Pandemic fatigue and the gap year 2020

By Jamie Etheridge

On February 25, I planned to take my daughters to see the Al-Farsi kite festival in Bnaider. We go almost every year and spend the day playing games, flying kites and enjoying the desert winter weather and the colorful kites. Unfortunately, the coronavirus showed up in Kuwait just before the holiday and we ended up heeding the government’s advice to stay at home and avoid going out.

Nearly six months later, we continue to follow this guidance. We go to work and the grocery store, have been to the mall once or twice only for much needed-items, visit the beach or park only in the early morning or early evening and always maintain social distance and wear a mask. We have also avoided all gatherings, crowded events or other public activities. Like so many others in Kuwait, we are battling this pandemic the only way we can – by staying home and staying safe.

Doing this has not been easy but we are among the lucky. There are tens of thousands who have suffered from months of lockdown, lost their jobs or income, saw their businesses closed, possibly never to reopen.

Children have also been without school for six months now. Summer for them is usually the holiday period, a time when families travel for at least a few weeks abroad rather than endure Kuwait’s sweltering 45C-55C summer heat. Because of the pandemic, however, most people are not traveling for vacations. Pools and gyms remain closed as are all children’s activity centers.

And though we are trying our best to stay positive, to stay active and healthy, to keep anxiety and fear at bay, the days have begun to wear on us. The children bicker more frequently, us adults are more short tempered and we are all ready for a break.

We’ve crossed into the land of pandemic fatigue, where the crisis has transformed from an unusual event into the every day. Pandemic normalized. We don masks before leaving the house, schedule zoom meetings and live with the constant worry that our family, friends and communities will suffer greater losses – of people dying, of businesses ruined, of salaries cut, jobs terminated.

Everyone I talk to is feeling the stress, the pressure of the pandemic. No one is immune because even if your family managed to hold on to their business or work or haven’t had anyone get sick, the children are still out of school and the economy is stagnated.

So what to do? How to get past this fatigue, this overwhelming sense of fear and despair when there are still hundreds of new cases each day and its unclear if there will be a second ‘wave’ in the fall or even when the pandemic will end and life will return to normal?

There are no easy fixes, especially for those facing financial difficulties or health challenges. One way that I’ve adopted to address the uncertainty is to stop looking forward to or waiting for the ‘return to normal’. Instead of holding my breath and counting the days until life resumes as we once knew it to me, my family and I are carving out a new normal that includes the reality of the pandemic.

This pandemic life assumes a certain amount of uncertainty. Rather than waiting for life to resume, we are moving on with life as it is. Rather than lamenting virtual learning for the fall, we are finding ways to make learning at home fun, engaging and meaningful. Rather than mourning the missed summer travel, we are exploring ways to be productive and creative in our home environment.

The circumstances are not ideal but since we have no choice in the matter, we are viewing 2020 as a gap year for us all, a break from our normal lives and routine and hope that we survive this pandemic with our lives, our families and emerge with new passions, new skills and new opportunities.

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