Is This What You’re Feeling Right Now?
I sat down to write this post and just kind of stared at the screen for a while. Found myself clicking over to Facebook for a bit, then resolutely back here to write. Hopped over to check email but there’s nothing new since ten minutes ago. Has anyone texted me lately? No. Back here to write.
Ugh. The listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate, otherwise known as acedia, has got me going in circles.
I’ve never been this way before. How about you? Has 2020 found you behaving in ways unlike your usual self?
Over a decade ago, Kathleen Norris published a book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. I thought it was a great book — I love Kathleen Norris — but it didn’t really apply to me, you know? I mean, I’d had some depression off and on. But it couldn’t really be characterized as the acedia she describes in the book. Fast forward to this year and it feels like the story of my life.
A couple of months ago, the journal The Conversation featured an article on acedia in the context of 2020: “Acedia: the lost name for the emotion we’re all feeling right now.” Worth reading if you want to hop over and check it out.
The notion of acedia feels like a breath of fresh air when you read descriptions of it. It puts words to that weird, nameless listlessness we feel, the disinterest in doing the things we’re supposed to do, the hovering anxiety that we can’t quite put our fingers on. It says to us: You might be tempted to characterize yourself as lazy right now, but you know that’s not true. You’re not lazy. You are experiencing acedia, and there are good reasons for it.
Acedia was first described by a 5th century monk, and it was very much related to a feeling of isolation. Hmm, isolation. Sound familiar, anyone?
And yet, the notion of acedia has been supplanted in our vocabulary by more modern notions of depression and anxiety. We don’t have a word that really captures this “noonday demon” as it was known, this state of being that looks from the outside like laziness but from the inside feels completely inscrutable, like someone else has taken over your mind and body. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of acedia is just that — it’s not your clinical depression, it’s not your anxiety diagnosis, it’s not a sudden onset of laziness — it’s a state of being completely outside your normal realm of emotion and behavior.
So what do we do? I don’t know — you tell me! Calling it by its name can help, I think. Pushing through our to-do list one step at at time, taking it easy on ourselves, giving ourselves grace to get through this. Setting our daily goals a bit less ambitious than usual. Getting outside help to accomplish tasks, if needed to meet a deadline or commitment.
What else? I’d love to hear whether you’ve experienced acedia, and what you’re doing about it.
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