The COVID-19 Hangover
By Brianna Borrego
I am not a big fan of clichés, but lately I can’t help but think of the butterfly who flapped her paper wings in China and caused a hurricane in the Caribbean. Or a tornado in Oklahoma, whichever natural disaster you prefer to metaphorically digest.
The movement of a creature so delicate resulting in a catastrophic event also relates to the natural paradigm of a stream. The water carries microscopic sediment from the stones beneath it, and this motion gradually alters the landscapes around us. It can be overwhelming to imagine that the gentle passing of stream water progressively models every inch of our planet.
Although the butterfly effect may not be consistent with our liking, the past two years have forced us to sit with the realization that mass importance laces each of our actions. From wearing a mask to holiday video calls, we have witnessed how our decisions can sculpt reality.
I recently read a Tweet, “That moment you realize 2022 is just 2020, too.” Underneath the wording was Kermit the Frog sitting in a ball of fire. Hearing “2020” will cause a shudder for many of us in the years to come as we remember the year’s dramatic shifts and tragedies. 2020 will not be remembered for its motionless amity.
Like a stream, 2020 carried fear and uncertainty into our daily lives. The future’s lack of predictability is unsettling, and now we have realized that indeed anything can happen. I’ve watched confidence fade, and social media has become much more pessimistic as many of us took to technology when passing the time in isolation. Pandemic anxiety has trickled into our mundane dailies, even by embodying the form of mediocre memes.
Thanks to the administration of vaccines and the seriousness with which many people regarded quarantine, 2021 presented a return to “normalcy.” However, I don’t believe there was ever a state of normalcy to begin with. Depending on the rollercoaster highs and lows of COVID severity, we slowly witnessed restaurants fully reopen, music festivals come to life, and travel regulations become lifted. Society regained some rosy color in its cheeks.
However, many of us quickly forgot the tragedies we experienced in light of much-needed celebration. Though immense gratitude accompanies the dissipation of an isolated, quiet lifestyle, you can hear the tiny trembles of anxiety that continue to linger in our voices.
My friend Jessi once mentioned something that found a permanent residence in the back of my mind. For context, Jessi is one of the most beautifully resilient women in my life. Jessi lost her mother in the summer of 2021 (for reasons unrelated to COVID). When detailing her experience with grief, Jessi explained, “At first, everyone is so quick to be there for you. You’re in such an intense state of shock that it’s difficult to respond to your phone ringing nonstop with texts or to eat the trays of food that show up on your front doorsteps. But after a few months, the texts and trays become more infrequent. Things finally slow down and become quiet, but this is when the state of shock ends and you need the support more than ever.”
These words reminded me of the moments I witnessed someone I love deal with grief, and all I did was show up at the beginning without following up as time passed. It was as if my condolences translated into ticks on a checklist. Jessi taught me an invaluable lesson on helping others through loss, and I will carry her words into the many years to come.
Whether we lost a loved one, a job, or simply a peace of mind, each of us dealt with loss during the pandemic. Though 2020 was a year of never-ending grief and ambiguity, 2021 did not receive the attention it needed as we grasped onto the first sense of normalcy. We stopped checking on our friends, stopped checking in on ourselves. While 2021 wasn’t as shocking as 2020, we still paid the price for what I like to call the COVID hangover.
The COVID hangover is when grievances feel more permanent as society returns to its natural state of being. It’s when the denial and shock wear off and we learn how to integrate the problem into our lives, rather than refusing to accept its existence. As much as we’d like to, we can’t yet shake this hangover off.
But what we can shake off is the need to control everything. As we enter 2022, let’s take a moment to breathe and bring attention to our emotions. Instead of allowing fear to drive our decisions in a time of both chaos and stillness, we can fill ourselves up with gratitude and support for others. Let’s consistently check up on our friends, even the ones who claim that they’re “just fine.” We should indulge in as many small acts of kindness as possible (such as wearing a mask).
We have nothing to lose by spreading acts of service and kindness, even if these acts appear negligible towards the grander essence of our world. But who would’ve known a butterfly could create rippling effects, too?
Bri Borrego is an essayist and poet from El Paso, Texas. She writes for both creative and technical audiences and her work has been featured in Wacoan Magazine, Art Avenue, and Solutions and Dividends Magazine. She is also a current member of the Writer’s League of Texas.