wellness

This feeling we have in the lead up to Christmas 2021? It's new.

All over the world, we have found ourselves in quite the bind. 

Shall we cancel festivities in order to save Christmas? 

Shall we cancel Christmas in order to save New Year's Eve?

Shall we cancel all of it or none of it and will any of it make a difference, anyway?

For the first time in this pandemic - I do not want anyone to shout me an answer. 

I do not want shock jocks yelling at me over the radio, or alarm and panic whipped up by commentators. I don't think I'm alone in saying I cannot feel that anymore. 

Controversially, I don't even want to hear what anyone thinks the government ought to do - which is undemocratic and a feeling that contradicts my logic. But my sense is that we might as well stop looking for some all-encompassing answer, or thinking that someone on Twitter who put together a well-phrased sentence might have it. Perhaps there is no answer. People much cleverer than me can't seem to find one. 

At this point, five days out from Christmas, there is no sense to be made or a bold opinion to write. There is just a swell of feelings. Disappointment. Anxiety. Fear. And boundless empathy for those who already know they will be spending Christmas Day isolated from the people they love. 

Some say we have transitioned from a lethal pandemic to a pandemic of inconvenience. 

Of course, any wave will be lethal to some - and that is never to be minimised. But vaccinations have changed the level of risk facing the majority of Australians. 

But I'd also argue that this is more than just a pandemic of inconvenience. 

Missing a bus is inconvenient. Receiving an email at 4:59pm on a Friday afternoon is inconvenient. 

Being isolated from your family during a Christmas period we have limped towards, after a year that was meant to be better than the one before, but was in fact so much worse, is devastating. 

Spending this time deprived of any festivity, without access to the people we love, is not how things - generally speaking - are meant to beLet's not pretend this is normal or easy or a painless solution. 

From the beginning this has been a pandemic of 'who has it worse', and in many ways, rightly so. Class has shaped our experience of this virus more than just about anything else. Being immunocompromised or elderly or having young kids or being a frontline worker or any other number of factors means this has been, and continues to be, a very specific kind of nightmare. 

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But let's abandon the caveats for a moment. The "but I've been really lucky" sandwich - which you must formulate in order to share your sadness that you're isolated for Christmas or your business has closed (again) or your birthday was cancelled last minute or you can't go on the holiday you've been looking forward to for a year. This is awful. In millions of different ways. To millions of different degrees. But awful nonetheless. 

Over the last two years, we've come up with dozens of new phrases in an attempt to put words around feelings that were once so foreign and are now familiar. 

First, there was "anticipatory grief". We watched China. Then Italy. We knew what was coming. Death was part of it. But we knew a lot else would be lost, too. The grief was micro and macro. It was collective.

Then our "surge capacity" was depleted. The adrenalin rush of being in the midst of a disaster meant our bodies went into overdrive. But surge capacity is designed for sudden, instant disasters. Not pandemics that last years. 

Then there was "languishing", a sense of "stagnation and emptiness". Adjacent to that was "pandemic purgatory" and "pandemic fatigue".

Only weeks ago we were talking about "re-entry anxiety", a phenomenon written about all over the world. 

But this period, Christmas 2021, is different again. Add to all those emotions "pandemic decision fatigue". Suddenly it is our responsibility to make a series of high-stakes decisions. 

We are at a new stage of the pandemic here in Australia which gives way to a new brand of anxiety: chaos. 

I do not mean that as a criticism. It was a stage that had to happen if we were to know freedom again. But the 'chaos' some of us feel now is not unlike the chaos of the toilet paper hoarding of 21 months ago. 

Ian Bogost wrote in The Atlantic last week of a "new emotional terror". We hoped this year might be free of stress. That we would "feel as if we had made some progress".

And of course, we have. We have been reminded by many experts that this is not March 2020 all over again. We are (largely) vaccinated. But it does feel as though we made sacrifices and adhered to the rules and waited so patiently so that Christmas might be different. 

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Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, where we talk about how Australians are feeling in the lead up to Christmas Post continues after. 

As much as Christmas is about all the good things - family, food, gifts, annual leave - it's also about a reprieve.  

An exhale. 

A time when we can leave the stresses of the year behind.

That is why this all feels so unfair. 

The jokes are already circulating about abandoning hope. 

Ricky Gervais summed it up best with: "I think there would be a lot less anxiety, anger and disappointment in the world, if we all just decided never to do anything again."

He's not wrong.

But hope is what we do. We do not know how not to hope.

And so despite everything, we look forward, plan new holidays and fantasise about next Christmas.

Maybe then things will be different. 

Image: Getty/Mamamia.