Along with the general helplessness one feels in the face of the pandemic, there are individual hardships that define the darkness. Living under the threat of a 24/7 infection with no known remedy opens one up to infinite possibilities of personal woe.
Just when depression was getting its due and people were accepting ‘feeling blue’ as a genuine illness that descends without warning, the lockdown began to infuse the word ‘low’ with newer meanings.
Along with the general helplessness one feels in the face of the pandemic – springing from global confusions and bungling on symptoms, tests, diagnosis, cure – there are individual hardships that define the darkness. Living under the threat of a 24/7 infection with no known remedy opens one up to infinite possibilities of personal woe.
This is a new depression, affecting the victim in monogrammed ways. In some it creates a fixation with memes and WhatsApp forwards; in some it manifests as manic singing from balconies; in some it is a frantic despairing of ever earning a salary again; in some it is the recurring nightmare of rotting crops; in some it is just the same old fear of death in new avatar. While some are killing it on Twitter, some are texting declarations of love to surprised people from their past.
This is not a ‘one size fits all’ depression. We go with the flow like so much flotsam and jetsam, our undersides splashed in sorrow.
A 1621 book by Robert Burton called The Anatomy of Melancholy has almost a short story for the rest of its title: The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up. Even back then no one thought melancholia a matter of few words.
He said: ‘…that transitory Melancholy which goes and comes upon every small occasion of sorrow, need, sickness, trouble, fear, grief, passion, or perturbation of the mind, any manner of care, discontent, or thought, which causes anguish …. Melancholy in this sense is the character of Mortality.’
It is the fear of death then that makes us so morose; it keeps us awake in bed and dizzy while standing. Perhaps we must take the palliative prescribed by the same author too, when he says he decided to ‘make an antidote out of that which was the prime cause of my disease’. So let’s face our worst fear: chills, dry cough, lung collapse and sudden death unable to catch our breath. But first we watch our loved ones dying. To quote a nursery rhyme: we all fall down.
Can’t we trust the planet to go with its gut instinct? If our time is up there is no flattening that curve. Of course, it’s not pleasant to think of the earth purging itself finger down its throat as if after a raucous all-night party. If that is to be our end, then despite our best efforts at quality worrying, that will be our end. This world will not end with a bang, oh no, but a wheeze when they switch off the ventilator.
There, it’s out in the open. Now let’s get back to zoom.Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.