabulous.  I also fell off my diet, drank too much, skipped some workouts and didn’t read my book.  Maybe there can be too much of a good thing.  I expect it will be easy to exercise some moderation moving forward, but it’s frustrating to have to work at it again, after so many months of finding a healthy groove.

What I appreciate about this recognition is that it’s not freaking me out.  Having learned to listen to myself and my world more during the pandemic, I’m doing  better with uncomfortable realizations.  I don’t have to solve it all overnight.  It may not even be something that is completely solvable.   I’m sure there will be trade-offs that won’t be perfectly balanced.  One solution, however, is to observe the moment truthfully, pay attention to what it is saying and respond accordingly, because I still want to return to society and do plays and have drinks with friends.

I just may need an extra nap here and there.  


Jason Heil is a Professor at California State University San Marcos where he teaches theater, and has worked in the entertainment industry as a director, producer, actor, and writer at some of the most prestigious theaters in the U.S. He received his bachelors and masters degrees from the University of California at Irvine, and lives in San Diego with his wife Kim, their two children, and their dog, Sadie