I find it darkly amusing, if you’ll forgive the adjective choice, how many otherwise thinking and compassionate people, the kind who would never dream to make fun of anyone’s physical or mental health conditions, absolutely dismiss sufferers of seasonal affective disorder out of hand. The same folks who passionately put their hearts and minds (and wallets) behind causes supporting disabilities of all kinds can find little more to say than “suck it up” to about 5% of their neighbors. Mostly, I think this is because it creates cognitive dissonance in people who really, really love the winter season, which, in my experience, is the vast majority. I get it. It’s hard to accept that a thing which brings them so much personal joy is simultaneously bringing suffering to others, and it’s especially easy to dismiss this particular malady because it’ll go away in a few months.
What they lack in empathy, they do make up for factually in that regard, at least. It will go away, and that knowledge is how I march through it each year, along with my blue lights and vitamin D supplements. The only way out is through. I know that the day after the winter solstice will bring a few seconds more daylight than the day before, and so on for the six months after. It’s a date certain, a milestone on my calendar, perhaps the most important one to me. Sure, from today it’ll get slowly worse for the next fifteen days or so, but then we touch the bottom and start to swim back toward the sun.
I see another date ahead on my calendar when, in theory, things should stop getting worse for a while. The presidential political cycle isn’t like the equinoctial one, with relatively straightforward equations that determine periodic behaviors over roughly sinusoidal paths. But its calendar is every bit as fixed, and there comes a date certain ahead where, as far as I can see, at least things will stop getting worse. Unlike the time after the solstice, I don’t harbor a lot of hope things will get materially better starting January 22nd. We’re far too broken for anything like progress at this point, so braking the freefall into hell will have to do for now. We need to patch the holes in the boat before we can figure out how to rig the sails again. Or, back to the swimming metaphor, there’s that increasing pressure you feel on your eardrums as you dive down to the bottom of a deep pool or lake. You know when you find the bottom, that’s as bad as the pain is going to be. It won’t get worse. Whether or not you can swim up again, or how long you can hold your breath at the current depth, are different questions.
Yet I see no date certain where the third plague of this season, the literal one, starts to get better. I know it has to, at some point. Every viral pandemic we’ve encountered so far, as far back as we have oral history to reference, anyway, eventually burned itself out. Populations eventually gain immunity, though often at disastrously high cost. We’ve also put to work the millennia of scientific knowledge we’ve gained to give us the best possible tools to fight it, and now to prevent it. What we have achieved—developing working vaccines in such an incredibly short time—should be perceived as one of humanity’s greatest achievements. So we have past experience, fortified with these magnificent tools unimaginable even in the lifetimes of my parents, to know that somewhere, someday, we won’t all be stuck with this scourge.
But when? As I fight my other seasonal battles, I can take a red Sharpie to two boxes on the calendar and count days or even hours to relief. No such date exists here. The most optimistic among us seem to think that maybe by next fall we should be back to work and school as in the status quo ante, but that’s pretty vague (do I take the red Sharpie to three whole pages of the calendar?), and, more ominously, that optimism is based on assumptions I see as unlikely to be true. We are poised for huge swaths of the population to refuse to be vaccinated. It’s not hard to imagine. We have tens of millions of people believing fantastical conspiracy theories about the election results, and/or that a pedophile ring in Washington is conspiring to take Dear Leader out. Those are exactly the kinds of minds that will also be easily poisoned about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. I mean, people won’t wear a freaking mask because they think that’s a bold political statement. Imagine how proudly they will refuse the shots for their tribe. Oh, and they’re in addition to the existing crowd that shops in the homeopathic aisle at Whole Foods who was already fine with their babies getting rubella.
Can we achieve herd immunity the easy way? Or are we going to do it the hard way, with several million dead, and years wasted while the rest of the non-broken world moves on? Do I circle a date in 2021, or much farther out?