Do you know Salvador Dalí’s famous painting “The Persistence of Memory” with all of the melting clocks? The coronavirus pandemic, much like the artistic masterpiece is surrealist in nature. Surrealism was a 20th century movement in which writers and artists used their work to bring a keen eye to the subconscious and non-rationality of things through curious imagery and words. The melting clocks in Dalí’s work is surrealist in the way that time is made arbitrary and abstract as if in a dream. Similarly, the irrationality of the pandemic has upset the world and forced it to adopt a bizarre new way of life.
I recently read an article on Wired.com that compares the pandemic to surrealism. The article explains how the sudden and drastic alteration of our realities in the wake of the pandemic can cause personal disillusionment. In just a few weeks’ time, we have adopted a new normal in which millions are out of work, non-essential travel is discouraged, meetings with more than 10 people are banned, social distancing means looong lines at the grocery stores, much of the population can be seen wearing masks, shaking hands is a no-no, and even dropping by someone’s house for a friendly visit is unthinkable. Just a year or two ago, this sort of backdrop would make for a farfetched science fiction film—yet this has become the quotidian humdrum of our lives.
If this new reality makes you feel uncomfortable, you are not alone. Much energy is rightfully devoted to fighting the virus and supporting society. This focus is vital to our recovery, which is why at times the psychological burden can seem extraordinarily heavy. When many are sick and dying, it can seem trivial to complain about sadness, loneliness, and boredom when your health is still intact. We are all affected differently by the pandemic and we should not feel ashamed to voice or seek support for our struggles whether they are physical or mental during this time.
The pandemic has ripped us clean from our reality. We depend on our routines, we trust that the Starbucks will be open, that our coworkers will leave the kitchen messier than the way they found it, and that public transport will be packed. The collection of these seemingly meaningless details were once the foundation of our fragile realities. We now free fall without knowing in which direction we are going or to where we will land. Children are homebound indefinitely, millions are unemployed and furloughed, and all of us are waiting to learn what is next. In the news, we hear that some countries are opening up, while others are clamping down, and here in the U.S. we are wadding in both ends of this lagoon of uncertainty. The crisis is simply discombobulating. If you are feeling ‘not okay,’ it is important to recognize that what you are feeling is normal and that you are not alone in this.
If our disillusionment from reality is a result from the sharp break in our routines, then perhaps a tiny return to normalcy can be the reincorporation of old habits into our new lives. Physical activity was a part of all of our lives, even just the short walk from home to the car. Finding ways to move around and keep active is one important way in which we can cope with our feelings of being ‘stuck.’ Additionally, socialization—another activity everyone engages in to some degree—is a habit we must do our best to uphold despite the circumstances.
Some scientists predict that social-distancing policies will be in place in some form or another until 2022. While total lockdown for the next year and a half is (hopefully!!!) unlikely, major adjustment in the way we live for a while is guaranteed. This means that whether we like it or not, Dear Reader, we are in this “together” for the long haul. So, during this time, I hope you will continue to check in on your mental health and reach out to friends and loved ones to support one another.
Things may seem surreal right now, but they need not always feel this way. Acceptance of the situation and the re-incorporation of normalcy into our lives can help us make this unreality a little more familiar.
I wish us all the very best on this journey.