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.

 

If you should decide to invest in some personalized counsel, I offer coaching for unpublished authors here: My Coaching Services

I also offer online courses here: Author School

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Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

4 Comments

  1. Duncan Campbell on October 23, 2020 at 7:38 PM

    For me, the Covid19 lockdown has actually been liberating. My wife and I are living “in intentional community” or “in extended family by choice” with one of our daughters and her family, so we have a house full of everything from 3 year olds to 61 year olds. And we are truly fortunate in that our house is big enough, and we’re rambunctious enough (definitely my influence, LOL!), that we can push furniture out of the way at the drop of a hat and have a dance party – complete with disco lights thank you very much! – or make a fort with chairs and couches moved all over the place and every blanket and sheet and cushion swiped from every bed and closet. So I have not had much acedia, but I do know what it’s about. I had it when I was living alone during a summer job between years at university, based in a small town I’d never been to before. It was soooooo hard. One thing that kept me going then was relationships at church, but that is not an option in these Covid19 days of Zoom Church (so missing live worship!!!!!!!!!!!). Rather than acedia, the Covid19 lockdown has helped me to spend more time writing prose, poetry, and songs than I’ve done over the past several years. In a very strange way, my extreme extroversion helps me to actually look forward to Zoom calls, and the restrictions on “going out” help me to stay focused, or get focused more quickly, so I can actually get down to writing. If there’s one thing the Covid19 lockdown has taught me, it’s that living in extended family is a net positive, i.e. a blessing! The pain and frustration it brings – and there’s lots of it! – is far outweighed by the benefits of being in continual connection and relationship with a broad age range. And I strongly recommend a good dose of “getting crazy” at least once a day. We ordered a cheap – and I mean ‘cheap’ in every sense of the word – disco light, and we put it on with some rock and roll and have a blast for 30 minutes or so after supper on many evenings. Hilariously, my 3 year old grandson’s favourite song right now is “I Love Rock and Roll”, and he does the air guitar with me and sings the chorus at the top of his lungs! It’s awesome! Or you can make a “fort” in the middle of the living room by turning the couch and a few chairs around, put a bedspread over the top, hold it down with books, throw some cushions on the floor (vacuum first, please!), and lie in there and tell stories and read books and find ways to make cool tunnels … and whatever else seems like a good idea. Anyways, it works for me, or I should say, for me and the grandkids!



  2. Patricia Iacuzzi on October 23, 2020 at 12:26 AM

    I am  experiencing this on occasion too; but didn’t have anything like it growing up. This is fascinating, Rachelle. Had never heard of it before–thanks for posting!



  3. Patricia Iacuzzi on October 23, 2020 at 12:21 AM

    I am experiencing this on occasion too; almost thought I had ADD; but didn’t have anything like it growing up. This is fascinating, Rachelle. Had never heard of it before–thanks for posting!



  4. vina mogg on October 20, 2020 at 4:59 PM

    Yes! I feel like I’m going in circles, chasing my tail. Do you know what is helping me through all this? Paddle boarding! Sometimes I get in deep water and feel I am in way over my head. Or waves come up from a boat and feel like dropping to my knees. Instead I do what my coach instructed me to do, and face the wave head on. And I get through! I hope you get some time to paddle, get some fresh air, clear your head. And feel grace.