I’m Suffering From LOPS—Maybe You Are, Too
I remember where I was the night my friend texted me to tell me that “this coronavirus thing” was serious. They said I should have two weeks’ worth of nonperishable groceries on hand. I was in Brooklyn, and I scheduled a food delivery on Amazon Prime from my phone — mostly beans, rice, and pasta — as I walked to a bar to watch one of the Democratic primary debates. That was back in late February—approximately 4,000 years ago.
In the beginning, it felt novel. Yes, trips to get essentials were harrowing affairs, but for a while, nights hunkered down at home, drinking wine on social Zoom calls with friends, felt like a giant experiment.
We were facing the unknown, but we were in it together. We sewed our own masks. We learned how to regrow scallions. We baked and baked and baked. Even the difficult parts of working remotely had a certain freshness; I carefully curated an aesthetically pleasing workspace in the nook by my kitchen window. For those of us privileged enough to experience the pandemic safely ensconced inside our apartments with plenty of groceries, this was fine.
Now we’re within arm’s reach of setting our clocks back and weathering the season of early darkness, and it’s clear that most of us aren’t okay. I think I’m suffering from LOPS: late-onset pandemic sadness. I am not a clinical psychologist, and this is not a diagnosis — it’s just an acronym I made up. But I think many of us are feeling it.
We burned through our reserves of “powering through” and “coming together” and “self-care” months ago. And sadness and loneliness and hopelessness have been leaking, drop by drop, into those empty tanks where our resolve used to be.
For me, August is when the loneliness hit.
I did it to myself, mostly. I left New York and put a three-hour time difference and 3,000 miles of physical distance between me and all my closest friends and family. The boozy group Zooms had long since dried up, and even the texting and phone calls that were my emotional lifelines had started to become less frequent. Work got harder, not easier. We all got tired. We all stopped checking in. And yet the hollowness caught me by surprise.
Now we’ve gnawed away September, and I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve felt lonelier or closer to naked despair. And I’m one of the lucky people: I am gainfully employed, living with my spouse, in good health. If my thoughts are dark, what of those who lost jobs? Those who lost loved ones to the virus? Those who struggle with mental illness in the best of times?
All things considered, my pandemic experience has been incredibly easy. For those on the front lines — from medical workers to delivery personnel to retail employees — things have been comparatively grim. Covid-19 infections and deaths have disproportionately affected communities of color and those for whom reliable medical care is prohibitively expensive or out of reach. And for parents of young children (judging by the haunted faces of my colleagues I see on video calls all day), the unyielding stress of childcare, education, and household management colliding with the responsibilities of remote work has been calamitously exhausting. There’s no end in sight.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one feeling like this, so I asked some friends if they, like me, thought they may be suffering from LOPS. One friend, a creative director in the tech sector, said, “Maybe it’s that it’s been seven months, but the time away from family and friends and travel and… life… is compounded each month. The novelty is gone. The bread is old. Winter is coming.”
Another friend, who works in advertising in a swing state, put it more existentially: “I have so many nights and mornings where I lay in bed and just wonder how many years I have left to live.”
LOPS may be caused by the ongoing reality of living through an unprecedented pandemic, but its effects are worsened by a bitter election season, deepening divisions between Americans, and a seemingly never-ending spate of bad news.
The politicization of mask-wearing and Covid-19 prevention is a major contributor to feelings of despair. My swing-state friend says she’s found it appalling “how clueless and selfish people are. I think I really did believe ‘blue or red, we all care about people.’ But I’m having to learn some real lessons right now about [how I can’t] count on other people giving a shit about each other.”
Another friend who works as an advertising strategist told me that her mother, who lives in a majority Republican state, is immunocompromised and works as a cashier. “I had to call the entire extended family to get her to stay home from work,” she told me. “I’m still afraid she’s going to get Covid every day. It is always top of mind. I don’t feel like I’ve fully exhaled since March.”
We have hit the “6 month wall,” and that it is “real and normal.”
A friend who works in higher education put a fine point on the unintended consequences of isolation: “By being isolated, we are forced even more pointedly into our echo chambers, further deepening the divisions in our nation. I actually have legitimate fear for the future of the United States… I am not sure this would have been the case if we could still all be in rooms, bars, restaurants, and stadiums together.”
We are more divided because we are more divided.
My friends and colleagues quoted here, in fact, are part of my own small echo chamber. Their pandemic experiences—working at “office jobs” remotely, without young children at home, broadly healthy and financially stable—have been similar to my own experience. Leaving your echo chamber feels harder than ever. I certainly haven’t left mine.
So, what are we to do? There is, as yet, no vaccine for Covid-19. There certainly seems to be no cure for LOPS.
Canadian political science professor Aisha Ahmad, who has spent months at a time doing fieldwork researching jihadism in the Middle East, says in this Twitter thread that “the 6 month mark in any sustained crisis is always difficult. We have all adjusted to this ‘new normal,’ but might now feel like we’re running out of steam.” She says we have hit the “6 month wall,” and that it is “real and normal.”
“In my experience,” Ahmad writes, “this 6 month wall both arrives and dissipates like clockwork. So I don’t fight it anymore. I don’t beat myself up over it. I just know that it will happen & trust that the dip will pass.” Perhaps LOPS is merely a silly acronym for the collective six-month wall we’re all banging our heads against.
At this point in the crisis, self-care probably looks much different than in March or April. In September and October, growing scallions on our windowsills isn’t cutting it. But we can’t give up on our mental health. My friend in higher education says he’s “been hiking a lot,” and I’ve previously written about how I started running because I felt sad. My strategist colleague “plucks [her] eyebrows on boring conference calls.” And my friend in tech says he has found “a renewed focus on the idea that the only thing that matters is relationships — people, friends, and family.”
As Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight, “The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.” Dent let the darkness consume him before he saw the light. But we can’t let that happen. We must push through, at all costs, together.