The COVID-19 epidemic has had a myriad of health implications and placed many people, consciously or unconsciously, in a state of limbo. This is a state where the very essences of life such as food, clothing, going to school or work, leisure and entertainment just buzz around us. It is like watching the bees and listening to them buzz around you – you get detached from it and soon have no feelings. This culminates in an endless gaze. Psychologists and Sociologists have a name for this unfortunate state of endless being, it is called ‘languishing.’
Languishing is the void between flourishing and depression. It is marked by absence of well-being, that is, you are not yourself and hence you are not functioning at full capacity. This is because you lack focus and appear cut off from your normal schedule. Languishing implies you are besides yourself and hence dull. Besides you lack motivation and the ability to thrive. Even if you may not be languishing or you have overcome it, you will know people who are. Therefore, understanding it is important so that you can elevate yourself and others.
Languishing is characterised by apathy. It marks a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you are muddling through your days, weeks and months looking for your life, and at your life through a foggy misty windshield. This turned out to be a dominant emotion of 2020 and 2021. Many people have been, and are still struggling with the psychological and emotional long-haul of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because COVID-19 hit all of us so suddenly and unprepared leading to intense fear and anxiety, loss and grief of unimaginable levels.
Languishing is not a mental illness. This is unlike anxiety and panic disorders or depression. Instead, languishing is a series of (negative) emotions. Languishing encompasses various distressing feelings of low and high spirits, stagnation, and monotony marked by emptiness.
Languishing and getting up
Disasters and other traumatic events in our lives leave us feeling stuck; that is, you find yourself in a sort of limbo. You feel you want to look for something and yet you cannot know what it is nor can you access it. This is because life is at once or suddenly too overwhelming and not engaging enough. This is what happened to Kenyans in 2007/08 after the dreaded post-election violence. It is also what is happening now with greater ramifications with the COVID-19 pandemic. The ensuing restrictions and lockdowns, wearing of masks, sanitization and fumigation, people working from home and children at home without hope for a future, salary cuts and job layoffs left a whole population of people in Kenya and in the world completely devastated.
There are two major problems with languishing. One is, if you are languishing, you might not notice the lack of interest and dullness of your life. Two, you may not necessarily notice the passage of time. In all these, you may not catch yourself slipping slowly into nothingness, solitude and despair. This is because you are indifferent to your own indifference. In many instances, the person many not notice his or her own suffering and unfortunately may fail to seek help, thus leading to burn-out and depression.
A major part of our lives is the need to see a new day, week, month or year; the urge to seek new tasks and assignments. Yet, each task requires motivation, including resuming school or college, going back to work, life after contracting COVID, or unfortunately, loosing a loved one. We have to search deep within ourselves for motivation, both intrinsic (from within ourselves) and extrinsic (from without) including meeting our basic needs. This is beyond anything we have ever known or experience. As a result, we feel tired, weary and fatigued with little or no excitement and hence the marked low voter turnout in recent by-elections in Kenya and even in the current enhanced mass registration of new voters. This is also evident in increased cases violence, including gender-based violence, marked divorce and separation cases, amplified suicide and self-injurious behaviours, more frustrations leading to depression and mental health issues. This is because we tend to feel restless, and less eager to engage in our ordinary lives or try out new things.
In Counselling, Therapy and Psychology, we note carefully the spectrum from flourishing to frustration, hopelessness and disappointment leading to depression. Flourishing or health and success is the peak of well-being in which you have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to self and others. Depression on its part is marked by apathy, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and the five D’s, that is, disappointment, despair, discouragement drained and dejection. This is all the more reason why depression can be described as the valley of ill-being. This is because the person affected has feelings and shows signs of disappointment, despondent and drained and all this leads to acute feelings of worthlessness.
The spectrum from flourishing to frustration, hopelessness and disappointment leading to depression is highly significant. Flourishing is the peak of well-being in which you have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to self and others. Depression is marked by apathy, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and despair.
You will recognize the symptoms of languishing because they are common to all of us. Unfortunately, we all have them or once had them. They include lack of, or trouble concentrating, lack of enthusiasm to go to school, college or work, lack of exactment and hope even with life even with availability vaccines and others that could turn out to be more critical such as lack of sleep, (insomnia) appetite and the general hopelessness. It reaches a point where even television, movies, news and other forms of entertainment including the Internet fail to excite us. Instead, we appear, as my friend put it, ‘to bounce in and out of bed. The reason for all these is because we feel a big burden over us that we can neither recognize nor touch because it is both a psychological and physical burden that only exists in our mind.
Picking Up the Broken Pieces: Antidote for Languishing
Admittedly, many people come out of this state with little or no injuries. However, it is acceptable that some people end up utterly disappointed with life and thus frustrated, sometimes leading to burn-out and on to depression. The essence of dealing with languishing is to pick up the broken pieces and other fragments when you still have the energy. You do not have to feel hopeless; instead, you must somehow pick the joyfulness. And hence the use of the media in chats and news and all.
A major part of our languishing is evident in our thoughts, attitude and actions. This is even much worse when we fail to rise up to life challenges or seek new experiences. To transcend languishing, we must carve out tasks and assignments that get us back to focus. A friend of mine who read this article told us how he suddenly became jobless and he looked for work as a lorry driver. A family friend who had contacted COVID-19 was so excited telling us how she found cleaning the house so meaningful. Indeed, she ended up cleaning her wardrobe since she was at home for a month and removing so many unnecessary things from the house including mending her clothes. You can also try by starting with small things. One of us was on radio and talked about planting flowers and someone called the office and talked about how planting flowers had renewed their hope. These small things are important in that the tiny triumph assist us to figure out wholesome things.