opinion

"This hasn't been a holiday." A letter to the 'break' that broke me.

I've cried every day for the last week.

Not the light cries that come with watching a sad movie or stubbing your toe - but heaving, uncontrollable sobs. 

At first, I didn't know why. During my bouts of crying, the thoughts are vivid: I'm exhausted. I'm unmotivated. I have a list of things to do and I can't get through any of them. I'm getting old. Life is going too fast. I don't know what I want and yet I'm craving the things I don't have. 

Watch: The dogs are not okay right now. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

But where did this come from? When did the low hum of these thoughts become so loud they demanded the urgent attention of tears?

I'm starting to think it's the inevitable result of a 'break' that wasn't a break at all - The Great Non-Holiday of 2021. Usually during those late weeks of December, we stop. We live in a suspended reality between Christmas and New Year where the days bleed into each other and we blissfully fall out of our routines and allow ourselves to breathe. There's spontaneity. There's laughter. There's connection. 

But this year, none of it felt right. None of it. 

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It was in those late December days, once filled with social plans, the absence of responsibility and a complete disconnection with time, that the crying started. And it hasn't stopped.

I only have one comparison for the feeling I'm carrying out of bed, throughout the day and back into bed again: mourning. It feels like I'm in mourning.

And really, that's not so ridiculous. 

Growing up, the weeks on either side of Christmas were the most wonderful time of the year. It was characterised by long days and warm nights, with all the people I loved in the one room and a sense of spontaneity that made the summer holidays feel like they'd never end. 

But this has been a period defined not by Christmas lights and ham and spending time with family and friends and counting down to midnight and switching off - it's instead been punctuated by disruption. The people who can't come to Christmas. Who are in isolation for New Year. Who are sick and alone and tired and bored and confused. News alerts about COVID case numbers we couldn't have imagined even a month ago. Collective anger about PCRs and RATs and a government who doesn't get it. Plans called off and re-organised and called off again.

This hasn't been a holiday, not really.

This year, we didn't get one. Instead, those of us lucky enough to have a few weeks off have had our jobs replaced with the 'personal responsibility' of managing the mental load of a global pandemic.

A sign out the front of my local pharmacy. Image: Supplied. 

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And so we're exhausted. And the anxieties of 2021 have had no time to rest, instead snowballing and arriving at the feet of a brand new year, obliterating the sense of hope we're used to. 

It was the New Year that made my crying worse. I chose a word. I made small resolutions. I told myself I'd been taking it easy for too long, and now was the time to start building momentum again. 

But I can't.

How can you even make resolutions in a world where nothing feels certain? How can you make promises to yourself when it feels like every promise, every guarantee of modern life, has been broken?

I'm trying to make plans for myself against a backdrop that fundamentally doesn't make sense. 

For our exhausted, burnt out brains, the last few weeks have been profoundly disorienting. We've spent two years changing the very fabric of how we live as human beings in order to avoid catching a virus we're now inevitably going to get. We've closed borders and missed weddings and birthdays and funerals. Our lives have been on hold. I haven't seen a threat taken so seriously in my lifetime. 

And I know the science and the arguments. I know we're highly vaccinated. I know Omicron is milder. I know rates of hospitalization are lower than previous variants. But this feels less like a decision and more like a mass sense of resignation. One we never agreed to. 

Listen to a recap of 2021. Post continues after podcast.


I'm one of the lucky ones who has managed to so far not contract COVID-19. I haven't had to sit out of Christmas or New Year's Eve unwell and alone. But sometimes I wonder whether the limbo is worse.

I've stared at rapid antigen tests and willed them to be positive. Not because I want to be sick, but because I need this to be over. Right now, it's a waiting game, and I'm sick of waiting.

So the tears keep coming. Not because of COVID. Not because of the disruptions. But because of what they represent. Because of how this pandemic has irreparably changed the course of all our lives, and reminded us of that cruel fact we delude ourselves into ignoring: we have such little control.

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Some people's response to this period has been anger. They're furious at the Australian government. At state leaders. But I don't have the energy to be angry anymore. I don't want to yell or tweet or campaign or apply pressure. There's no anger left. Just sadness. A painful, nauseating sadness that this is our reality.

For some of us, the weather is the extra nail in the coffin that represents the summer break that no longer seems within reach. Destructive tides. Floods. Torrential rain. A cyclone.

We're all tiny.

The universe doesn't care about our summer holiday.

Perhaps this crescendo in the pandemic is what it will take for the sadness to hit us. For two years, we've had a series of challenges to focus on: adapting to remote work. Learning to live in lockdown. Slowly coming back out. Waiting for vaccines. Getting immunised. Planning for freedom. 

Now the challenge isn't clear. The nightmare is here, and we're living in it.

What I'm left with is the sadness, eased only by the knowledge that my tears - while attached to the idiosyncrasies of my own life - are an entirely healthy response to the 'break' that broke us. 

For more from Clare Stephens, you can follow her on Instagram

Feature Image: Supplied. 

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