One thing I loved about working seasonally, when I landed in Whistler, fresh from a lawyer’s office, was the way working out of doors, with a seasonal start and end date, gave a different meaning to time, than the corporate treadmill had when every day had literally the same texture as the one before, apart from Friday, because drinks.
Apparently, one of the side-effects of pandemic life has been to make time pass in weird and slippery ways. My husband (to his regret) called it a kind of Groundhog Day, after the movie in which the guy wakes up to discover he’s reliving the same day over and over again.
There’s actually a technical term for this: “temporal disintegration.” And if you’re feeling it, you’re not alone. According to Alison Holman, a professor at the University of California Irvine school of nursing, led a team who surveyed 6500 Americans about their mental health during the pandemic and found it was widespread.
“You just kind of lose the continuity from past, present [and] future, and you’re just kind of living in the moment, day to day,” Holman told CBC, about the findings that were published in September in the journal Science Advances.
I mean, if something is going to disintegrate through the pandemic, and it’s not unjust and racist systems of oppression, then your sense of time is probably one of the more innocuous options.
“When people have a sense that they’re back to what they were doing, that will help them feel like they’re rebuilding their future,” said Holman – which made me realize why people are clinging so hard to the idea of “getting back to normal.”
I think it’s worth pausing and considering that – to unpack what’s packaged up in that phrase. The idea that we can just slip back to easy life, normal, how things were, is alluring, but I don’t think it’s realistic or beneficial. I personally think we need to seize on to this moment, hard, to start reeling in climate change. Life has already been disrupted, now let’s do it intentionally, and not just in response to the specific threat around a pandemic. I think we need to take stock of all the structural weaknesses in our current system that the pandemic lens zoomed in on, and create better alternatives. I think we could safely say, the all-you-can-eat buffet, the cruise ship, mega shipping container cargo ships and the wet market are things of the past. And it’s okay to leave them in the past.
Humans need a stable sense of past, present and future, Holman says. Our past informs who we are, our immediate experiences comprise our present and we build our perceived future when we set short- and long-term goals.
“What happens in the context of major life trauma is that this sense of the future is often just shut down,” she told CBC’s Torah Kachur, host of the CBC Radio special It’s About Time.
That uncertainty about the future, about what we might be able to plan and enjoy (a wedding? a vacation?) makes the desire to return to the known shores of how things used to be completely understandable. But the ancients had the saying for a reason: You cannot step into the same river twice. The past is past. Everything has moved around since that moment when we thought we could make solid plans…
Writer and therapist Jake Ernst (aka @mswjake) says that “Feeling exhausted by the mundane and repetitive aspects of life right now is a normal response to a disruption in temporal integration.”
To remedy this, he suggests a few ideas:
• Do more tasks or hobbies that have a beginning, middle, and end.
• Build a new habit or shift into an older routine.
• Mimic your typical commute with a “commute walk” at the start or end of your day.
• Set boundaries with work and non-work periods by implementing an “email blackout period”.
The Pique recently interviewed Mary MacDonald, a paediatric psychologist, and she said that it is a challenge for us to reassure each other (and the kids, and ourselves), when we can’t say with certainty that everything will be OK.
“In an interesting kind of way, what we’re teaching children is how to live with uncertainty,” MacDonald said. “We live with uncertainty all the time anyway. We often just don’t acknowledge it. We’re always between what was and what will be.”
Because the uncertainty isn’t created by the pandemic. It’s just amplified by it. But it has always been there – the reality that we can’t plan for the future and be 100% guaranteed our plans won’t be changed at the last minute.